Education
Fact-checked

At PracticalAdultInsights, we're committed to delivering accurate, trustworthy information. Our expert-authored content is rigorously fact-checked and sourced from credible authorities. Discover how we uphold the highest standards in providing you with reliable knowledge.

Learn more...

What is a Forensic Psychiatrist?

A forensic psychiatrist is a medical doctor specializing in the intersection of mental health and law. They evaluate individuals involved in legal cases for mental health issues, providing expert testimony in court. Intrigued? How might a forensic psychiatrist impact the outcome of a legal case?
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A forensic psychiatrist is a medical professional who offers his or her expertise in legal cases which involve mental health and mental health issues. While many think specifically of pathologists when they hear the word “forensic,” this term is used more generally to describe the application of the sciences to legal matters. Forensic psychiatrists also different from forensic psychologists. Although both deal with mental health issues and the legal system, they have different levels of training and approaches to their cases.

In order to become a forensic psychiatrist, someone must attend medical school to become a doctor and elect to take a residency in psychiatry. During the residency, the student learns about mental illness and the various approaches to treatment available, while qualifying as a doctor who can offer psychiatric help to patients in need. Entering the field of forensic psychiatry requires additional training in issues unique to this branch of the psychiatric field.

In criminal court cases, a forensic psychiatrist can determine if someone has the mental capacity to be tried.
In criminal court cases, a forensic psychiatrist can determine if someone has the mental capacity to be tried.

While a forensic psychiatrist is not a lawyer, he or she may be familiar with many aspects of the legal system, in order to work more effectively. Forensic psychiatrists can be retained in a legal case for a variety of reasons. They are often involved in competency hearings to determine whether or not someone is mentally capable of standing trial, and to assess someone's mental state at the time of a crime.

Forensic psychiatrists may help couples work through issues during court mandated therapy.
Forensic psychiatrists may help couples work through issues during court mandated therapy.

A forensic psychiatrist may also evaluate a victim or a defendant to produce evidence which can be used in court. For example, a minor requesting emancipation might ask for an examination by a forensic psychiatrist to prove that he or she is capable of living as an adult, or the parents of a child accused of murdering a classmate might ask a psychiatrist to evaluate the child to determine whether mental health played a role in the crime. The work of a forensic psychiatrist may also include treatment recommendations, including recommendations regarding sentencing, parole, or probation.

Forensic psychiatrists may evaluate victims of crimes.
Forensic psychiatrists may evaluate victims of crimes.

There is no precise legal definition of an “expert witness.” As a general rule, people use this term to describe individuals who are highly skilled in their field, and competent on the witness stand. Forensic psychiatrists can work for the defense or the prosecution, and they use their skills in a wide variety of ways, from recommending that a mentally incompetent criminal be institutionalized to helping a victim who may struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Some forensic psychiatrists deal primarily with youth offenders.
Some forensic psychiatrists deal primarily with youth offenders.

In addition to working for the legal system, it is not uncommon for a forensic psychiatrist to opt to maintain a clinical practice. This ensures that his or her skills in the mental health field stay sharp, and it can provide a ground for research which may make the psychiatrist more appealing as a potential witness or consultant.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a PracticalAdultInsights researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a PracticalAdultInsights researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...

You might also Like

Discuss this Article

Post your comments
Login:
Forgot password?
Register:
    • In criminal court cases, a forensic psychiatrist can determine if someone has the mental capacity to be tried.
      By: alexsokolov
      In criminal court cases, a forensic psychiatrist can determine if someone has the mental capacity to be tried.
    • Forensic psychiatrists may help couples work through issues during court mandated therapy.
      By: Monkey Business
      Forensic psychiatrists may help couples work through issues during court mandated therapy.
    • Forensic psychiatrists may evaluate victims of crimes.
      By: Astrid Gast
      Forensic psychiatrists may evaluate victims of crimes.
    • Some forensic psychiatrists deal primarily with youth offenders.
      By: Monkey Business
      Some forensic psychiatrists deal primarily with youth offenders.
    • A forensic psychiatrist may take the witness stand as an expert witness.
      By: TAGSTOCK2
      A forensic psychiatrist may take the witness stand as an expert witness.