Forensic Psychology

Forensic Psychology



Forensic Psychology


Psychology is a major field in Australian law that has been associated closely with civil and family litigation. Civil and family laws are collectively referred to as forensic psychology that handles the psychological aspect of the criminal justice system. Forensic specialists deal with diverse psychological perspectives and their influence on criminal justice. Psychological damage is a common factor in both types of law and acts as the deciding factor in most cases. Psychological damage is considered a mental injury, distress, harm, mutilation, or dysfunction caused to an individual due to a direct outcome of some deed or failure to take steps by a person. Such psychological damages must reach a level that they interfere with the normal functioning of an individual before can be permitted to sue for any damages and compensation. Comprehending the role played by forensic psychologists and their relations with other stakeholders in the Australian criminal justice system is essential to understanding how criminal justice as an institution functions.

Description of Civil and Family Law Psychologists

Family Law Psychologists

Family lawpsychologists handling domestic court cases offer consultation, assessment, and judgment of people involved in cases. Some of the issues addressed in this field include family separation and assessments of child custody, child cruelty, communication therapy for individual spouses and families as well as adoption (Bennett, Hess, & Orthmann, 2007). The outcomes from assessment made by family lawpsychologists are important in guiding the jury and judge make a verdict concerning the parties involved. For instance, in child custody trials, the report and estimation of the family law psychologist frequently determines the verdict.

Interpersonal relationships. Interpersonal relationships among family law psychologists and their clients is a large field that contains diverse features. In general, interpersonal relationships are very intense, interconnected and personalized. This feature is perhaps the most glaring in Australian family law due to the nature of the clients and the building blocks in the relationship. Family law has the extra burden of handling positive and negative issues. Positive issues are largely minimal and limited to research into new areas while negative issues form the major part of the field (Heilbrun, Grisso & Goldstein, 2009). Negative aspects of family law will decide who gets the child, happy marriage or financial compensation. These factors typically shape family life and ideals directly and indirectly and in the process, affect interpersonal relationships (Brest & Krieger, 2010).

            As stated in the beginning of the previous section, interpersonal relationships between family law psychologists and their clients are interwoven, deep and very significant. Family law psychologists have to deal with the responsibility of rupturing and repairing families as a career. While some reasons may be valid, others may be illogical. Whatever the case, psychologists have to take care of the emotional aspects of their clients. In Australian court proceedings, the level of efficacy of the family law psychologists is constantly put to the test by prosecutors and judges. In order to realize constant success, psychologists have to create a strong bond with the client(s). The foundations of family law are rooted on a framework of handling rupture and restoring confidence and trust (Brest & Krieger, 2010). These legal experts also seek to prevent family rupture and conflict by offering individual and organizational support where necessary. However, prevention as an approach has not been exhaustively addressed within family law (Heilbrun et al., 2009).

            Family law also has a major difference in the nature of interpersonal relationship when compare to civil law psychology. Family law medical officers will inadvertently maintain multiple relationships depending on the number of clients awarded to him/ her by the court (Bennett et al., 2007). These multiple relationships run simultaneously making it a very sensitive matter considering that confidentiality is a requirement for all pending cases. Maintaining a professional type of relationship also adds to the challenges of a family law psychologist. In the past, cases of unethical relationships with patients such as sexual contact or corruption have been treated with severity by the state. As mentioned earlier, confidentiality plays a major role in the doctor-patient relationship. Maintaining privacy is important as it preserves the validity of the ongoing case and severs to bring order in the fats being presented in court. Furthermore, confidentiality also ensures the source of the information is safe from any threats concerning the case. However, the privilege of confidentiality is limited to the extent that the doctor and patient do not obstruct justice by failing to divulge all the necessary information pertinent to the case (Bennett et al., 2007; Costanzo, Krauss & Pezdek, 2010).

Power Relationships. The official environment surrounding family law globally has managed to maintain a professional outlook in terms of its operations, standards and more. The source of these bureaucratic tendencies within a liberal discipline such as family law originates from the rigid section of Australian civil law of which family law is a derivative. Family law typically has vaguely defined power relationships among its stakeholders when compared to the civil law environment.For instance, family law has meditation and arbitration alternatives that are less absolute, predictable and definite. The collaborative law process is one such method. This technique of conflict resolution in family law allows both partiesto select their professional lawyerthat will work towards realizing a compromise through active and physical mediation. Such approaches are highly liberal and largely unsupervised indicating the loose power structures that exist in family law (Bennett et al., 2007; Brest & Krieger, 2010). From the individual family lawyer to the bench of judges, the complete family law hierarchy places little pressure on the human players to deliver high standards of strict and formal law. Instead, they are given an environment that encourages them to be creative in applying their litigation knowledge to come up with tailor-made resolutions for their clients. For instance, collaborative family law works in an environment that is hardly regulated. This freedom to practice law in an open environment has contributed to the disintegration of power relationships within the field. Some of the markers used to determine the extent and type of power relationships within family law are names, genealogy, power symbols, territories and material environment (Bennett et al., 2007).

