How are Forensic Evaluations Different from Clinical Evaluations?



Although forensic psychologists and clinical psychologists both offer evaluative procedures for clients, there are significant differences including ethical requirements, who the client is, the purpose of the evaluation, who receives the information from the evaluation and confidentiality.


Referral Sources for Clinical and Forensic Evaluations


Individuals who receive clinical evaluations are typically doing so at the recommendation of their doctor or therapist in an effort to improve their or their child's well-being. Alternatively, a forensic psychologist provides an evaluation at the request of a third-party such as an attorney, court or insurance company for legal reasons. Some employers might also make these requests as a form of pre-employment screenings or fitness-for-duty assessments.


Purpose of Clinical and Forensic Evaluations


The purpose of a clinical evaluation is to obtain objective information to understand a patient’s symptoms, make an accurate diagnosis, determine appropriate therapeutic interventions and, in many cases, evaluate ongoing therapeutic progress. A forensic psychologist obtains objective information about an examinee’s mental state at a particular point in time to help the judicial system make important legal decisions. A clinical psychologist does not necessarily have the training to work as a forensic psychologist; however, a forensic psychologist must have a strong clinical background to perform their job effectively. In addition, the forensic mental health assessment instruments used in forensic evaluations may differ from those used in clinical evaluations. Here are some additional ways in which these two evaluations are different.


Clients in Clinical and Forensic Evaluations


In a clinical evaluation, the psychologist-patient relationship is therapeutic and the psychologist advocates and supports his or her patient to make healthy changes in thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Since forensic evaluations are focused on gathering objective and thorough data to assist the court in making important legal decisions, the forensic psychologist does not advocate or treat the examinee but maintains an objective relationship with the examinee. The difference in roles of a clinical psychologist and forensic psychologist is also seen when a psychologist needs to testify in court. A therapist who is asked by the court to provide testimony on behalf of their knowledge about their patient is a fact witness; whereas, a forensic psychologist who is testifying about findings from a forensic mental health assessment is an expert witness.


Confidentiality and Client Relationships


The results of clinical evaluations are confidential. In other words, the information doesn't leave the confines of the doctor-patient relationship unless the patient signs off on it. In a clinical evaluation, the results of the assessment are discussed directly with the patient. If a child is being assessed, a parent or guardian is the client and the results are discussed with them.


During a forensic evaluation, the client is typically an attorney, the court or an agency– not the person being assessed. A forensic psychologist shares the results of the evaluation with the referral source but does not share the results with the person being evaluated. Often a forensic psychologist is asked to write a report and is sometimes asked to participate in a deposition or provide expert testimony to explain the findings.


If you’re looking for a Connecticut forensic psychologist or Texas forensic psychologist,

Dr. Michelle Peacock offers expert forensic services for clients in the area of civil, criminal, juvenile and family law. Feel free to contact us to schedule an appointment or learn more about the forensic services Dr. Michelle offers.