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By Grishma Ghelani

Forensic psychology applies the science of psychology in the legal field. Forensic psychologists play an essential role in the outcome of a legal case. Whether you are a student aspiring to become a forensic psychologist, a forensic psychologist yourself or in general intrigued by this field, there are many helpful books and scholarly material you could use to educate yourself.

Books about forensic psychology provide a coherent overview of topics ranging from court proceedings to psychological assessments, criminal profiling, investigative procedures, interviewing children in foster care, examining thought processes of alleged murderers and much more!

The list is not exhaustive; however, the following are books essential to your reading list if you aim to have good knowledge and understanding of the areas within forensic psychology. This list will provide you with tools not only to academically jumpstart your learning experience but also enhance your knowledge in this growing stream.

1.     Forensic Psychology: A Very Short Introduction by David Canter

“This fascinating Very Short Introduction discusses all the aspects of psychology that are relevant to the legal and criminal process as a whole. It includes explanations of criminal behavior and criminality, including the role of mental disorder in crime, and it reveals how forensic psychology contributes to helping investigate the crime and catching the perpetrators. David Canter also explains how psychologists provide guidance to all those involved in civil and criminal court proceedings, including both the police and the accused, and what expert testimony can be provided by a psychologist about the offender at the trial. Finally, Canter describes how forensic psychology is used, particularly in prisons, to help in the management, treatment and rehabilitation of offenders, once they have been convicted”.

2.     Introduction to Forensic Psychology: Research and Application by Curt R. Bartol, Anne M. Bartol
“Filled with real life examples, practical applications, and case law discussions, this proven text covers new and emerging fields of study, the many areas where psychology plays a significant role in the civil and criminal justice systems, and the wide range of issues that are an integral part of the forensic psychologist s day-to-day work”

3.     Forensic Psychology: From Classroom to Courtroom  by Brent Van Dorsten

“This book includes a discussion of the propagation of forensic psychology as a field of specialization, professional preparation issues for training as a forensic psychologist, unique ethical concerns, and an authoritative discussion of issues in several prominent areas of forensic psychology practice”

4.     Forensic and Criminal Psychology by Dennis Howitt

“This book provides a thorough introduction to the major issues and findings of modern forensic and criminal psychology. The lively text is designed to maximize its practical usefulness to students of the field at any level. It is the most comprehensive single volume covering the broadest range of issues from the childhood of offenders through to assessing risk of future offending. All stages of the process are covered, including police psychology, investigative psychology, interviewing, judges and juries, prison and many other topics”.

5.     Psychological Evaluations for the Courts, Third Edition: A Handbook for Mental Health Professionals and Lawyers by Gary B. Melton,‎ John Petrila,‎ Norman G. Poythress

“This is the definitive reference and text for both mental health and legal professionals. The authors offer a uniquely comprehensive discussion of the legal and clinical contexts of forensic assessment, along with best-practice guidelines for participating effectively and ethically in a wide range of criminal and civil proceedings. Presented are findings, instruments, and procedures related to criminal and civil competencies, civil commitment, sentencing, personal injury claims, antidiscrimination laws, child custody, juvenile justice, and more”.

6.     Investigative Psychology: Offender Profiling and the Analysis of Criminal Action by David V. Canter and Donna Youngs

“This ground-breaking text is the first to provide a detailed overview of Investigative Psychology, from the earliest work through to recent studies, including descriptions of previously unpublished internal reports. Crucially it provides a framework for students to explore this exciting terrain, combining Narrative Theory and an Action Systems framework. It includes empirically tested models for Offender Profiling and guidance for investigations, as well as an agenda for research in Investigative Psychology.

In effect, this text introduces an exciting new paradigm for a wide range of psychological contributions to all forms of investigation within and outside of law enforcement. Each chapter has actual cases and quotations from offenders and ends with questions for discussion and research, making this a valuable text for undergraduate and postgraduate courses in Applied and Forensic Psychology, Criminology, Socio-Legal Studies and related disciplines”.
7.     Minds on Trial: Great Cases in Law and Psychology by Charles Patrick Ewing and Joseph T. McCann

“In recent years, the public has become increasingly fascinated with the criminal mind. Television series centered on courtroom trials, criminal investigations, and forensic psychology are more popular than ever. More and more people are interested in the American system of justice and the individuals who experience it firsthand.

