While psychologists and psychiatrists may engage in both clinical and forensic practice, it important to recognize that clinical and forensic practice are distinct areas of practice. This means that the role of the forensic and clinical practitioner differs in several ways: "who the client of the psychologist is the nature of the relationship between the psychologist and the individual being evaluated, and the psychologist's approach to the material provided by the individual" (Packer, 2008). Moreover, it also means that the professional assesses the individual differently. These differences include: the purpose of the assessment, the goal of the intervention, and psycho-legal vs. psychological assessment. While the differences may seem clear, the reality is that even forensic evaluations can lead to the establishment of the type of relationships that develop in clinical practice, making it difficult for health care professionals and for their clients to differentiate between clinical and forensic approaches. As a result it is important to realize that even if therapists are competent at providing forensic examination and forensic examiners are competent at providing therapy, they should not "provide both services to the same individual. Each role requires asking substantially differing questions, and each requires an approach that is fundamentally in conflict with, and interferes with, performance of the other task" (Greenberg & Shuman, 2007).
One of the major differences in the forensic and clinical role is who the client is. This is a broad category that covers how the client and the psychologist met, what brought the client in for services, and what the client expects from the psychologist. The second major difference in the forensic and clinical role is the nature of the relationship between the psychologist and the individual being evaluated. A patient seeks out a clinical psychologist for treatment, while forensic psychologists are asked to assess an individual for a legal purpose. "Clinical, ethical, and legal concerns arise when the treating expert offers psycholegal assessment -- an assessment for which the treating expert does not have adequate professional basis, for which there are inherent role conflicts, and for which there will almost certainly be negative implications for continued therapy" (Greenberg & Shuman, 1997). The third major difference in the forensic and clinical role is the psychologist's approach to the material provided by the individual. Generally, information revealed in a clinical setting is confidential. However, the treating therapist can be compelled to testify to information perceived during the therapeutic process and to opinions previously formed for the purpose of therapy but cannot be compelled to do a forensic examination or analysis" (Greenberg & Shuman, 1997).
Psychologists also approach assessment differently when they are looking at a client from a forensic standpoint. First, the purposes of the assessment are different, which means that forensic practitioners must be more precise than clinical practitioners. A clinical practitioner can treat a patient without making a diagnosis, but a forensic examiner needs to be able to explain the client's condition in a manner that is understandable outside of the context of treatment. However, there are some contexts, such as when a psychologist may be asked to assess a client's suitability for a treatment program, where even forensic examinations can be critical to an intervention. In both clinical and forensic settings, evidence-based practice has led to a greater understanding of pathology and the development of "more precisely targeted interventions" (Barlow, 2005). Finally, the forensic examiner must take a psycho-legal vs. A purely psychological position in an assessment. This means relying upon psychological tests that are likely to be found valid in a courtroom (Lally, 2003). It also means that forensic psychologists must have a "reasonable knowledge of legal concepts that are relevant to their areas of forensic practice" and be able to translate these legal concepts into their assessments (Packer, 2008).
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