Forensic psychology is the application of psychology to the legal system. Specifically, forensic psychologists are called upon to apply psychological principles, theory, research and data to answer legal questions.
Forensic assessment is used when a psychologist is hired to answer a specific legal question (i.e. competency, insanity, etc.). Depending on the specific question, the psychologist will conduct a clinical interview, collateral interviews (e.g. with witnesses, family, friends, attorneys, police officers, etc.) review records (i.e. medical, psychological, criminal, school, etc.), administer psychological tests, and form an opinion to answer the legal question.
Forensic assessment is not the same as clinical (or therapeutic) assessment. When a client is referred for clinical assessment, he or she is often posing their own questions regarding treatment, diagnosis, progress, etc. In forensic evaluations, the client can be court ordered or referred by their attorney to assist in their legal case. Therefore, forensic assessment can often create an adversarial relationship between the psychologist and client, as opposed to a therapeutic one. Other differences include:
Clients are referred for a forensic evaluation when their attorney believes it may be beneficial to their legal case or when the judge orders someone to participate in such an evaluation. Some common legal questions that forensic psychologist's are required to answer are: