Forensic psychiatry is a part of the medical field that combines the legalities of the judicial system and the mental health aspect of the medical system. Forensic psychiatrists will juggle both sectors and may be working with attorneys on a client’s mental status one day and prescribing a new medicine for a patient with schizophrenia the next. Because a psychiatrist is a medical doctor with a medical degree, those who combine it with forensics will sometimes have a law degree too. Although it’s not usually required, at the very least, these medical professionals will undergo additional training.
They will take their training in the diagnosis, treatment and understanding of mental disorders and provide consultation to lawyers, judges and others in the legal field. As with many cases that end up in front of a judge, a forensic psychiatrist will usually find himself on one side or another. Usually, though, he will represent that patient in an effort to ensure a mentally incapacitated persons needs are met. They are, of course, what is referred to as the “experts” in the court rooms, says A. Harrison Barnes, lawyer and founder of LawCrossing.com. Those forensic experts work from an ethical standpoint and focus on the evidence provided. They must remain objective and those who are exceptional in their jobs realize they are not testifying from a legal standpoint, but rather, a medical point of view.
Another interesting facet of forensic psychiatry is that these professionals do not always arrive at the same conclusion as the firms they are consulting with. It’s not uncommon for a firm to pay an expert for his time and efforts, and then not call them to testify in any court proceedings. Those ethical professionals know their goal is not to sugarcoat the truth, but to provide the best testimony that’s accurate and unbiased, says the LawCrossing.com founder. “It can be a fine line these experts walk”, says Barnes, “but the good ones know how to keep it in perspective while not compromising their oath or sense of right from wrong”.
One expert, when asked why he did not side with the attorney who hired him, was simple – yet clear – in his explanation. He said these professionals are paid for their time and not their testimony – and once this is understood, it becomes easy for these medical physicians to maintain perspective.
If you’re considering going into this field, A. Harrison Barnes says there are many programs across the country that are superb for fostering professionals with ethics and a clear understanding of their role in both the legal and medical fields. It’s a commitment, to be sure, but Barnes says it’s one worth making and those who are helped in the process should only reiterate the value of these professionals. And if you’ve already completed your education, be sure to visit the LawCrossing.com for more information on salaries and openings for forensic psychiatrists.
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