PROFESSIONAL PROFILE OF THE JURIDICAL AND FORENSIC LATINOAMERICAN PSYCHOLOGIST
Alexandra de la Torre
Angela Tapias Saldaña
Carolina Gutiérrez de Piñeres
Alexandra de la Torre
España Estados Unidos
Geraldine Henriquez Bilbao
Iván Valencia Laharenas
Eric García López
Except some rare cases in Latin America, most of the knowledge in the legal and forensic areas of psychology needs to be constructed, and hopefully within a short period of time, due to the growing demands, and the social needs, that make it urgent to count on a strong structure in these disciplines.
Within psychology and similar disciplines many questions arouse, starting from very simple ones to very complex questions, such as What is this discipline? What rol does the professional have in this career? How can a specialist be properly trained? Which are the necessary skills in a legal and forensic psychologist? How to certify and control the different tasks of these professionals?
Even though this document does not answer all of these questions, it intends to become a guide so that different groups and individuals in Latin America, can begin to form academic programs that intend to recruit, certify and control professionals in legal and forensic psychology in each country.
Each country has the liberty to decide what requirements are needed in order to certify a legal or forensic psychologist, some rely on government agencies like the education or health ministry, and some rely on private institutions. This process usually begins with the assessment of experts or by using information and studies from other countries, just as the present document, that was written by well known professionals form different latin countries, which makes its content valid.
This document is an other contribution of the virtual community of www.psicologiajuridica.org and its purpose is to expand the discipline in central and south America , so that psychology as a science can help improve the justice system/
Requirements of the professional profile for legal and forensic psychologists:
A. KNOWEDGE: This aspect is mentioned in first place, because it is considered to be of a great importance, in the profile of a legal and forensic psychologist. This aspect is considered above physical requirements, personality patterns, job environment and responsibility; Never the less despite the fact that this aspect is mentioned briefly it needs to be recognized as one of great importance.
Professional background: The person has completed formal university training, and obtained a degree that certifies him as a Psychologist, because this knowledge allows him to understand behavioral dynamics in the legal areas, and allows him to make psychological interventions.
Over graduate studies: The person must have advanced and specialized studies, and obtained a degree as a specialist or magister in legal psychology. If the professional has a degree in forensic psychology one year of practice must be proven.
Continuous training: The forensic and legal psychologist must be updated in knowledge, which can be obtained through reading constantly specialized articles and scientific magazines such as “Law and human behavior”, “psychology, crime & law”, “Journal of forensic sciences”, “Behavioral Sciences and the law”, “Criminal justice and behavior”.
The professional must also study related subjects in conventions, workshops etc. that can improve his skills with updated studies.
Subject matters for over graduate degrees:
Introduction to legal psychology: Studies of the areas in which law and psychology can or cant converge, world history, national history.
Legal basics: Basic concepts of the rules of law in civil, criminal, family, penitentiary, labour and child law, as well as legal evidence.
Penitentiary psychology: The context of the jail system, the psychological effect of imprisonment. Alternative punishments/treatments for criminals, psychological evaluation of the penitentiary context, stress levels in guards and administrative personnel in prisons, environmental psychology, intervention programs. Evaluation of dangerousness and recidivism.
Criminal psychology: Knowledge in theories that explain criminal behavior, violence, delinquency, criminal careers, evaluation and treatments. Psychological interventions in anti-social behavior, models of penitentiary intervention. Psychology of the criminal behavior, and justice for minors.
Victimology: Psychological evaluation of victims. Intervention programs for victims, crisis intervention and prevention, criminal policies in favor of victims. The use of evaluation tools with psychometric validity.
Forensic evaluation or expert reports: Procedures, techniques and instruments for forensic evaluation, mental illness, Victimology and criminal behavior, determination of criminal responsibility. Psychological factors that interfere on legal decisions, the psychology of testimony, interviews, memory, evaluation on juror credibility, juror selection, effects of mass media and advertising prior to the trial etc.
Mediation: Conciliation, mediation and arbitration models and techniques, and its areas of use.
Police and military psychology: Recruitment, training and work environment. Burnout syndrome. Clinical intervention.
Supplementary topics: In specific cases in populations with special needs, there should be special training in maters such as: Terrorism, corruption, kidnapping, handicapped, the elderly, psychology of family dynamics, divorce, evaluation, protection programs for family and minors, adoption etc.
Investigation Methodology: Knowledge in qualitative and quantitative investigation; Interpretation of statistical data, design of social programs, editing of reports and scientific articles.
Legal Knowledge: It is required to have specific knowledge about basic legal principles.
General knowledge: About current events, culture, news, social events, politics; Behavioral and criminal dynamics that may ease legal and investigative tasks. Knowledge of the culture and language of specific communities (for example natives) in which the professional is required.
Technical knowledge: To posses information and/or experience, about procedures required for an investigative task, such as chain of custody or inspection procedures.
