Forensic psychology is a sub-specialty of psychology that pertains to the interface of various disciplines of psychology and the law. The Specialty Guidelines for Forensic Psychologists (Committee on Ethical Guidelines for Forensic Psychologists, 1991), which serves as ethical guidelines and the “gold standard” for those professionals that work in the field, indicates that forensic psychology pertains to “all forms of professional conduct when acting, with definable foreknowledge, as a psychological expert on explicitly psychological issues in direct assistance to the courts, parties to legal proceedings, correctional and forensic mental health facilities, and administrative, judicial, and legislative agencies acting in a judicial capacity.”
The American Board of Professional Psychology defines forensic psychology as “the application of the science and profession of the law to questions and issues relating to psychology and the legal system.” Many experts in the field contend that, broadly, forensic psychology involves the application of psychological theory, practice, and specialized methodology (e.g., psychological testing) for the purposes of addressing a particular legal issue.
Behavioral Science Specialists, LLC provides forensic assessment, forensic consultation, and forensic educational services consistent with best evidence-based practices that adhere to ethical principles, multicultural practice guidelines, and high standards of professional care. Our practice routinely completes a variety of forensic evaluations, including those pertaining to:
Competency to stand trial
Evaluating a defendant’s competency to stand trial involves a comprehensive assessment of the defendant’s mental status, the defendant’s understanding of the nature and objective of the legal proceedings, and the defendant’s capacity to assist in his or her defense. A competency to stand trial evaluation may also involve the administration of specialized psychological tests, depending on the particular clinical issue at hand (e.g., mental retardation, malingering).
Mental state at the time of the offense (i.e., sanity)
An evaluation of a defendant’s mental state at the time of the offense, or a “sanity” evaluation, involves a comprehensive assessment of the defendant’s mental state at the time of the offense and the defendant’s appreciation for the wrongfulness of the acts charged. A thorough review of the relevant records (e.g., psychiatric) is essential in these evaluations. Additionally, interviews with knowledgeable collateral informants are sometimes an essential component of sanity evaluations.
Conditional release evaluations are conducted to assess a patient’s appropriateness for release into the community after a period of detainment within a mental health facility (e.g., a forensic psychiatric hospital). These evaluations involve a comprehensive assessment of the patient’s background and mental status as well as a review of the relevant risk factors (both static and dynamic) for the purposes of gauging the likelihood of psychiatric decompensation, violence, and/or criminal recidivism. Our approach to conditional release evaluations often involves combining actuarial methods with clinical assessment to maximize predictive validity.
Sexual-oriented offending and risk of recidivism
Evaluations involving sexual-oriented offending and risk of recidivism involve comprehensive assessment of the offender’s background and mental status as well as the implementation of specialized psychological instruments that utilize actuarial methodology to enhance predictive validity. A review of the offender’s legal and psychiatric records coupled with interviews with collateral informants is essential in these types of evaluations.
Involuntary commitment evaluations involve a comprehensive assessment of the patient’s mental status and the relevant risk factors to determine the extent to which the patient meets the criteria for involuntary hospitalization. These evaluations may be completed on an emergency basis (e.g., within a hospital’s emergency room) or through a governmental agency (e.g., a probate court).
Guardianship evaluations are conducted to determine the extent to which an individual is incompetent (i.e., as a result of a mental or physical illness or disability, mental retardation, or chronic substance abuse, incapable of properly caring for him- or herself or his or her property or fails to provide for his or her family or other individuals for whom the individual is charged by law to provide). These evaluations involve a comprehensive assessment of the individual’s mental status and review of the relevant records. Additionally, we routinely conduct guardianship evaluations in the individual’s home, which affords us the opportunity to assess first-hand a number of areas, including the individual’s living conditions and ability to care for himself or herself and property on an independent basis.
Child custody and parental fitness evaluations involve multiple stages and a variety of procedures. We apply a comprehensive approach that emphasizes the systematic collection of a wealth of information from all involved parties as a means of maximizing our ability to offer informed, competent opinions. Our evaluations in this area typically begin with comprehensive biopsychosocial interviews with all relevant parties (e.g., both parents). Concomitantly, mental status examinations are conducted with all parties, and particular psychological instruments are often administered to further assess personality and psychiatric symptomatology. Also, as part of our evaluations, releases are obtained and relevant records (e.g., psychiatric, legal) are requested and reviewed. Often the involved parties are invited to return for additional interviews, at which time information collected from a review of the records are addressed and clarified. Our child custody and parental fitness evaluations also include an extended observational assessment of a parent-child interaction. In this part of the assessment, all relevant parties (e.g., both parents) are instructed to individually interact with each child and observations are made of the interactions. This part of the evaluation also involves the completion of child-rating forms by all relevant parties. A comprehensive psychological report is then composed that details all of the information collected through the biopsychosocial interviews, mental status examinations, record reviews, psychological testing, and child-parent interaction observations and render recommendations concerning child placement and other, relevant opinions.
Fitness for duty
Fitness for duty evaluations are conducted on employees (or prospective employees) to assess the employee’s (or prospective employee’s) ability to safely and effectively perform essential job functions. Particular emphasis placed on psychological factors (e.g., psychiatric symptomatology, personality traits) that are germane to the job and the functions of such. Our evaluations in this domain routinely involve a comprehensive assessment of the individual’s mental status and relevant background data (e.g., psychiatric history, employment history, job performance information). Psychological testing is also often employed as part of a fitness for duty evaluation.
Personal injury and liability
Personal injury and liability evaluations involve a comprehensive review of relevant records (e.g., medical, psychiatric, employment, legal) coupled with an exhaustive examination of the individual’s psychological functioning. Emphasis is placed on pre-injury functioning, degree of injury impact, current psychological functioning, and expected course of impairment. Psychological testing is routinely utilized in our personal injury and liability evaluations.
Behavioral Science Specialists, LLC provides forensic psychological services to a wide range of populations, including children, adolescents, adults, and the elderly, in a multitude of settings, including forensic civil and maximum security hospitals, general hospitals, assisted-living facilities, correctional institutions, and community mental health agencies. Our practice routinely provides services for numerous municipal courts, common pleas courts, probate courts, law firms, and a variety of administrative and legislative agencies within the Columbus metropolitan area and throughout the state of Ohio.
Dr. John Tilley, a clinical psychologist at Behavioral Science Specialists, LLC, specializes in forensic psychology. He holds medical privileges at several area hospitals and also teaches at Capital University. He is available for consultation and can be reached by email at info@BSSonline.org or by telephone at 614.291.7600.