Forensic Psychiatry

 

What is a Forensic Psychiatrist?

Forensic Psychiatry is a subspecialty in which psychiatrists use their knowledge of mental illnesses to answer questions posed by the legal system. Forensic psychiatrists are physicians who completed, at minimum, four years of medical school and four years of psychiatry residency to become experts in the diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders. Fellowship-trained forensic psychiatrists complete an additional one year of education focused on the issues at the interface of mental health and the law. 

Forensic psychiatrists provide consultation, evaluations, expert opinions, and testimony regarding a variety of issues in criminal and civil courts where mental health factors are relevant.  Examples include competency to stand trial, sanity at the time of the act, civil commitment, and guardianship.  For a more comprehensive list of the types of evaluations that a forensic psychiatrist can offer, please see Services.

 

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A FORENSIC PSYCHOLOGIST AND A FORENSIC PSYCHIATRIST?

Forensic psychologists have a doctorate degree in psychology (either a Ph.D. or a Psy.D).  They can also offer expert opinions about mental health issues in court. Their training may include more extensive training in the administration of psychological tests compared to forensic psychiatrists.  However, forensic psychologists do not have the medical training and background that a forensic psychiatrist has.  As above, forensic psychiatrists are medical doctors who hold either an M.D. or a D.O. Consequently, forensic psychiatrists are more qualified to provide expert opinions where there is a concern about an organic illness (e.g. brain tumor, encephalopathy) or a medication side effect.