By Maham Hasan

Wits MA Social and Psychological Research Student

Over the last couple of years there has been much anticipation with the possible integration of Clinical Neuropsychology and Forensic Psychology as two new registration categories with the HPCSA. To date there has been slow progress regarding these additions to the HPCSA Board of Psychology but, interestingly, the practice of forensic psychology is on the increase. The following article offers some insight into psychological services within forensic settings but rather aims to provide access to resources and a few interesting thoughts for deliberations.

Psychology in law is an area of psychology that focuses on issues intersecting between human behaviour and the law (EAPL Student, 2014). When considering the term psychology in law, Dr Ward (2013) indicates that there are two definitions of the term. The narrow definition is considered the most common and emphasizes the psychologist’s focused on the application of ‘clinical psychology’ and ‘clinical skills’ (e.g. assessment, treatment, evaluation) to the forensic setting (sic). However, he states that the broader definition of psychology in law encompasses a more accurate description of psychological work in the legal arena as it also encompasses research and experimentation in other areas of psychology within its topic area (Ward, 2013).

Olgoff (2002) states that legal psychology encompasses two foci. One area looks at the effect of the law on people; and the other focuses on the effect people have on the law. He further adds that legal psychology not only includes the application of the study and practice of psychology to legal institutions, but also focuses on the people who come into contact with the law. Thus, studies within psych-law emphasize topics of behaviour, cognition, emotions, and experiences of individuals involved in the legal system (Criminal Justice, 2015). It is therefore no wonder that practitioners who deem themselves experts on human behaviour (i.e., psychologists) and practitioners who deem themselves experts on law (i.e., advocates and attorneys) meet within the courtroom.

The application of specialized knowledge and expertise by psychologists within legal settings is referred to as forensic psychology. Ward (2013) describes that the required clinical skill set for effective forensic practice usually includes a combination of 1) good skills in psychological assessments and 2) sound data collection procedures through interviewing individuals facing legal recourse. Additionally, clinical training is required to assist with certain tasks such as conducting risk assessments, providing evidence of therapeutic change, recommendations re sentencing, and drawing incapacity conclusions, to name but a few.

Although psychologists in South Africa are still not able to train nor register as a forensic psychologist, internationally there are a range of guideline documents that guide the field of forensic psychology. For example, the APA has updated and released its Specialty Guidelines for Forensic Psychologists, originally published in 1991.

As students studying towards psychology careers it is important to remain abreast with the latest developments in the field and to search for credible resources on your unique field/s of interest. If forensic psychology is for you then I would recommend the book Forensic Psychology: An Applied Approach authored by Dr Cronin (2009).

References

Coetzee, K. (2015). How do I become a forensic psychologist?  Forensic Psychology. Retrieved from http://forensicpsychology.co.za

Cronin, C. (n.d.) Ethics in Forensic Psychology. All about forensic psychology. Retrieved from https://www.all-about-forensic-psychology.com/ethics-in-forensic-psychology.html

EAPL Student. (2014). What is Psych-Law? EAPL Student. Retrieved from https://www.eaplstudent.com/about/psyclaw

Labuschagne, G. (2018). Forensic Psychology in South Africa and its role in the justice system. Dr. Gérard Labuschagne. Retrieved from http://forensic-psychologist.co.za/forensic-psychology/

Ogloff, J. R. P. (2002). Taking Law and Psychology into the Twenty-first Century. In J. R. P. Ogloff (Ed.), Perspectives in Law and Psychology: Volume 14. (pp. 13). New York, New York: Kluwer Academic Plenum Publishers

Psychology and Law (Forensic Psychology). (2015). Criminal Justice. Retrieved from http://criminal-justice.iresearchnet.com/forensic-psychology/psychology-and-law/

Ward, J. (2013). What is forensic psychology? American Psychology Association. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/ed/precollege/psn/2013/09/forensic-psychology.aspx

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