Crack a Criminal Stereotype ; Forensic and Clinical Psychologists Have a Far Wider Area of Expertise Than You May Have Thought
Pozniak, Helena, The Independent (London, England)
The set of Holby City is an unlikely setting for a consultant forensic clinical psychologist such as Ged Bailes - but it does makes a change from dealing with the mentally ill and sex offenders. "I was advising on a story line - it just cracked me up - they thought I was a mind reader and that forensic psychology was a black art." In fact, speak to any forensic psychologist and one of the first things they'll tell you is of course that it's nothing like on the telly. Profiling criminals for the police employs but a few forensics, and their work bears little relation to crime dramas - apologies Cracker.
Forensic psychologists look at issues around criminal behaviour - how people behave within the legal services, criminal patterns and the impact of crime. They may look at effects of crime on victims, or family and child issues. They can advise courts as expert witnesses. They work in prisons, the probation service, secure hospitals or youth treatment centres. "It's not just about the weird things people do, that's just a tiny area," says Bailes. "It's about people and their behaviour in the broadest term - an exciting and fascinating area."
By far the largest employers of forensic psychologists are the Prison and Probation Services. "This means, among other things, assessing the risk of `lifers' re-offending, advising on their release, and developing methods to help criminals change their behaviour, as well as supporting supervision in the community," says Professor Cynthia McDougall, Director of the Centre for Criminal Justice Economics and Psychology at the University of York. Within prisons, psychologists also advise on issues such as prison regime, how best to organise prisoners to create minimum volatility, dealing with hostage situations, stress among prison staff and the training of officers.
Developing programmes to treat and rehabilitate offenders is a growing area of opportunity - more forensic psychologists are being sought by the probation service as the number of therapeutic-style treatments grows.
Sometimes the boundaries blur between forensic and clinical psychology - and clinical psychologists working with people with personality disorders, mentally ill patients and behavioural problems in secure hospitals often become qualified as forensic psychologists. There's scope for forensic psychologists within the prison service to apply to work with an NHS employer.
"There are many more jobs in clinical forensic psychology," says Ged Bailes. "And the pay is generally better. You also have a lot more freedom work-wise." Forensic clinical psychologists will work with bodies such as the police, the courts, probation and social services as well as psychiatric services.
Private work is an option open to chartered forensic psychologists - preparing court reports on defendants for solicitors, for instance, or working in a growing number of private secure prisons and hospitals.
Alternatively, you could choose to specialise in legal systems - where you'd investigate issues such as how to interview child witnesses, the ability to remember events, false confessions and why people make them, or how best to advise a jury.
And there's scope for research as many areas remain under- investigated, says Professor McDougall. "There's a lot of work to be done around women offenders, who until recently were a small group. And on the preventative side, we need to know how to get at offenders a lot earlier before they become `hardened'."
Dealing with criminal behaviour means confronting people who have committed hideous crimes such as child sex offences. "You need to be able to be dispassionate, remain calm and not get emotionally involved," says Professor McDougall. "We are wary of people approaching us with a cause celebre - rape for instance. You need to be able to contain your horror and anger but we don't want people who are cold. …