The History of Forensic Psychology

Forensic Psychology is the application of the science and profession of psychology to questions and issues relating to law and the legal system. The word “forensic” comes from the Latin word “forensis,” meaning “of the forum,” where the law courts of ancient Rome were held. Today forensic refers to the application of scientific principles and practices to the adversary process where especially knowledgeable scientists play a role.

There are several types of Forensic Psychologists although most fall into three different categories, criminal investigation, courtroom experts, and/or correctional psychiatrists. I decided to focus on the criminal aspect since it interests me the most.

Forensic Psychologists can play a number of key roles in a criminal investigation. Immediately following a crime a forensic psychologist may be asked to act as a criminal profiler. Criminal profiling involves the psychologist using their understanding of human behavior, motivation, and pathology to create a psychological profile of an offender. The profiles can be surprisingly accurate. From observations of the crime scene, one can infer the behavioral characteristics of the individual who created it. To a profiler, everyone is a slave to his or her psychological makeup. In turn, profilers use their knowledge of the typical offender to predict not only how the investigators can expect the offender to behave in the future, but also what their physical appearance will likely be. While profiling may seem very exciting, few psychologists are ever involved in this field. There, fortunately, are not a lot of serial offenders out there. Unfortunately, there are even fewer places where one can obtain profiler training.

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