Foreign language: The comprehension, reading and writing of English as a second language, due to the fact that most of the specialized and updated literature is found in English.
Domain of computers: Formal or empirical training of word processors and statistical programs.
Use of technical, criminalistic or legal equipment: As a result of the previous learning about the use of specific equipments used in criminal investigation such as polygraph, and the use of stress analysis in voice program.
Type of experience: Empirical activities related to matters in legal psychology. Experience obtained in legal institutions, penitentiaries, universities, military or police institutions, international organizations that promote human rights and of course clinical experience in subjects related to psychological-legal issues.
Time of experience: Its the experience required in order to successfully achieve a task or investigation project. At least one year of professional experience and, an other year of supervised work, by an accredited legal or forensic psychologist.
C. FUNCTIONAL SKILLS:
Ability to make a psychological diagnosis: To use secure and skillfully therapeutic techniques and diagnostic tools. Knowledge and use of diagnostic manual such as DSM V and CIE 10. Abilities in guiding, correcting and interpreting psychological tests according to their validity and cultural application.
Therapeutic abilities: To intervene quick and effectively on the responses that the clients generate when dealing with Psychological-legal problems. These can be either real or potential problems, that are life threatening or that interfere with the clients chance to live with dignity.
Ability to establish an effective therapeutic relationship with victims, criminals or legal workers to help them deal adequately with the problems they are over going. Training in post trauma intervention.
Ability in designing and applying programs in occupational health: This function includes all prevention tasks that the psychologist does in order to guarantee protection, safety and good health for those who work in the legal fields. Preventing work related accidents and diseases, drug abuse; The negative effects of work such as fatigue, psychological burden and stress. The purpose of these programs is to minimize these obstacles and maximize personal satisfaction.
Ability to work as a counselor and/or consultant: To have the proper experience and knowledge in order to guide the clients with the best alternatives regarding legal conflicts and/or problems that have a psychological implication. This experience must be acquired through the solving of similar cases, of which it is expected that the consultant has designed strategies, policies and programs.
This skill increases each time a program is designed and put into practice.
Ability to create empathic relationships: Empathy is the effort a person makes to recognize and understand the feelings of other people and to understand the circumstances that surround a person in conflict in a specific moment.
Ability to criticize others in a constructive and positive way: To be able to give and receive criticism in a constructive way in order to improve not only each ones performance but the performance of co workers as well.
Assertiveness: Ability to speak properly, to listen, to allow others to speak as well, to not interrupt others, to use a proper and moderate language, that reflects a well educated person. To express eloquently.
Ability to respond properly in extreme situations: The possibility de maintain self control and emotional stability in dangerous, unexpected, strange or dramatic situations, being able to guide and counsel other people in the same situation. Ability to negotiate in stressful and dangerous situations.
Ability to present legal evidence: To be able to present and support evidence in a convincing way, specially if presented in an accusatory legal system.
Ability to interview: To make pertinent questions in an organized manner, to a person involved in a legal process, is such a skillful way that the questions will lead the way to finding the truth. The person must have skills in interviewing, testing, the use of psychological instruments in forensic measurements and in writing proper reports.
Ability to teach: To be able to comprehend and to pass on knowledge and information; Due to the fact that legal psychology is a very new discipline in Latin America, suitable teachers are needed.
D. WORKING ENVIRONMENT
Adjustment to pressure situations: Ability to accommodate to stressful situations, to work under date lines, without allowing these situations to interfere with the persons work and well being.
Amount of work: In this field workers must adapt to a large amount of work.
Working outdoors: The person must have the ability to adapt physically and mentally to working in open spaces.
Tolerance to stress: Ability to adapt to situations that cause stress and/or risk.
Exposure to physical danger: Exposure to situations that can put in risk the safety and the physical and/or psychological integrity of the worker, and eventually risk of being exposed to biological hazard.
To be in contact with the public. It is the workers responsibility to show a positive image of the institution he works for, to transmit the mission that it has, and to deal with the public in a skillful, experienced and responsible way.
Social responsibility: The forensic psychologist has a very big influence in making decisions concerning individual and social welfare, such as freedom social control, the truth, psychological integrity etc.
Supervision: The ability required for controlling or inspecting the job of others in a lower rank or position.
To make decisions: Responsibility related to guiding and providing consultancy services so that lawyers can make judgments on specific legal matters.
Team work: The ability to establish positive relationships that help group goals to be achieved. To participate actively in teams with different professionals. This requirement is important because some of the members of the team will not have knowledge in psychological or legal subjects. The goal is to provide an expert point of view to a team that is constituted by many professions.
To receive advice/counseling: Because of the stressful nature of this job, and knowing that human conflict is permanent, the worker may find himself emotionally involved, risking the quality of his/her performance, this is why personal counseling is advised to be done from time to time.
