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Forensic Psychiatry & Forensic Psychology as Your Career Option

Dr. Bhoopesh Kumar Sharma
Forensic Expert & Associate Professor

Forensic psychiatry is a specialist medical branch that deals with the evaluation and treatment of mentally disordered prisoners in jails, secure hospitals, and the community. It requires sophisticated understanding of the interface between mental health and the law. 

In other words, Forensic Psychiatry is a medical sub-specialty in which research and clinical experience is applied to legal issues in the form of civil, criminal, correctional or legislative matters: forensic psychiatry should be practiced in compliance with the standards and ethical principles enunciated by the psychiatric profession.

Forensic Psychiatry Vs. Forensic Psychology

Both forensic psychiatry and forensic psychology deal with the human mind. A forensic psychiatrist, however, is a medical doctor who can evaluate and testify about the physical aspects of mental disorders, including their biological basis, psychotherapeutic considerations, and their family and social relationship. We can use laboratory tests and, if necessary, prescribe medicines. 
A forensic psychologist has a Ph.D. in psychology rather than a medical degree. Their specialty may include giving psychological tests and providing psychotherapy and related expertise.

What Forensic Psychiatrist Do?

In the Courts, forensic psychiatrists provide expert witness testimony to courts at all levels on a regular basis. Psychiatrists in other specialties may also have sufficient training to do this, but more commonly, forensic psychiatrists are called to the higher courts–including the courts of the courts or the Court of Appeal in more serious criminal cases such as homicide, other serious violence and sex offenses. They may also be asked for expertise in the family court or on other civil matters, such as compensation after major trauma or disaster. Areas of expertise required include:

  • Fitness of the defendant to plead and fitness for trial
  • Advice for psychiatric protections open to the courts
  • Families can be tested to see if they are fit and able to have their child's physical or legal custody in a divorce.
  • Adequacy and circumstances needed for the admission of a person to the hospital for evaluation
  • Adequacy of the treatment of mental health at the time of sentencing
  • Identify the nature of a specific mental illness and the association with potential risks
  • "Appropriate diagnosis" prognosis and availability

In normal consultation work, Forensic psychiatrists are expected to provide a thorough evaluation including advice on:

  • Risk of harm to others, including the use of formal risk evaluation / professional resources
  • Expertise in approaches to pharmacological and psychological treatment of aggressive mental disorder behaviors
  • Psychodynamic case formulation, psychotherapeutic strategy included
  • Community forensic work provides opportunities in facilities run by Prison and Probation Service and/or third sector agencies to identify and collaborate with mentally disordered prisoners.

How You can Become Forensic Psychiatrist?

1. You need a medical degree specialized in psychiatry
2. You need a medical license or certificate to work
3. Knowledge and understanding of the legal procedures in the country. It is always beneficial to have a diploma or certificate in criminal justice system along with psychiatry degree

Forensic Psychologist:

Forensic psychology is a fascinating career combining psychology with the system of law. Forensic psychologists are generally focused on applying psychological theory and practice to criminal, court and correction systems. Forensic counselors serve to aid in the operation of the justice system and court leaders. Many legal concepts need to be applied to understand psychological principles, such as state of mind, memory, and perception.

How to Become Forensic Psychologist?

1. Either a bachelors degree in criminal justice/forensic with masters in psychology.
2. A bachelors degree in psychology with a masters in forensic science or criminal justice
3. No medical degree required, however a bachelors in medicine with a masters in psychology will work too.
4. An alternative is to major in a law topic and minor in psychology, but some graduate schools accept only candidates with a psychology bachelor's degree.
5. PhD can be an added qualification.
6. License of  clinical or counseling psychologist (depending on the country requirements)

Expert Witness in The Court:

Unlike fact witnesses, who are restricted to testimony about what they know or have learned, expert witnesses have the ability to express opinion because, as their name suggests, they are considered to be "experts" in a certain subject. They possess specialized knowledge about the subject.

Expert witnesses are invited to testify on mental health issues (clinical expertise) or other areas of expertise such as social, experimental, cognitive, or developmental issues. The task of being an expert witness is not primary and is usually performed in tandem with the role of a consultant, educator, evaluator, or clinical psychologist. A defendant is examined by qualified forensic psychologists and then called upon as expert witnesses to testify about the defendant's mental state.

Required Skills:

1. Good Communication Skills : For a forensic psychologist, the ability to express complex ideas is extremely important, because much of what they do is explain things to those who do not grasp a particular concept or theory of psychology.

2. Critical Thinking: Forensic psychologists need to be able to assess a situation or individual–examples include assessing a sexual offender's risk of recurrence, determining a witness's competency, or conducting human memory research. A forensic psychologist must be able to think outside the box and look at issues from unusual perspectives and angles.

3. Observatory Skills: Forensic psychologists must be able to receive information, interpret it, and then present it to the client, whether the client is an attorney, judge, or juror panel. The better observational skills a forensic psychologist has, the more they can provide guidance and conclusions.

4. Be a Researcher: Analysis and research skills are required whether a forensic psychologist performs formal and experimental analysis or cross-checking an opposing expert witness's formal conclusions.


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