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What is a forensic expert in Psychology?

What is a forensic expert in Psychology?

March 28, 2024

The need for collaboration between Law and Psychology for the proper functioning of the judiciary is becoming increasingly evident. Psychology and Law have in common their object of intervention, which is none other than the behavior of the person. In fact, Psychology is an "ally" of the Law , because before the questions of Justice Psychology cooperates in the forum (court or tribunal), and improves the exercise of Law.

One of the roles of a forensic psychologist is to issue expert reports , that is, be a forensic expert. The forensic expert is responsible for conducting a psychological evaluation directly associated with the judicial case commissioned based on their experience and specific knowledge.

In this sense, an expert forensic psychologist will not be able to issue personal opinions without a scientific basis, should not issue professional opinions (eg, presence of psychopathology) without having evaluated it appropriately, should not use inappropriate methods of evaluation, should be impartial and is obliged to use contrasted information. In addition, the report issued by the forensic expert must be replicable.

  • Related article: "Forensic Psychology: definition and functions of the forensic psychologist"

Definition of forensic expertise

Purely, forensic expertise is the action derived from a technical examination by a specialist or several specialists that serves as evidence for a Judge or a Court. The objective of the forensic experts is to help and facilitate the work of the judges and courts. I mean, it's about bring to justice the expert knowledge of an expert in the form of a report and oral testimony (ratification of the expert report).

It should be emphasized that forensic expert reports are not binding on the court, but they are often a very useful tool for judges to clarify any doubts that may arise about the case they are judging. To give an example in Psychology, psychological forensic experts stand out in the area of ​​credibility analysis of witnesses , as well as expert opinions carried out on victims of child sexual abuse.

In Spain, the law that regulates the issuance of forensic expertise in its scope is the Law of Criminal Procedure.

  • Maybe you're interested: "Differences between criminal psychology and forensic psychology"

Who can ask for this service?

In Spain, there are usually 2 ways in which a psychologist can be contacted to perform an expert opinion:

  • At the request of a party (Article 632 LECr): both on the part of the accusation and of the defense .
  • At the request of judges, courts or interested parties (457-458 LECr).


There are several reasons why it may be necessary to prepare a forensic expert report by a psychologist. In general terms, There are two large areas in judicial matters that define the themes which are likely to require these expert reports: the expertise in civil, family and labor, and, finally, the expertise in criminal law.

Civil, family and labor scope

  • Custody.
  • Guard and custody .
  • Psychological effects and risks of separation or divorce.
  • Total or partial incapacitations .
  • Damages and psychological sequels derived from accidents.
  • Parental eligibility for adoption.
  • Testamentary capacity.
  • Mobbing
  • Incapacity or work disability .

Criminal area

  • Credibility of the testimony.
  • Crimes of domestic violence and gender violence .
  • Imputability evaluation (cognitive and volitional abilities).
  • Victimological psychological sequelae .
  • Bullying
  • Child sexual abuse.
  • Crimes against sexual freedom.
  • Danger and criminal recidivism.

What jobs does the forensic psychologist usually perform?

Some of the most frequently asked questions to the forensic psychologist in the criminal field are:

  • Why did that person commit that crime? (motivation).
  • What are the consequences that the victim presents?
  • Does the person have a mental disorder? (the imputability of the person is evaluated).
  • What personality characteristics define the accused?
  • What is the likelihood that the defendant will reoffend?
  • How credible is the child's testimony in relation to the alleged abuses?

Stages of psychological forensic expertise

Grosso modo, five major stages can be defined for the elaboration of a forensic expert in Psychology. Depending on the complexity of the matter and the number of people to evaluate, the process will be more or less long, as well as the fees.

1. Initial contact

The demand is received and attempts are made to clarify the essential points of the same. At this time the forensic psychologist decides whether to accept or reject the case.

two.Documentation on the case

Exploration of information sources, reading and study of the judicial file , documents, cars, etcetera.

3. Psychological evaluation

The persons involved in the object of the expert appraisal are evaluated. In the report this section is very important, since the methodology used by the expert, the interviews conducted, the techniques used and the date and place of each evaluation session must be clearly stated.

4. Written report

Expository clarity, the structure of the report and the give a clear and concise answer to the questions asked by the judge or client . At the end of the report should appear the conclusions and recommendations made by the expert based on the evaluation.

5. Testing in the room

It is about the ratification of the oral trial report. It is usual to question the forensic expert by lawyers, and even the "confrontation" can take place (questioning together with another professional of Psychology who normally maintains a different posture from ours).

One of the points that generates the most controversy in psychological expert reports are psychiatric diagnoses. We must emphasize that personality descriptions, diagnoses, predictions of behavior ... must always be limited to the situation in which the data have been obtained, and you must be especially careful when making statements based on personal opinions (since they can easily derive in complaints against the professional of Psychology).

Can any psychologist be a forensic expert?

Unlike the exercise of Clinical Psychology (in which to practice in the National Health System the PIR is required and to exercise in private consultation the Official Master's Degree in General Health Psychology is required), in Spain there is no current regulation for the moment on the exercise of Forensic Psychology . This means that any graduate or graduate in Psychology can issue a psychological expert before a Judge, a Court or a Popular Jury.

In fact, in most Psychology Colleges there is a list of experts prepared by the schools themselves, which is usually opened twice a year. In some schools, such as the College of Psychologists of Catalonia, there is the possibility of accrediting the specialization in Forensic Psychology , after having fulfilled a series of requirements. A few years ago, leading professionals within the field, such as María José Catalán, demand a framework of state regulation.

We must emphasize that surely few specialties of Psychology require as much preparation and as varied knowledge as the field of Forensic Psychology, and it is strongly recommended, in order to avoid possible denunciations, the formal preparation of future forensic experts.

Careers in Psychology : What Is Forensic Psychology? (March 2024).

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