'What is Forensic Psychology?' - Promises Healthcare

Forensic psychology is as interesting as it sounds. People often imagine forensic psychologists running around in bullet proof vests catching criminals and solving crimes (think ‘Elizabeth Keen’ – forensic psychologist/FBI agent from hit television show Blacklist). Although real world forensic psychologists are more likely to be sitting behind a desk, there is still excitement, adventure, and risk in our daily lives.

What is forensic psychology?

Broadly, forensic psychology is the intersection of psychology and the law. This can include the practical application of clinical psychology in forensic settings. Forensic psychologists have specialised training in mental health and the law.

What settings do forensic psychologists work in?

Forensic psychologists work in a broad range of settings. The most common settings include;

  • Prisons
  • Courts
  • Inpatient mental health facilities
  • Government mental health departments
  • Private practice
  • Universities

Who does a forensic psychologist work with?

Forensic psychologists can work with both offenders and victims of crime, as well as those who are at risk of becoming offenders. People of any age, background, gender, ethnicity, race, and religion may become involved in the legal and/or mental health systems and therefore come under the scope of a forensic psychologist.

Forensic psychologists usually work with other professionals involved in the legal and mental health systems too. This can include legal professionals, law enforcement, government departments, prison staff, medical professionals, academics, and community organisations.

What does a day in the life of a forensic psychologist look like?

A day in the life of a forensic psychologist looks very different depending on the setting they work in. Here are the common functions of a forensic psychologist across most settings:

  • Forensic mental health assessment – this could be in a custodial setting (such as a remand center) or a private setting (such as a clinic taking referrals). The psychologist will assess a person to see whether they have a mental health concern, how it is linked to their legal issue, and make recommendations for treatment.
  • Forensic risk assessment – this can also be across a wide range of settings, but may be more common in a court setting, or inpatient mental health setting. The psychologist will assess a person’s risk of reoffending (violence, sex, stalking etc.) as well as their suicide risk, and make recommendations for risk management and reduction.
  • Court appearances – forensic psychologists working in any setting will often attend court to answer questions about reports they have written about a particular client. They may be asked to make recommendations to the court for the treatment and sentencing of an offender. Forensic psychologists are also asked to make recommendations to determine whether someone is ready for release from prison. Some forensic psychologists who have many years experience and specialisation in a particular niche become expert witnesses for the courts.
  • Group therapy – this can be in any setting. A forensic psychologist will conduct group therapy for a range of presenting problems. Common issues might be sex offender group therapy, violent offender group therapy, domestic violence group therapy, and group therapy for addiction recovery. The focus of group therapy is usually identifying the underlying causes for offending behaviour, and creating relapse prevention plans to reduce a person’s risk of reoffending.
  • Individual therapy – this can also be in any setting. A forensic psychologist can conduct individual therapy for a broad range of presenting problems. Individual therapy usually focuses on treating the underlying mental health problem that may be contributing to a person’s risk of reoffending. It can also include preparing a person for transition into or out of prison or inpatient settings, skill building, and motivating offenders to change.
  • Paperwork – we do spend a great deal of time writing case notes, scoring assessment measures, reading through collateral information, and writing reports.
  • Other things can include teaching, research, workshops, training, and consultancy.

Written by Leeran Gold, Psychologist in our Forensic Service.

At Promises Healthcare, we are committed to helping you through your journey to recovery. Discover a new life and find renewed hope. If you or someone you know needs mental health support, please contact our clinic for inquiries and consultations.