Forensic Psychology: Meaning & Application

The application of clinical specializations to legal organizations and those who interact with the legal system is known as forensic psychology. It is the result of how psychology and law interact. In this field, psychologists may find work in governmental organizations, educational institutions, therapeutic facilities, legal offices, prisons, and jails. A forensic psychologist has a wide range of duties, although the majority of them are connected to the criminal justice system. The defendant's mental competence to stand trial is a crucial issue in criminal prosecution.

What is Forensic Psychology?

The field of forensic psychology is focused on the psychological elements of courtroom proceedings. The phrase is also frequently used to describe criminological and investigative psychology. Since "forensic" refers to the law, anything that is relevant to the law falls under the purview of "forensic psychology." The field of forensic psychology encompasses all issues related to our legal and civil systems, including courtrooms, police, attorneys, criminal investigations, criminal behavior, police recruiting, training, and adjustment, among other things.

According to Wrightsman “Forensic Psychology is reflected by any application of psychological knowledge or methods to a task faced by the legal system.”

Bartel & Bartel

The research endeavor examines aspects of human behavior directly related to the legal process e.g., eyewitness memory and testimony, jury decision-making or criminal behavior and the professional practice of psychology within or in consultation with a legal system that encompasses both criminal and civil law and the numerous areas where they interact.

History of Forensic Psychology

The legal system has historically welcomed medical knowledge; therefore, it shouldn't come as a surprise that legal concerns connected to insanity and crazy are still addressed within a medical framework. For this reason, terminology like "mental disorder" and "mental illness" has been used.

Hugo Munsterberg, the father of applied psychology, wrote the book On the Witness Stand in 1908. As a result, the area predates the Sociological jurisprudence movement of 1930–1950.

Others cite historical examples from Germany when in 1896 the psychiatrist Albert von Schrenck-Notzing testified in court regarding pretrial publicity. As early as the 1920s, the German police used psychiatrists to aid in their investigations.

Hugo Münsterberg, a professor at Harvard University and a pupil of Wilhelm Wundt, is largely credited with creating the discipline of forensic psychology. In nine chapters of his seminal work, On the Witness Stand (1908), he argued that psychologists should be involved in all facets of the judicial system.

J. McKeen Cattell of Columbia University carried out the first psychological study on the psychology of testifying in the country. The psychiatrist William Healy, whose classic work is titled Pathological Lying, Accusation, and Swindling, founded the Juvenile Psychopathic Institute in 1909 to support Illinois' newly established juvenile court, is credited with the beginnings of clinical or psychological criminology in the United States.

The M'Naghten test for insanity was employed to determine the insanity of Daniel M'Naghten, who shot and killed the prime minister's secretary in 1843. This case marks the beginning of the history of the insanity defense.

How to become a Forensic Psychologist?

The clinical approach, which entails becoming a clinical psychologist first and specializing in forensic psychology, is the preferred path to becoming a forensic psychologist. People who are interested in a career in forensic psychology should focus their academic study on psychology and criminal justice courses. The number of academic institutions that offer a degree in forensic psychology is quite small. In Pakistan, there are two institutions that provide forensic psychology degrees. One can also become ready for this specialty by studying clinical, social, cognitive, criminal investigative, and developmental psychology.

A forensic psychologist may decide to just pursue research as a profession, which might involve anything from analyzing eyewitness evidence to figuring out how to enhance interrogation techniques. Public policy is a different area of forensic psychology study where experts may contribute to the layout of jails and prisons. More broadly, forensic psychology encompasses areas between the conventional criminal justice possibilities (i.e., academic training, law enforcement, and corrections).

Functions of Forensic Psychologists

The following is a list of some of the duties performed by forensic psychologists in the court system

  • Competency Assessments.

  • Recommendations for sentencing.

  • Assessment of the likelihood of reoffending.

  • As an expert witness, testify.

  • Child Custody Assessments

  • Emotional, physical, and sexual abuse of children

  • Competency to stand trial issues.

  • Treatment for Repeat Offenders

Role of Forensic Psychologists

The following are a few of the more common actions a forensic psychologist is involved in

  • Using psychological theory to investigate crimes.

  • Understanding the psychological issues that criminal behavior may cause.

  • Piloting and implementing treatment programs are among the methods used to treat criminals.

  • Modifying the actions of offenders.

  • Providing research justification

  • Making use of statistical analysis to create prisoner profiles

  • Providing testimony in court, such as an expert witness

The Latin word "Forensics," which means "Of the Forum" and refers to locations where the legal courts were once located, is where the word "forensic" first appeared. The term "forensic" now denotes the application of scientific concepts and procedures to the judicial system.

Future of Forensic Psychology

The field of forensic psychology has steadily expanded during the past two decades. Over the next 10 years, it is anticipated that clinical practice, consultancy, and research in the fields of law and psychology would all increase. Working with judges, lawyers, and politicians is expected to be in the highest demand.

Colleges and universities, where the majority of research is done, will continue to add jobs. Laws are always evolving, which is advantageous for forensic psychologists. It's also becoming increasingly fashionable to examine various approaches to dealing with juvenile offenders; choices regarding how to handle young offenders sometimes call for the expertise of a forensic psychologist. More professional prospects are available to persons with doctorates than to those with merely master's degrees. With just a bachelor's degree, it is essentially impossible to specialize in this area.


In summary, forensic psychology has grown steadily throughout the years despite being a relatively new subject of study. Courts nowadays cannot operate without the role of a forensic psychologist. So there is a connection between forensic psychologists and the judicial system. Contrary to popular belief, forensic psychologists are not only used to identify and narrow down criminal patterns; they also work well within the civil justice system. In fact, most people require the services of a forensic psychologist, and the legal system uses them to help ensure that the legal system runs smoothly. As a result, forensic psychologists are a crucial and essential component of the judicial system.

Updated on: 16-Jan-2023


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