Mastering Expert Testimony: A Courtroom Handbook for Mental Health Professionals

Mastering Expert Testimony: A Courtroom Handbook for Mental Health Professionals

Mastering Expert Testimony: A Courtroom Handbook for Mental Health Professionals

Mastering Expert Testimony: A Courtroom Handbook for Mental Health Professionals


The past two decades have seen a rapidly growing involvement of psychologists and psychiatrists in legal proceedings for criminal cases, divorces, and traffic and industrial accidents. Mental health professionals are traditionally not trained to cope with the legal responsibilities that arise from their routine clinical work and are eager to learn the professional skills that are needed in forensic settings. There is presently no book which focuses entirely on the strategies and verbal tactics employed by attorneys who critically examine and challenge the testimony of mental health professionals. If psychologists and psychiatrists can familiarize themselves with the kind of questions and verbal exchanges that take place in the courtroom, they would be better prepared to provide their expertise in an effective manner. This book fills that need.

Designed as a practical handbook to assist practitioners from all mental health disciplines, it focuses on typical courtroom dialogue between attorneys and mental health professionals who testify regarding their psychotherapy clients and also those who are hired by attorneys specifically to provide expert opinions. The authors, who have extensive experience in the courtroom, offer well-thought-out, effective responses as contrasted with impulsive and weak answers to attorneys' queries. Actual cases are employed to illustrate typical challenges in various legal areas, including criminal law, child custody hearings, and personal injury cases. Certain forensic issues such as the scientific bases of expert opinions, the accuracy of psychological vs. medical tests, and malingering, are emphasized throughout the chapters.

The book is based on the belief that exposure to courtroom dialogue enhances the awareness of appropriate professional responses to an attorney's cross-examination and greatly alleviates fear toward a situation well-known to provoke intense levels of anxiety. Although it is written alluding to the forensic psychologist or psychiatrist, the strategies for the witness are readily applicable in most instances to all mental health professionals. Issues such as therapist bias, unconfirmed observations, and cultural and ethnic factors are clearly relevant to all who provide mental health services.


Patrick H. DeLeon, PhD, JD U.S. Senate Staff

The courtroom represents an exciting and highly challenging arena for most mental health professionals. It truly is uncharted territory, for which the majority of our colleagues possess very little formal training.

Thus, for the practicing clinician, an intimate appreciation for the inner workings of the court--its unique language, procedures, and expectations--is critical. Well-prepared and reasoned mental health experts can contribute significantly to the court's decision-making process. Conversely, those who do not appreciate the nuances of the judicial system, or who are unprepared, will soon feel its wrath--for, "fools are not suffered gladly." The judicial process--unlike the underlying tenants of the mental health field--is above all else, an adversarial one.

This practice-oriented handbook impressively accomplishes its objective of effectively assisting experienced practitioners from all of the mental health disciplines in understanding and contributing meaningfully to the court's deliberations. Its unique approach of providing specific examples of typical courtroom dialogues between attorneys and mental health professionals, including suggesting "effective" responses, represents a refreshing approach to continuing education. The extensive courtroom experience of the authors facilitates an appreciation for differentiating between meaningful versus insignificant issues. Foundations are laid, in both legal and psychological terms, explaining the different approaches taken by the law and the mental health field to such critical issues as confidentiality, the role of experts, and client-professional relationships.

Addressing the ever-feared classic courtroom confrontation--the rhetorical, "are you a real doctor?"--helpful tips are provided. Underlying issues addressed include cross-examination of testing results, determination of patient malingering, and maintaining one's professional credibility. Throughout, one clear message constantly comes through: the ultimate importance of being . . .

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