The word "Forensic" is derived from the word "Forensis" which means "forum".

Forensic psychology is the application of psychological priniciples and knowledge to various legal activities involving child custody disputes, child abuse of an emotional, physical and sexual nature, assessing one's personal capacity to manage one's affairs, matters of competency to stand trial, criminal responsibility & personal injury and advising judges in matters relating to sentencing regarding various mitiagants and the actuarial assessment of future risk.

In the civil law arena, forensic psychologists often provide assessments of whether someone has been harmed by some event. For example, in a wrongful death suit, a psychologist might offer opinions as to whether a plaintiff suffered emotional trauma in response to the death of a loved one. They might also assess the emotional injuries suffered by someone who has been injured in an accident or who witnessed a traumatic event. Psychologists are often called upon in sexual harassment suits to describe the impact of the harassment on the purported victim. In this arena, the forensic psychologist might be required to provide treatment recommendations or to analyze the specific treatment needs of an individual, and might be asked to determine the potential cost of such treatment.

In the arena of workers' compensation law, a forensic psychologist might be called upon to describe how workplace stress factors impacted the psychological functioning of a claimant, or to determine whether the purported work place stress had any affect on the worker at all. As in the more general civil law context, the forensic psychologist might be asked to determine treatment needs and treatment plans.

In the family law arena, forensic psychologists are often called upon to assess the "best interests" of children whose parents are divorcing. Commonly, this involves making recommendations to a Court with respect to child custody arrangements. Child custody mediation is another role that forensic psychologists undertake in the family law arena - serving as a mediator between divorced parents who remain in dispute about the needs and interests of their children. In some jurisdictions, forensic psychologists are appointed as "special masters" by the Court, and are charged with making both recommendations and orders for the care of children in disputed custody situations.

Forensic psychologists are perhaps most commonly recognized for their involvement in the criminal law. Psychologists provide Courts with analysis relevant to questions of criminal insanity and trial competence. They help Courts decide whether sex offenders are likely to re-offend or whether they are dangerous. They provide information and recommendations necessary for sentencing purposes, grants of probation, and the formulation of conditions of parole. Forensic psychologists are routinely called upon in death penalty cases to provide analysis of the intentions, motivations and personality characteristics of the accused. In the Juvenile Courts, they often are asked to help determine whether a youthful offender can be rehabilitated. They assist prosecutors, defenders, and law enforcement investigators in understanding a range of normal and criminal behaviors, sometimes serving as "criminal profilers."

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  • Canter, D. V. and Alison, L.J. (2000). The Social Psychology of Crime.


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