History of Forensic Psychology

Forensic Psychology is the newest adapted branch of  psychology. Forensic Psychology is a hard subfield to define precisely, as it is still a growing field. Most will define the field as psychology involved in the legal system and how both coincide with one another. A forensic psychologist must be able to understand criminal law as well as judges, attorneys, and law enforcement. The field is continuing to rapidly grow as many professional organizations are starting to recognize and devote his or her time into the research and practical application within the field (Bartol & Bartol, 2012). In order for one to understand the semantics of the field, he or she must first understand how the field is categorized. There are five subspecialties in the field. According to the  Introduction to Forensic Psychology textbook, it states that the five sub-specialties are the following: “Police psychology, psychology of crime and delinquency, victimology and victim services, legal psychology, and correctional psychology.” (Bartol & Bartol, 2012, pp.7-9).

Even though this field is a new subfield in psychology, historical points of reference have been made in the field since 1893. The first psychological experiment on testimony was conducted in 1893 at Columbia University (Bartol & Bartol, 2012, pp.7).  Another benchmark for the field was in 1921 and 1922. In 1921, it was the first time a psychologist is able to testify as an expert witness in the case State vs. Driver. In 1922, the first psychologist is able to testify at civil trials (Heilbrun & Brooks, August 2010).  All of these events have contributed to the evolving field. For a psychologist to finally be able to testify as an expert or material witness is a leading benchmark. This has been the standard in the field now for many years. However, psychiatrists are now looked as a more reputable witness to do their medical credentials. More and more often both are being required to testify, all depending on the type of case and persons involved. These are all very important factors that still are still in effect today. However, the largest turning point for the field could be in 1972 when correctional psychology became recognized as a profession  (Bartol & Bartol, 2012).  Being able to testify in court as a psychologist is one thing, but being able to be a recognized profession means everything. Soon after this was a recognized professional career, the first psychology and law program was developed, the American Board of Forensic Psychology began certifying diplomates, and the American Psychological Association recognizes forensic psychology as a specialty  (Bartol & Bartol, 2012).

The APA is the end all be all for the field of psychology. Having the APA recognize forensic psychology as a sub-specialty is the largest impact thus far. After being recognized, it was realized that the field not only encompasses clinical practice but research as well. Hence breaking the field up into even more specialties that were listed above as the five areas. In the last ten years, the field has continued to grow rapidly and is receiving more and more research, funding, and clinical emphasis with many recent graduates.

Bartol, C. R., & Bartol, A. M. (2012). Introduction to Forensic Psychology Research and Application (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications Inc.

Heilbrun, K., & Brooks, S. (August 2010). Forensic Psychology and Forensic Science: A Proposed Agenda for the Next Decade. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 16(3), 221-227. doi:10.1037/a0019138

Roesch, R., & Rogers, B. (August 2011). The Cambridge Handbook of Forensic Psychology. Canadian Psychological Review, 52(3), 10-17. doi:10.1037/a0024805


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