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With the increasing popularity of dramatic crime shows such as CSI, Bones, NCIS, Cold Case and others of that genre that deal with crime and forensics, it has become clear that psychology plays an important role in that field of work and study. But the role of the psychologist goes beyond the glimpses often portrayed in the mainstream media. And beyond that, the high-profile cases covered by the media tend to be few and far between. Although variations exist as to what psychologists can bring to the world of law and forensics, psychology accrediting boards provide a standard, albeit broad, definition of the work that is conducted in this field.
According to the American Board of Forensic Psychology and the American Psychology-Law Society forensic psychology is "the professional 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 system." An interesting distinction is made, however, within the psychological community as to whether or not any form of psychology that is involved with legal issues can be considered forensic psychology. Indeed, there seems to be a body specialized knowledge that is required in the field of forensic psychology that might move far beyond what legal psychology requires. Dr. Christopher Cronin, author of The Study and Practice of Forensic Psychology, highlights what he sees as being the elements that regard forensic psychology as a separate component under the broad and more widely recognized topic of psychology. The kind of “specialized knowledge” that Cronin refers to comprises three significant areas:• Clinical: This not only includes basic aspects of evaluation, methods of treatment and ability to make a diagnosis, but also extends to the capacity to utilize measurements for intervention and prediction, awareness of and adherence to ethical standards and understanding the root causes of psychological disorders.• Forensic: This includes such elements as an awareness of and adherence to ethical issues that are associated with forensics; knowing how to evaluate symptoms as well as the ability to make things of a psychological nature meaningful when applying them to legal issues.• Legal: This arguably is the most significant area of specialized knowledge required of psychologists who work in the field of forensics. In addition to understanding the laws and legalities that pertain to situations in which a psychologist might become involved, the practitioner needs to be familiar with the workings of the courts and legal system. Finally, forensic psychologists need to be legally trained in order to have the capacity to assess what questions need to be asked, particularly as that information has legal information that is relevant to the work they are doing.Although psychological training lays a solid foundation and provides important tools that can be utilized in the forensic field, it is perhaps inaccurate to assume that any one trained as a psychologist is able to immediately apply themselves successfully to the practice of forensic psychology. Additional legal training clearly seems to be necessary in order to complement the skills a psychologist already has at his or her disposal.
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