Friday, October 26, 2012

Forensic Education and the Search for Truth

In 2005, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) issued a report criticizing the status of forensic science in the United States. It called for better reliability, enforceable standards, and use of best practices. The NAS’s main conclusion: “Research is desperately needed.” The report barely mentioned forensic psychiatry, however, said Charles Scott, M.D., president of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, in his presidential address at the organization’s annual meeting Thursday in Montreal. “We were in the book, but we were not well defined.”

To better define itself as a science, forensic psychiatry needs to continue its balance of clinical and actuarial methods of evaluating patients. However, more research is needed on the instruments forensic psychiatrists use to assess risk, especially now that statutes and regulations are beginning to require their use. Many such instruments were devised as research tools and work well with populations but are less predictive in assessing individuals, said Scott, a professor of psychiatry at the University of California, Davis, and a member of APA's Council on Psychiatry and Law. Research is needed to settle on a defined number of instruments that are appropriate, ethical, and administered by psychiatrists, he said. These tests can serve a number of purposes. They are a structured way to gather information and are important components of risk assessment in treatment settings. They also allow review of evidence and of other experts’ analyses. However, as questions about the validity and utility of these tools are refined, psychiatrists will need more training to keep up their skills, he stated.

For an in-depth review of this area, see The American Psychiatric Publishing Textbook of Forensic Psychiatry, Second Edition, and a new book from American Psychiatric Publishing, The Mental Health Professional in Court: A Survival Guide.

(image: efired/


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