Ethical Practice in Forensic Psychology: A Systemic Model for Decision Making

By Glassgold, Judith M. | Journal of Psychiatry & Law, Winter 2006 | Go to article overview

Ethical Practice in Forensic Psychology: A Systemic Model for Decision Making


Glassgold, Judith M., Journal of Psychiatry & Law


Ethical Practice in Forensic Psychology: A Systemic Model for Decision Making, by Shane S. Bush, Mary A. Connell & Robert L. Denney (Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2006), 192 pp., $ 69.95.

Forensic psychologists are vulnerable to ethics complaints simply by the nature of their work. They are involved in disputes that involve the legal system, that are adversarial in nature, and that have high stakes for participants. Further, few graduate programs or internships have training in forensic psychology, so that many practitioners are selftaught, and others have uneven or incomplete education, particularly in forensic ethics. Additionally, many practitioners start out in more traditional clinical areas; as these areas are fundamentally different from forensic psychology, problems arise when individuals make the transition.

In this succinct and informative text, Bush, Connell & Denney provide clear explanations of ethical practices. Their most notable accomplishment is to situate ethics in forensic psychology within the general framework of medical and psychological ethics, while understanding the specific pressures and issues involved in working within the legal system. Further, they develop and then illustrate an eight step problem-solving strategy for thinking through and resolving ethical dilemmas. Throughout the work there are concrete and realistic examples of common ethical dilemmas with detailed explanations of the use of their model in arriving at a course of action. There is also a final section on how to handle the ethical violations of others.

Bush, Connell & Denney's knowledge of the field is broad and comprehensive, and they integrate practice guidelines and standards from the major forensic professional societies, key texts in forensic psychology, as well as the APA ethics code to provide a seamless view of ethical practice. Thus, this work provides both the beginner and expert in forensic practice a solid foundation to guide their decision-making.

One of the complaints made by some is that the 2002 revision of the American Psychological Association (APA) Ethics Code omitted specific references to forensic psychology. However, Bush, Connell, & Denney clearly illustrate through exact references to the Code how this document is relevant to forensic practice despite the absence of unique standards for forensic psychology. Forensic professionals are still fundamentally health professionals bound by the general principles of the Ethics Code: Beneficence & Nonmaleficence (Principle A), Fidelity & responsibility (Principle B), Integrity (Principle C), Justice (Principle D), Autonomy and Respect (Principle E). In clinical roles the application of the ethical principles is well delineated. However, in the adversarial environment of most judicial proceedings, where each party advocates for its perspective, conflicts between these principles can appear. However, the authors apply these principles to the basic practice of forensic psychology and describe in detail how these principles can be upheld and conflicts resolved.

This consistency becomes clearer, when Bush, Connell & Denney make the key point that as the client in forensic evaluations is not the individual(s), but the justice system, the examiner is discharging their ethical responsibilities described in the Ethical Principles, when they provide the legal system, and thus indirectly society, with the best possible information. The authors state the fundamental premise: "The purpose of the forensic evaluation is to assist the legal decision maker" (p. 11). As the authors point out, this is completely different from clinical practice, whose purpose is to assist the individual patient. Thus, the evaluator must educate the judicial body or legal entity, providing as accurate material as possible regarding the psychological issues relevant to the case. …

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