What is forensic psychology, and what is it for?


In this article, I will provide you with information about forensic psychology. What is forensic psychology, and what is it used for?

Table of contents

The behaviors and motivations that can lead a person to commit a crime can be conditioned by their mental state and, faced with this, we must ask ourselves:

Would it be fair to judge a person who is not in their full mental faculties, in the same way as another who Yes?

In these situations we must ask ourselves if lawyers, judges or prosecutors, among others, are trained to be able to determine the mental state of a person. With the aim of resolving these issues, forensic, legal and criminal psychology was born.

If you are interested in knowing what forensic psychology is and what it is for, keep reading this article.

What Does a Forensic Psychologist Do?
Source: The Balance / Theresa Chiechi

1. What is forensic psychology

Forensic psychology is the branch of legal psychology that has the objective of applying its knowledge against expert evidence.

Faced with this, psychology applied to the courts seeks to collaborate in the resolution of judicial processes, based on understanding and studying the different psychological factors that may be useful and applicable in the trial, that is, it has the objective of providing data that help solve the different cases.

Legal psychology is a specialty within psychology, which aims to apply psychological techniques and knowledge on the conduct of people in the legal field. For this reason, it establishes a relationship between Law and Psychology.

For this reason, it focuses on the study, promotion, explanation, advice and prevention of aspects at a psychological, behavioral and relational level that interfere with people's behavior on legal aspects.

The functions exercised by a legal psychologist are the following:

  1. Evaluation and diagnosis: this function focuses on establishing an assessment of the psychological conditions that may have influenced a behavior.
  2. Advice: the representatives of this specialization must advise the judicial bodies in reference to the issues of their specialty.
  3. Intervention : programs and designs must be carried out with the aim of establishing prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and inclusion or integration of the person. With the aim of discriminating whether their integration in the community or in a penitentiary center is more appropriate.
  4. Training and education: another possible application of this specialty is to train legal professionals, such as judges, police officers, lawyers, etc., in psychological techniques applicable to their field.
  5. Carrying out campaigns on social prevention against crime and the media.
  6. Research.
  7. Victimology: help improve the circumstances of the victim and their contact with the legal system.
  8. Mediation: establish solutions through negotiations in the face of legal conflicts, with the aim of reducing the emotional and social impact and adding a legal alternative, in which those involved have a leading role.

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2. What is forensic psychology for?

Forensic psychology studies the mental state of the person at the specific moment of the crime, and not their current functioning. 

The forensic psychologist works to a certain extent in hindsight. You need to resort to third parties to offer you information, collateral persons, written or verbal communications to collect the necessary information to help you determine if there was any alteration in the functioning of the person at the time of the crime.

Goals of forensic psychology

Forensic psychology has the purpose of highlighting the mental state of the person at the time of the crime and the way in which this mental state may have influenced the person's behavior, to provide relevant information in the judicial process and with it, give advice to lawyers, judges or prosecutors involved in the trial, in relation to psychological aspects.

3. Types of forensic psychology

A forensic psychologist is a professional psychologist with a specialization in forensic psychology (typically through a master's degree in forensic psychology and professional experience), who is involved in judicial proceedings.

The role of the forensic psychologist changes depending on the type of forensic psychology. We find two different types of forensic psychology that we will see next.

Clinical forensic psychology

This type of forensic psychology serves to assess the damage caused to the victims and establish responsibility for the events of the accused, taking into account the assessment of the mental state of the person and, consequently, their accountability.

The psychological dimensions that are evaluated in this typology are the area of ​​personality, the evaluation and treatment of pathologies.

The functions of the forensic psychologist in this field of application can be:

  1. Medical-forensic clinics: the role of the psychologist focuses on collaborating in the evaluation of victims and/or aggressors, such as in cases of sexual abuse, traffic accidents, mistreatment, mental disorders, bullying, addictions, ...
  2. Family courts: generally, the position of the psychologist is based on informing the judge about the family circumstances, normally in divorce proceedings, in order to establish the custody of the children and in child protection proceedings.
  3. Juvenile Courts: normally, together with the figure of the social worker or educator, it consists of the preparation of reports that contain the evaluation of the personality aspects and educational, family, relational, ... conditions of the minor and recommend the most appropriate possible measures.
  4. Prison Surveillance Courts: an evaluation of the prisoners is established to assess exit permits, the possibility of parole, the length of the sentence, possible risks of escape, ... and everything is detailed in a report.
  5. Assistance to victims: together with lawyers and social workers and educators, the psychologist gives advice to the victims.

Experimental forensic psychology

As we have previously pointed out, professionals in this field must work in retrospect and, faced with this, must pay attention to the evaluation of witness evidence, statements and identifications.

In order to establish the validation of these tests, the processes of attention, perception and memory of the person are taken into account. 

The functions and characteristics of forensic psychology in this field of application can be:

  • Participation in the different procedures before the statement is taken, in cases that require special attention.
  • Advice on the possible accuracy of statements made by witnesses in court.
  • Collaboration in identification rounds.
  • Evaluation of the credibility of the witnesses in the statements.

Given this, two roles of the forensic psychologist can be glimpsed in this field of application: the first function is established around the expert opinion of testimonial evidence and the second, offering advice to the legal body to guarantee a correct assessment of the evidence.

Once forensic psychology is understood, we must know another application of legal psychology: criminal psychology.

It is important to know their applications, to understand their differences and not confuse them.

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4. Difference between criminal and forensic psychology

To clearly see the difference between forensic and criminal psychology, you have to understand what the latter discipline consists of.

Specifically, criminal psychology is aimed at understanding, studying and explaining the motivations and origin of illegal conduct, as well as the personality of the person who has committed the crime, since it is understood that the criminal act has been committed in a context that must be kept in mind.

What does a criminal psychology specialist do?

In addition to this, it seeks to prevent and control criminal conduct, as well as to increase the rehabilitation and reintegration of the accused person.

The fields of application of this discipline can be the following:

  1. Criminal analysis: in this area of ​​application, criminal psychology seeks to observe and study the behavior of the person in different areas of his life.
  2. Police investigation: in this area, the psychologist seeks to establish negotiations with the criminal, in addition to working on content of a psychological nature such as evidence or events.
  3. Profiling: the psychologist in this area of ​​intervention tries to place himself in the mind of the criminal. This technique makes it possible to recognize the main characteristics of the offender's personality, through an analysis of his crime, his behavior and/or the scene of the crime committed. For example, it would be studied whether the crime was a premeditated act or the consequence of an impulsive act.
  4. Interviews: another area of ​​application is conducting interviews with both the victims and the criminals, with the aim of obtaining relevant information about the events.
  5. Prevention: this area seeks to understand the biopsychosocial factors that may be related to the appearance of criminal acts, with the aim of reducing crime levels, based on prevention programs.
  6. Action on the effects and consequences of the victim at a psychological level: In addition to the individual effects on the victim, the effects at the collective level within society are studied.

5. Bottom line

In summary, criminal psychology seeks to understand the reasons for behaviors, their origin, the personality of the person and their motivations, while forensic psychology exercises on the formal aspects, seeking to establish legal conclusions on which legal implications are found.

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Disclaimer: This article is purely informative, I have no authority to make a diagnosis or recommend treatment. I invite you to visit a psychologist to treat your particular case.


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