Forensic psychology refers to the study and practice of psychology within the legal system. For example, clinical psychologists who specialize in forensic psychology apply their knowledge and skill to the legal arena by providing expert testimony in court cases, conducting assessments related to criminal risk and workplace threats or discrimination, providing disability and competency evaluations, consulting on cases related to custody and access, assisting in the screening of law enforcement applicants, providing therapy for victims or offenders, and so on. These professionals have specialized knowledge of the legal system and the issues unique to practicing clinical psychology within the forensic domain.
In addition, these funding sources may be available to some clients:
- Extended Health Benefits: Clients with extended health benefits may be eligible for partial reimbursement when they receive services from a Registered Psychologist. Ask your insurance company.
- Crime Victim Assistance Program: If you are the victim of a crime that occurred in B.C. after July 1st, 1972, and that has been reported to the police, funding for psychological treatment may be available. Consult the CVAP webpage for additional information.
- Disability Insurance: If you on short-term or long-term disability, your insurance coverage may include psychological treatment. Talk to your case manager or adjuster to see if you qualify.
- Emergency Financial Assistance for Canadians Victimized Abroad: Canadians who are victims of a violent crime in a foreign jurisdiction (and their family members) may receive funding for various expenses, including psychological treatment. Consult The Victims Fund for eligibility criteria and application forms.
A psychological assessment can include components such as standardized tests or questionnaires, clinical interviews, reviews of records (e.g., medical, school, criminal), direct observation, contact with collateral sources, etc. The components selected for a particular assessment will depend on the nature of the referral question. For example, is the assessment to determine a person’s competency or risk for violence? Is it to assess a person’s learning ability or personality? Other factors such as timeframes, available resources, financial considerations, and legal deadlines may also determine the components selected. All psychological assessments, regardless of length or complexity, require the examiner to consider, evaluate, and integrate various types of data collected from various sources of information.
There are many types of psychological tests designed to measure a variety of psychological constructs. Some measure specific constructs, like reading and writing skills, intellectual functioning, or the presence of a particular disorder (e.g., depression). Others are broader in scope, like measuring an individual’s personality profile, response style, or general mental health functioning. The interpretation of psychological tests requires foundational knowledge in areas such as research methodology, test theory, and statistics. Some of the more complex tests require advanced doctoral training in psychometrics.
Multiple hypothesis testing is the practice of always considering more than one explanation for an individual’s psychological disorder or behaviour under evaluation and testing each hypothesis. Multiple hypothesis testing protects against confirmatory bias and ensures that we keep an open mind in every case.
The multi-trait / multi-method approach is the practice of collecting a range of data from numerous information sources in order to increase the objectivity, reliability, and accuracy of our assessments.
- Files/Records: We review a variety of official documents that are normally provided by the client and/or the referring agency. This may include school records, employment records, medical records, mental health records, prior assessments, or criminal justice files. On occasion, additional records may be requested from other sources.
- Psychological tests: We select and administer psychological tests based on the context of the assessment, the nature of the referral question, and the capabilities of the client. Tests may range from brief, paper and pencil, self-report checklists that the client completes as part of the clinical interview, to lengthy, computer-assisted tests that the client completes during a separate appointment.
- Clinical interview: We conduct clinical interviews in a manner sensitive to the various pressures that our forensic and medical-legal clients face. The areas covered in a clinical interview will typically include the client’s psychosocial history, the issues he/she is currently facing, their general functioning, and his/her future goals and expectations.
- Collateral interview: Depending on the type of assessment, we may conduct interviews with other people who are knowledgeable about the client (e.g., family members, friends, colleagues, treatment providers or other professionals). Collateral interviews augment the assessment database by providing additional information and/or corroborating the client’s disclosures.
- Behavioural observations: We use clinically-informed observations of the client’s behaviour during interviews (or, when possible, in other situations and settings) to enhance our understanding of the client and to help us fine-tune our hypothesis about their particular case.
That being said, treating psychologists should be consulted when their clients are being assessed, since they are a valuable source of collateral information. In legal terms, the treating psychologist can be a fact witness (i.e., a witness to what occurred in treatment) but not an expert witness (i.e., an independent and objective evaluator).
Given these issues, when a person is referred to The Forensic Practice for treatment and assessment, we assign each of these services to different psychologists. Having both treating and assessing psychologists under one roof allows our clients to benefit from both services in a manner that benefits the individual receiving the service, while also meeting ethical and legal standards.
- The Planning Step: This step involves reviewing preliminary information to generate multiple hypotheses about the nature of the allegation (i.e., is it truthful, false, or something else) and developing a plan to test these hypotheses.
- The Fact-Finding Step: This step puts the plan into action. Previous investigations are reviewed and analyzed to determine if any further investigation is required. If further investigation is warranted, it may be necessary to re-interview the child/children involved, as well as any other parties (e.g., non-offending parent, alleged suspect, potential witnesses).
- The Assessing Step: This step involves assessing the credibility of the allegations using Statement Analysis (SA). SA is a three-step process that involves: (a) assessing the quality of the procedure used to elicit the memory evidence; (b) assessing the credibility of the child’s allegations using Criteria Based Content Analysis (CBCA), and (c) looking at the other evidence in the case using Fact Pattern Analysis (FPA). SA is a valid tool for assessing the credibility of children’s statement in cases of alleged sexual abuse.
- The Reporting Step: This step involves communicating one’s findings in a way that is objective, transparent, and balanced, and meets the standards for the context in which the assessment is to be used (e.g., family, civil, vs. criminal court).
In cases where treatment is initiated by a third party (e.g., courts; guardians), we ensure that our clients’ rights are protected while meeting the conditions set by the third party.
Secondly, it is important for you to know that simply having unwanted sexual urges and interests is not, in itself, something that would override client confidentiality. Confidentiality is a cornerstone of psychological treatment and it is taken very seriously. However, psychologists are required to breach confidentiality if, among other things, they have reason to believe that an individual poses an imminent threat to another identifiable person and/or they have reason to believe that a child is at risk. Contact us for more information.