            The overall number of actors in family law are quite les when compared to their civil law counterparts. Consequently, they have the opportunity to know each other at a more personal level. Most professionals within family law circles identify each other using surnames and this implies that their identification method is very important to them. This personalized manner may exalt the courage, morality or even piety. The genealogy of a professional within family law is also considered highly important (Beck, Holtzworth-Munroe, D’Onofrio, Fee, & Hill, 2009). The actual or perceived roots of each individual are factored into the daily official and informal activities such that family lawyers can connect at different platforms such as heritage, ethnicity and family. When it comes to the titles, family law is quite similar to civil law.

            Professionals in Australian family law observe the official titles that are covered in an elaborate naming system based on superiority and function (Costanzo et al., 2010). This naming system is sometimes complicated even further with the introduction of individuals with political power. The common title of esquire, barrister or attorney may be awarded to all professionals in the units. However, with time and experience, promotions create partners, associates and managing partners. This difference in authority is always acknowledged although it is not exerted in most instances. These titles offer a powerful signal of the place of each individual within the organization and within the industry (Brest & Krieger, 2010). Typically, influential lawyers have been known to handle prominent divorce cases while other low-level family lawyers take on ordinary family cases. However, it should be noted that ideally, hierarchy in family law is clearly outlined but practically, it is rarely considered a serious matter.

Interface with Social Psychology. While there evidently a great promise in fusing together psychology and family law, there exists several challenges. Most outstandingly, there exists a tension in combining the explanatory discipline of psychology and the rigid field of law. This difference is explicitly demonstrated in the field of positive psychology. Family law is mostly passive, reacting to problems after they happen. The conventional family law psychologist requires a fresh theoretical structure that expresses an ideal and offers guidelines for realizing that ideal (Drogin, Dattilio, Sadoff, & Gutheil, 2011). Just as psychology recognizes human development as its objective, the theoretical outline of family law should be based on the model of successful families (Beck et al., 2009). Instead of leaving prosperity to chance, the ideal of successful families is an implication that the government, represented by the family, was interested in assisting families to thrive.

Attachment / Affiliation Theory and Its Use in Family Law Psychology

            This theory argues that human beings are normally social beings and that they constantly sought the company of fellow human beings. Human beings experience an emotional security in the presence of certain people, and consequently, feel nervous when they are absent. This need can be summed up as the desire for affiliation. Using this theory, researchers have been able to define the behavior of actors in family law. Consequently, psychologists have also used the theory to explain patterns in family and individual behavior. This theory is also useful in explaining the types of relationships between psychologists and their patients. The need to connect (attach) to another human being emotionally occurs among psychologists during evaluation sessions. This creates opportunities for unethical conduct that may affect the nature of interpersonal relationship between the medical officer, court officials (prosecutor, judge) and the patient (Drogin et al., 2011).

Civil Law Psychologists

            In Australian civil courts, civil law psychologists offer different services that compliment any case. This category of legal professionals is concerned with psychological features of civil cases such as nervousness, dejection, irrational fears, and shock. They also offer guidance to those people affected by traumatic instances in cases. Apart from these services, civil law psychologists handle other duties assess people for worker’s reimbursement, aptitude, and personal damages status (Brooks-Gordon & Freeman, 2006). By contrast, civil law covers a wider scope of issues and players including employment, business and consumer law among other areas. Occasionally, civil law covers family law cases that normally arbitrate marital and parental complications such as universal or domestic unions. Civil court psychologists are regularly employed as professionals to evaluate emotional aspects concerned with personal injury lawsuits. Thorough psychologists may even assess long-term emotional impact of incidents and provide expert recommendations that may influence the case (Brooks-Gordon & Freeman, 2006).

Interpersonal relationships. Within the civil law environment, interpersonal relationships are mostly restricted to hierarchical levels. For instance, there is indication that in most Australian institutions, strong interpersonal relationships are created across different units rather than along the chain of command. One of the possible reasons behind this structure is the aggressive and competitive nature of the legal industry. While family law is relatively uncompetitive, civil law focuses on the need for career advancement and achievements among its actors (lawyers). The issue of ethics and ethical conduct also differs from that in family law (Beck et al., 2009). However, this issue is more relevant in the discussion on power relationships.

