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All About Forensic Psychology Newsletter: February 2007 Issue
February 07, 2007
A very warm welcome to the February edition of the All About Forensic Psychology Newsletter. A belated Happy New Year to you all; the holiday season seems a long time ago now but I hope you all had a great one.
All the forensic psychology newsletters contain graphics that most of you will be able to see, along with links that you can access should you wish to do so.
If you can only see text, this means that your e-mail software cannot read HTML (this just means that the newsletter cannot be read as if it were a web page). You'll still get all the content, although it won't be as easy on the eye, for instance you'll see a series of code where the graphic would be.
In This Months Edition
The Psychology of A Serial Killer
The biggest story to break at the end of last year, particularly within the UK was the Suffolk serial killer case. The case related to the murder of five prostitutes. The bodies of Gemma Adams, Tania Nicol and and Anneli Alderton, were all found in rural locations around Ipswich in Suffolk between the 2nd and the 10th of December. On the 12th of December two more bodies were found which were later identified as the missing prostitutes Paula Clennell and Annette Nicholls.
What was unprecedented about this case was the speed at which events unfolded. A local television station reporting on the Suffolk murders interviewed one of the victims Paula Clennell in the week before she disappeared. In the course of just three weeks, the story broke, further murders were committed and Stephen Wright was arrested and formally charged with murdering all five victims.
During this period a number of criminal psychologists, forensic psychologists and other behavioural scientists began commenting on the case.
I followed the events on my forensic psychology blog and made a total of 6 posts between the 13th and the 22nd December and it was only when I went back and read them in order that I realised just how unique this case was. If you would like to read the blog posts, the following link will take you to the first post made on the 13th December. Once there, you can access the subsequent posts in date order From the left hand side of the page.
New Forensic Science Website Update
The All About Forensic Science Website was launched on the 10th January and has grown considerably over the last few weeks. Highlights include:
A dedicated forensic science blog.
A forensic science notice board page used to post details of Forensic Science Job vacancies, Forensic Science Internships, New Forensic Science Degree Programs etc.
A free resources page showcasing the very best forensic science and eductional resources available over the Internet.
Work currently in progress includes a DNA page, a forensic pathology page and a forensic toxicology page. Another item we hope to feature shortly is the diary of a forensic scientist which will document the day-to-day working life of a real forensic investigator.
He completed his internship at the University of California, Davis in the Department of Psychiatry at the University Medical Center in Sacramento; and completed a Post-doctoral certificate in Clinical Psychopharmacology at Fairleigh Dickinson University.
Dr. Cronin is a licensed clinical psychologist who has held academic positions in Europe (University of Maryland, Munich Campus), Australia (Flinders University of South Australia) and the United States (Transylvania University and Saint Leo University).
He has practiced forensic psychology since 1991 conducting competency to stand trial evaluations and criminal responsibility evaluations for the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
He is Professor and Director of Graduate Training at Saint Leo University in Florida and has conducted over 1800 court-ordered forensic evaluations in the Tampa Bay area.
For this edition of the newsletter Dr. Cronin addresses the issue of forensic degrees. Within this must read article, the frequently asked question as to what degree is best for employment within forensic psychology is tackled.
The Study & Practice of Forensic Psychology: A Comprehensive Review.
Students frequently asked what degree is best for employment in the field of forensic psychology. The answer to this question depends on how one defines forensic psychology along with an individualís career goals. Although the type of degree is important with regards to obtaining a licensed to practice psychology, it is equally important to develop the specific skills needed to function as a forensic psychologist.
Defining Forensic Psychology
Some authors use a very broad definition for forensic psychology, stating that it encompasses anything that has to do with psychology and the legal system. Others define forensic psychology within a more applied context. In 2001, the American Psychological Association formally recognized forensic psychology as a specialty within the profession. In the ďPetition for the Recognition of a Specialty in Professional Psychology,Ē forensic psychology is defined as the ďprofessional practice by psychologists within the areas of clinical psychology, counseling psychology, neuropsychology, and school psychology, when they are engaged regularly as experts and represent themselves as such, in an activity primarily intended to provide professional psychological expertise to the judicial systemĒ (Heilbrun, 2000, p.6). This narrow definition adopted by the American Psychological Association views forensic psychology as a specialty within the applied areas of psychology and is the definition used in this article.
