Reading a Forensic Psychology Report

HOW TO READ A FORENSIC PSYCHOLOGY REPORT

Forensic Assessment Definition

By definition, the Forensic Psychology Report is an evaluation performed by a forensic psychologist as part of the legal decision-making process, for the purpose of assisting the decision-maker in using relevant clinical and scientific data. Such legal questions in the criminal area often include sanity at the time of the offense, competencies to stand trial, waiving the right to counsel. Civil legal questions can include civil commitment, competencies to consent to treatment, or personal injuries. Within the areas of criminal or civil issues other psycho-legal questions are raised such as violence risk, malingering and deception, and degree of psychopathy.

Forensic versus Therapeutic Report

The Forensic Psychology Report differs from a tradition therapeutic report in three important ways. The primary purpose of forensic evaluation is to assist the legal decision-makers in addressing a legal issue, whereas the primary purpose of the therapeutic, mental health evaluation is to diagnose and treat an illness. Next, forensic evaluation, unlike the mental health evaluation, does not primarily strive to adopt a helping role. Rather than assuming a helping role, the forensic psychologist operates from an objective stance, neither accepting nor rejecting the accuracy of the information provided until it is checked against certain forensic standards.

Objectives of a Forensic Psychology Report

My Forensic Psychology Reports help the finder of fact to realize the relation between the legal issue at hand and the psychological problems associated with lawyer’s client. Today, my blog explains the 5-step process underlying my Forensic Psychological Reports.

Box A in the figure below represents any legal competency construct that may bring the client to the lawyer’s office. For example, in cases where questions are raised about the subject’s mental state and ability to care for self, a relevant legal construct is found in the Minnesota Statute 253B.02 Subd. 13 as follows as part:

  • a person poses a substantial likelihood of physical harm to self or others as demonstrated by:
  • failure to provide necessary food, clothing, shelter, medical care;
  • Attempt or threat to physically harm self or others. .

Once the Relevant Law (A) is identified, the Forensic Psychology Report focuses on the relevant Psychological Construct at B in the figure. Such a construct might be the psychological theory underlying psychiatric symptomatology constituting schizophrenia.

Next, refer to C in the figure below.  C represents functional abilities (Psycholegal Capacity) that have been derived logically from the analysis of a legal competency construct.  In the case of competency and mental illness, the Psycholegal Capacity at C may be the functions of caring for self. The functional Psycholegal Capacity at C, therefore acts as a conceptual link between the Relevant Law A and the basic Psychological Construct at B.


The Forensic Assessment Instrument  (C’) is an operational definition of a Psycholegal Capacity (e.g. functional ability such a competency to care for self). Forensic psychologists use a variety of such instruments or tests that are specifically designed to measure the Psycholegal Capacities.

A Clinical Assessment instrument at Box B’ is an operational definition of psychological symtomatology test such as the MMPI.  Forensic Psychological Reports are intended to provide data that can span the gap between the Relevant Law (e.g. mental competency) at box A and the Psychological Construct at Box B (e.g. abnormal mental symptoms).

In my next Dr. Richard Alberta Forensic Psychological Services Blog, I will explain how you can understand some common Forensic Assessment Instruments which I often use in my Forensic Psychological Reports.

Grisso, T. (2003). Evaluating competencies: Forensic assessments and instruments (2nd ed.). New York: Kluwer/Plenum.

 

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