The Cambridge Handbook of Forensic Psychology

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The Cambridge Handbook of Forensic Psychology, by Jennifer M. Brown and Elizabeth A. Campbell (Eds.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010, 900 pages (ISBN 978-052170181-5, CA $79.95 Paperback; ISBN 978-0521-87809-8, CA $157.95 Hardcover)

The Cambridge Handbook of Forensic Psychology is a comprehensive reference book that covers a wide range of topics within the field of forensic psychology. There are over 100 entries that cover eight content areas of forensic psychology research and practice: Psychological theories, assessment, intervention, psychology and criminal behaviour, civil law, special topics (e.g., arson, bullying, hostage taking, victimology), professional practice, and research practice. The editors are both based in the United Kingdom and the majority of chapter authors are also from the U.K., although there are 11 authors from Canada, the United States, Australia, and other countries. Canadian forensic psychologists will find the chapter content useful, although some chapters place primary emphasis on relevant U.K. law and practice, and discussion of relevant forensic assessment instruments is occasionally absent. For example, the chapter on consent and capacity in civil cases highlights the Mental Capacity Act for England and Wales, and the personal injury chapter focuses on the role of experts in cases in England and Wales. The chapter on mental health is a generic mental health assessment review and doesn't cover specific forensic assessment instruments that might be used for assessing mental health issues in the forensic context, such as fitness to stand trial or criminal responsibility. For the most part, however, the chapters are written broadly and will be of interest to psychologists in many countries. The authors strike a nice balance between reporting both the state of research and practice to date while also noting limitations in our current knowledge basis.

In their introductory chapter, Brown and Campbell review the history of forensic psychology and note the conflicts that have been identified in defining the field, and in particular how the term forensic psychologist should be used. This is an important debate as it affects training models and practice standards. Forensic psychology is generally construed broadly to encompass contributions that psychology can make to a relevant legal question. This includes assessment of legal issues that are based in clinical psychology, such as fitness to stand trial, criminal responsibility, or risk for violence, but also legal issues that draw on expertise in other areas of psychology, such as eyewitness testimony, jury decision-making, or discrimination in the workplace. Brown and Campbell point to the lack of consensus as to how the field should be defined. They conclude that given the broad range of forensic psychology practice, it is not possible to have a common curriculum that would produce a generic forensic psychologist. Commenting that the term forensic psychology is not universally accepted, they suggest dropping the use of it entirely, to be replaced by their proposed definitional framework that clarifies the different roles of psychologists working in the legal arena. This model identifies the psychologist's role as either academic researcher or practitioner who focuses either directly or indirectly on contributions in various settings (e.g., police, prison, rehabilitation, special hospital, or court), with involvement ranging from occasional to often. We suspect that forensic psychologists in Canada would have less concern about the identity conflicts raised by the editors, as most would accept the American Psychological Association's definition of it as a specialty area in psychology:

Forensic psychology is the professional practice by psychologists within the areas of clinical psychology, counselling psychology, school psychology, or another specialty recognised by the American Psychological Association, when they are engaged as experts and represent themselves as such, in an activity primarily intended to provide professional psychological expertise to the judicial system. …