A student planning to practice forensic psychology will need to earn a degree that leads to licensure. Generally speaking, a doctorate in either clinical or counseling psychology is required to be a licensed psychologist. The majority of psychologists who provide forensic services have their degree in clinical psychology. Approximately 85% of the membership of the American Psychology-Law society identifies themselves as clinicians. The specialty designation by the APA indicates that the field has developed a substantial body of professional literature and specialized knowledge that distinguishes forensic psychology from other specialties. The Commission for the Recognition of Specialties and Proficiencies in Professional Psychology defines the specialized knowledge in forensic psychology as follows:
Specialized knowledge in forensic psychology is important in three areas. These are as follows: (1) clinical (e.g., diagnosis, treatment, psychological testing, prediction and intervention measurement, epidemiology of mental disorders, ethics), (2) forensic (e.g., response style, forensic ethics, tools and techniques for assessing symptoms and capacities relevant to legal questions) and (3) legal (e.g., knowledge of law and the legal system, knowledge of where and how to obtain relevant legal information).
This set of skills is consistent with the APAís definition of forensic psychology and places the emphasis on the development of solid clinical skills. Although it is necessary to have specialized training in areas of law and forensic psychology, these competencies have traditionally come after the development of clinical expertise. Therefore, anyone wishing to pursue a career in forensic psychology should first develop strong clinical skills in assessment, understanding psychopathology, report writing, diagnostic interviewing, and case presentation.
To practice psychology in the United States or Canada, an individual needs to be licensed by their state or provincial board. The American Psychological Association recommends that individuals be eligible to sit for licensure upon completion of the following education and training:
(1) A doctoral degree in psychology from an APA-accredited or Canadian Psychological Association (CPA) -accredited university.
(2) The equivalent of two years of organized, sequential, supervised professional experience, one year of which is an APA- or CPA-accredited predoctoral internship.
Thus, in order to practice professional psychology, the student needs to obtain a Ph.D. or Psy.D. (Doctor of Psychology) degree. Although the above recommendations are not binding in all states, many states have adopted the APA recommendations and require licensure candidates to have their degrees awarded from an APA-accredited program. The APA does not accredit all institutions of higher education that offer the doctoral degree in clinical or counseling psychology. A student receiving the doctorate from a program not accredited by the APA may find that they cannot be licensed in various states or provinces. Accreditation by the APA is different than accreditation by the regional education-accrediting agency. The last newsletter contained an article detailing accreditation procedures for institutions of higher education in the United States. The APA publishes a list of APA-accredited institutions on the APA web site (www.apa.org). The Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB) publishes information on each stateís licensing requirements.
Students also wonder whether they should pursue a degree in clinical or counseling psychology. The difference between degrees in clinical psychology versus counseling psychology was traditionally one of focus. The distinction between clinical and counseling psychology has gradually become blurred over the past two decades. Clinical psychologists are trained to diagnose and treat individuals with serious mental illness such as major depression and anxiety disorders. Counseling psychologists receive much of the same training as clinical psychologists. Counseling psychologists are generally train to work with individuals who are struggling with adjustment issues in life, such as moving away from home, transitioning through a divorce, or adjusting to a new location. However, the distinction is not as great as it was in the past and there is now a great deal of overlap in populations served by the two specialties.
Another type of doctoral degree in clinical psychology is the Psy.D., signifying the Doctor of Psychology degree. The original intent of the Psy.D. degree was to distinguish between the scientist, academic psychologist (Ph.D.) and the practitioner, or professional psychologist (Psy.D.). The focus of training for a Psy.D. is on clinical service as opposed to research and teaching. The major differences between the two degrees in clinical psychology are training opportunities and training focus. Students are encouraged to discuss with their advisors the benefits and tradeoffs associated with both degree types before making decisions that will have consequences that carry well into oneís career.
Generally speaking, a Ph.D. degree provides slightly more flexibility with regards to job opportunities. Although a Ph.D. and Psy.D degree in clinical psychology would be interchangeable for clinical positions, some universities may be slightly reluctant to hire a Psy.D. to serve on the faculty. A number of graduate programs have developed course work and supervision opportunities for individuals wishing to pursue specialized work in forensic psychology. A relatively small number of graduate programs offer formal training in exclusively forensic psychology. Even though these programs exist, some practitioners have questioned the long-term viability and advisability of such specialized degrees. It appears that a specialized degree in forensic psychology may limit an individualís professional options more so than a general degree in clinical or counseling psychology. Rather than a specialized degree, it may be advisable to obtain a doctoral degree in clinical or counseling psychology with specialized course work, supervised clinical experiences, and continuing education in forensic psychology. Another strategy is to complete a generalist degree in clinical or counseling psychology and pursue a forensic specialization, either through course work, continuing education or a certificate in forensic psychology.
Individuals can also pursue post-doctoral training in forensic psychology. This typically requires a year of specialized training with intensive supervision and additional formal coursework in forensic psychology. Currently, there are only 11 identified postdoctoral programs in forensic psychology and these programs accept only one or two applicants a year. With so few postdoctoral training opportunities, it seems unlikely that this will become the requisite for practice in the specialty.
