Friday, July 19, 2013

Scientific Advances Bring Major Changes to Forensic Psychiatry

As it ends its second decade as an official subspecialty, the field of forensic psychiatry is digesting dramatic changes that are making it more science based and expanding the areas in which it contributes expertise. For example, there has been "the steady introduction of a more systematic means of assessment," Paul Appelbaum, M.D., chair of the APA Committee on Judicial Action and a former APA President, told Psychiatric News. "Clinical evaluations have in many settings been supplemented by more systematic data-gathering tools, such as scales for the assessment of symptoms and mental states." In addition, "forensic psychiatry has become much more important in child custody, disability evaluations, and perhaps more significantly for the public, in sickness-for-duty evaluations," said Patricia Recupero, M.D., J.D., a professor of psychiatry at Brown University.

Perhaps the greatest recent change in this field is its rapidly growing science base, characterized by the introduction of "structural and functional neuroimaging, electrophysiolgical studies, and genetic information in court....," said Appelbaum, who is the Dollard Professor of Psychiatry, Medicine, and Law at Columbia University. "With the human-genome project, there is a lot of interest in genetic testing in forensic situations," noted William Bernet, M.D., a professor of psychiatry emeritus at Vanderbilt University.

To read much more about how forensic psychiatry is changing and the challenges and rewards that its practitioners say come with working in this field, see today's issue of Psychiatric News here and here. For a comprehensive review of the field, see the American Psychiatric Publishing Textbook of Forensic Psychiatry, Second Edition here.

(image: Andrey Burmakin/


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