Minds on Trial: Great Cases in Law and Psychology gives you an inside view of 20 of the highest profile legal cases of the last 50 years. Drs. Ewing and McCann take you “behind the scenes” of each of these cases, some involving celebrities like Woody Allen, Mike Tyson, and Patty Hearst, and explain the impact they had on the fields of psychology and the law. Many of the cases in this book, whether involving a celebrity client or an ordinary person in an extraordinary circumstance, were determined in part by the expert testimony of a psychologist or other mental health professional. Psychology has always played a vital role in so many aspects of the American legal system, and these fascinating trials offer insight into many intriguing psychological issues. In addition to expert testimony, some of the issues discussed in this entertaining and educational book include the insanity defense, brainwashing, criminal profiling, capital punishment, child custody, juvenile delinquency, and false confessions.

In Minds on Trial, the authors skillfully convey the psychological and legal drama of each case, while providing important and fresh professional insights. Mental health and legal professionals, as well as others with an interest in psychology and the law will have a hard time putting this scholarly, yet readable book down”.

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We recently had the opportunity to conduct a series of interviews with a variety of people holding different forensic psychology jobs to gain an understanding of what they in fact do on a day-to-day basis. To begin this series, we interviewed a forensic psychologist specializing in the area of assessing offenders sentenced to prison for sexually violent crimes to determine whether or not they are safe to reenter society after completing their sentence. Depending on the opinions, report and testimony of these experts, these offenders could be released or civilly committed at the completion of their sentence.

We found the work of this expert witness to be particularly interesting. He starts off his day by reviewing a very, very large amount of what he referred to as discovery. These materials included various records concerning the offender’s criminal history, mental health records, past evaluations, medical records, military service records, prison records and the list goes on. The stack of documents was larger than a yellow pages phonebook.

After reviewing this material, the psychologist assembled his psychological testing that he planned to administer, which included general paper and pencil tests to assess the offender’s mental health as well as specific tests based on mathematical equations to help determine the offender’s risk for re-offending.

Subsequently, the psychologist administered the testing and then conducted an interview with the offender. The interview was cut and dry. We did not notice anything therapeutic about it. Rather the expert appeared to gather facts like we would expect from let us say a newspaper reporter. The psychologist said he would then score this testing and capture the factual findings of the interview in a report. At the end of that report would be an opinion section wherein the psychologist’s opinions can be found that are based on the facts that he gathered from the interview as well as the findings of the psychological testing and the risk prediction measure. These opinions are focused upon addressing specific legal questions that are the focus of the judicial process as it relates to the psychological elements to legally decide upon civil commitment.

A couple of weeks later, the expert indicated his report totaled approximately 22 pages and also included collateral information he gathered from prison staff and others. According to him, this routine is similar to what is required for most forensic psychology jobs on a day-to-day basis.

Frankly, it was not what I thought I would be doing as a forensic psychologist. He spent two hours interviewing, which was nothing like Silence of the Lambs followed by from what he said amounted to eight hours of research, fact gathering, and report writing. Things pick up again if required to testify and at that point it may resemble something that you have seen on TV with one lawyer shooting you easy questions followed by another lawyer doing his or her best to rile you and to make you look incompetent, with objections being thrown out and judges trying to control the whole rigmarole.

However, according to this psychologist, it is more profitable to spend his days conducting evaluations rather than providing testimony. If he conducts two interviews in a day, he can bill for at least 20 hours. If he spends a day in court testifying, he can bill eight hours at best.

Forensic psychology jobs in our opinion appear to look more like writing jobs than anything else we have seen on television.

This website is focused on the needs of undergraduate students interested in forensic psychology and the material here is produced by students under the mentorship of various forensic psychologists. Therefore, we do not expect the goal of the reader visiting this website to be to find forensic psychology jobs; though, if it is, you may want to consider looking at State Psychological Association websites and LinkedIn, or joining the listserv associated with the forensic division of various psychological associations at the state level.

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