Practicing Forensic Psychology at the Masterís Level
Although many states allow licensure at the masterís level, these mental health professionals may not use the title of psychologist. This title is regulated by all the states and can only be used by individuals with a doctorate. The one exception is a school psychologist, who is usually credentialed at the masterís level.
A masterís degree in psychology requires one to two years of school after the bachelorís degree. Although an individual with a masterís degree cannot present himself or herself as a psychologist, they may be able to practice in various states under the title of licensed professional counselor, licensed mental health counselor, or other such titles. Thus, a masterís degree in counseling or clinical psychology may allow one to practice independently, depending on the jurisdiction. The masterís degree could then open the door to working in the specialty of forensic psychology.
Working at the masterís level in forensic psychology usually entails providing mental health services within correctional or police settings. Masterís level counselors may lead psychoeducational groups in correctional facilities or for individuals serving probation in the community. The focus of treatment can involve anger management, domestic violence, parenting skills, substance abuse and relapse prevention, sex offender treatment, or the development of problem solving skills, to name just a few. Depending on the jurisdiction, individuals with a masterís degree may conduct court-ordered psychological and mental health assessments. When deciding to pursue a masterís degree in psychology, it is important to understand the laws of the state in which you plan to practice. It is just as important to keep in mind that state laws can evolve rapidly and it is best to stay abreast of any changes in licensing requirements.
In addition to the necessary educational and internship requirements to practice as a forensic psychologist, other skills can be of particular benefit. Most forensic psychologists are involved in some form of psychological assessment. These assessments may address a wide range of issues before the court such as competency evaluations, criminal responsibility evaluations (insanity plea), child custody evaluations, psychological trauma evaluations, sex offender risk, dangerousness, sexual abuse, accuracy of childrenís testimony, disability evaluations, civil commitment, psychological autopsy, etc.
It is important for the forensic psychologist to have excellent assessment skills. This includes strong statistical skills to understand the psychometric properties of the instruments being used, training and supervision in using psychological tests, and strong writing skills to produce understandable psychological reports for the court. Additionally, psychologists who testify in court should develop their oral presentation skills along with having a well-groomed social presence.
Students interested in careers in forensic work can consult the American Psychology Ė Law Society web site for information on careers, graduate programs, and job listings (http://www.ap-ls.org/students/careersIndex.html).
Students interested in pursuing a career in forensic psychology are encouraged to become student affiliates of the APA and to join Division 41. The Careers and Training Committee of the American Psychology- Law Society also publishes a booklet titled, Careers in Psychology and the Law: A Guide for Prospective Students. Another book, Your Career in Psychology: Psychology and the Law (Kuther, 2004) also provides career information for students interested in psychology and law.
Heilbrun, K.S. (2000, July 20). Petition for the recognition of a specialty in professional psychology. Submitted on behalf of the American Board of Forensic Psychology and the American Psychology-Law Society to the American Psychological Association.
Kuther, T. L. (2004). Your career in psychology: Psychology and law. Canada: Wadsworth.
Professor Christopher Cronin is the author of the book Forensic Psychology.
The emphasis of the book is to help students understand the practice of forensic psychology. It also serves to outline the career opportunities in this rapidly evolving specialty.
Included are several chapters on the area of legal psychology.
Areas covered in forensic psychology include a chapter on the ethics of psychology and law, an extensive chapter on assessment in forensic practice, criminal responsibility and competency evaluations, child custody evaluations, police psychology, correctional psychology, and evaluations of psychological injury.
Areas covered in the specialty of legal psychology include trial consultation, criminal investigative psychology (detection of deception, criminal profiling, psychological autopsies and use of hypnosis) and eyewitness memory and recovered memories.
A final chapter identifies emerging trends in the area of forensic psychology.
For more information, visit the forensic psychology books page.
All About Forensic Psychology Website:
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Forensic Psychology Toolbar:
Forensic Psychology Search Engine:
Forensic Psychology Blog:
Forensic Psychology Forum:
Unfortunately because of the amount of SPAM that was being added to the board registered users can no longer post directly.
If you would like to make a post, you can still do so through the link provided on the board and I will add all the appropriate messages as soon as possible.
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I really hope that you have enjoyed reading the February edition of the All About Forensic Psychology newsletter. If you think your friends might be interested in taking a look, please feel free to forward it to them.
If you're reading this on the recommendation of a friend and would like to receive all the future editions, you can subscribe for free via the following link.
If you would like to contact me about anything to do with the wonderful world of forensic psychology, you can do so via the following link.
Hopefully the next edition of the newsletter will be sent out in the next month or so.
Until then, wishing you and your family all the very best.
Dave Webb BSc (hons), MSc
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