            It is next to impossible for such medical professionals to create a significant personal relationship with plaintiffs while undergoing physical and mental evaluation. The reason for this lies in the unequal doctor to patient ratio. This large number of clients that a single medical officer can handle makes it difficult to create a bond. Apart from this factor, the stringent Australian regulations outlined concerning the boundaries of contact between patients and psychologists ensure that such interpersonal relationships are kept at a superficial level. Similar regulations prescribed and implemented by separate watchdog agencies as well as the Australian Ministry of Justice or its equivalent have ensured that a formal environment has been maintained in matters concerning psychological evaluations.

Power Relationships. Power relationships are perhaps the most structured aspect of the legal system. Civility is a distinct feature that has been evident thorough the relationships between psychologists and their patients during the evaluation process. It is obvious that with the positions held by these medical experts, psychologists have come to perceive their power as being influential in determining the verdict of an individual. Civil law psychologists have incorporated elements of common practice of law and this created for them a unique niche slightly above other legal officials in the industry. The power relationship between civil psychologists and judges can be described as mutually benefiting each party since judges depend on the medical examination provided to make appropriate verdicts (Kapardis, 2010). However, the power relationship between civil lawyer and their corresponding psychologists is slightly biased in favor of medical officers. Unfortunately, lawyers are tied in their arguments by the pre-trail examinations of the parties in the case. The earlier markers used to determine the extent and type of power relationships within family law are similarly applicable in civil law. However, the application, severity and players are slightly different.

            Concerning titles and naming systems as elements of power relationships, civil law psychologists are mandated by contract to maintain strictly professional relationships with their patients. This implies that the bonds created are solely for discovering the psychological state of the person in question. The usage of surnames is a clear sign of unethical conduct that could jeopardize the competence of the medical officer since it indicates a personal connection with the patient. The same argument can be presented for matters concerning genealogy. When it comes to titles as elements of power relationships, civil law environments demand that they be observed fully whether verbally or in writing (Kuther, 2004). Titles have acted as an effective method of reinforcing the position of each player in the criminal justice system. An example would be a psychologist indicating the titles of judge, patient, presiding officer in his official medical report.

            Ethical considerations are a major influence on the conduct among civil law psychologists since most of them work to prove the emotional and mental stability that will in turn determine the verdict of a case. Due to the wide scope of public and private civil law, most psychologists have a difficult time maintaining professional, civil and ethical conduct. Most civil psychologists have been dismissed for engaging in unethical conduct due to the sensitive nature of the cases. These sensitive factors may include high profile cases involving murder, rape or genocide (Beck et al., 2009).

Interface with Social Psychology. Theintegration between civil law psychology and social psychology is quite deep and elaborate. Stakeholders in civil law psychology have attempted to incorporate elements of Australian social standards in their evaluations to be presented in court. The reason for this lies in the multifaceted nature of psychology. Ideally, psychological evaluations in civil law cases would seek out elements of distortions and flaws within the mental and emotional state of a patient. Such process only work to discover whether the patient had psychological conditions that would find them guilty or not (Duckworth, Iezzi, & O’Donohue, 2008). With the introduction of social elements in the equation, psychological evaluations in civil law cases have had the ability to bring out even more elaborate and useful reports. Medical practitioners performing the assessment can gather more information on the patient and this implies a higher level of accuracy in making court verdict by judges (Duckworth et al., 2008).


Beck, C. J. A., Holtzworth-Munroe, A., D’Onofrio, B. M., Fee, H. W. C., & Hill, H. F. G. (2009). Collaboration between judges and social science researchers in family law. Family Court Review, 47, 3, 451-467.

Bennett, W. W., Hess, K. M., & Orthmann, C. M. H. (2007). Management and supervision in law enforcement.

Brest, P., & Krieger, L. H. (2010). Problem solving, decision-making, and professional judgment: A guide for lawyers and policymakers. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Brooks-Gordon, B., & Freeman, M. D. A. (2006). Law and Psychology. New York: Oxford University Press.

Costanzo, M., Krauss, D., & Pezdek, K. (2007). Expert psychological testimony for the courts. Mahwah, N.J: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Drogin, E. Y., Dattilio, F. M., Sadoff, R. L., & Gutheil, T. G. (2011). Handbook of forensic assessment. New York: Wiley.

Duckworth, M. P., Iezzi, T., & O’Donohue, W. T. (Eds.). (2008). Motor vehicle collisions: Medical, psychosocial, and legal consequences. New York: Elsevier.

Heilbrun, K., Grisso, T., & Goldstein, A. M. (2009). Foundations of forensic mental health assessment. New York: Oxford University Press.

Kapardis, A. (2010). Psychology and law: A critical introduction. Cambridge [u.a.: Cambridge Univ. Press.

Kuther, T. L. (2004). Your career in psychology: Psychology and the law. Australia: Thomson/Wadsworth.

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