F. INTELECTUAL REQUIEREMNTS: The following positive requirements are not exclusive for a forensic/legal psychologist, these are expected for any career.
Intelligence: The ability to know, analyze and understand information. To be able to solve complex social problems.
Intellectual agility: This is the ability to make cognitive processes quickly; This is required because most legal cases have to deal with a statute of limitation, and because in most of the jobs, workers must deal with an overload.
Logic: This is a higher psychological function that allows to process information with logical rules and standards, it is to have common sense taking in account reasonable consequences.
Abstraction: Ability to construct mental images that dont have an exact correspondent in reality. To be able to construct a mental representation of an object.
Association: To create relations between ideas and objects, to comprehend cases based on other cases, to apply different theories to a same case etc.
Synthesize: Judgment that rises form a whole by adding its parts, mental ability to summarize with basic ideas, frequently this will be needed in order to do reports.
Analysis: Intellectual ability to distinguish and separate the parts from the totality until finding the principles, elements, etc, in order to diagnose, evaluate and make a prognosis. The ability to analyze and synthesize will facilitate the task to teach.
Ability to learn: Cognitive ability to acquire new information and add experience.
Comprehension ability: Tolerant attitude to understand the behavior and feelings of others, without being condescending with the facts, as an attitude that can transmit trust so that the client can overcome his difficulties.
Ability to make decisions: To give a solution or final judgment on a specific matter, that will enable assessments in the psychological-legal field.
Perception for details: Inner feeling that comes form the ability to apprehend detailed information through the senses.
Critical thinking: Mental process that is based on finding alternatives, that are not traditional, so that the professional may be a counselor and help construct a better way to use the law and the legal system. Awareness of the political rol. The ability to criticize oneself and to reflect on ones actions, in order to evaluate the consequences of these actions, taking in account his own limitations and skills. This is to recognize ones abilities, skills and knowledge in a respectful way towards others.
Creativity: The ability to produce new ideas, and solutions, in order to find new ways to solve conflicts and new evaluations.
Sagacity: Ability to be clever and careful because the subjects to be evaluated will try to cheat and lie.
Investigation ability: Human quality that allows the person to question things in order to discover unknown information, to be curious, to not settle with the fist answer, because the professional will be in an environment where the truth will be kept and hard to discover.
In addition academic investigation is required due to the lack of literature found in latin America , there are few specialized investigations in the psychological legal and forensic area. The person must be able to use internet, to obtain information through international library agreements, and to be a part of virtual communities.
Verbal memory: Ability to retain in the brain linguistic information and then remember it, this is specially required during interviews and interrogations.
Visual memory: Possibility to keep information obtained through vision.
G. EMOTIONAL INTELIGENCE
Ability to manage personal crisis: Talent to handle adequately intimate and personal problems, because of the exposure to high stress levels that will require a good resilience.
Ability to manage painful situations: To accept and overcome situations of psychological human pain both personal and in others.
Ability to adapt to social situations: To be able to accommodate to new or difficult circumstances of human relations, the person will have to encounter frequently dramatic and new situations, change working place, co workers, and location changes.
To identify motivations: Ability to find and understand the reasons that motivate human actions and behaviors.
H. PHYSICAL REQUIREMENTS
To be sitting down: To spend more than three quarters of the working period sitting down.
Visual capacity: To perceive precisely through sight.
Hearing capacity: Most of the job will require communication and listening skills, that will involve higher psychological skills besides the basic hearing ability.
Tolerance to not having rest periods: There are usually no opportunities to rest during the working period.
I. PERSONAL CHARACTERISTICS
Acceptance to authority: Individual ability to accept and adjust to socially established hierarchy, because the job involves working with judicial authorities.
Self control: Ability to control, regulate and evaluate ones own behavior.
To be an active person: An individual that has the ability to act effectively in a short time. That can be pro active, and act on his own initiative managing to help the team, even without supervision or direct orders.
High self esteem: Attitude of appreciation and self value.
Tolerance to frustration: Psychological ability to adjust to unexpected situations, to accept losing.
Autonomy: Condition to act with independence.
Ability to interact: To be able to relate to others in a positive way.
Ability to adapt: To be able to accommodate to different situations and people.
Affectionate: Kind and affectionate in the way he acts.
Emotionally stable: A constant, firm, permanent person that is not in danger of suffering sudden changes and whose emotional stability makes him more competent for the job.
Cautious: Person that is careful and reasonable. Cautiousness is a quality that helps reflect and consider the effects of ones own words and actions, resulting in an adequate performance under any circumstance. This includes the ability to recognize ones mistakes learning from them, and asking for help when needed.
Meticulous: To be careful in ones work.
Practical: To be able to perform in a fast and practical way in different circumstances.
Preventive: Rational person that acts in a thoughtful manner foreseeing the consequences of his actions.
Calm: Ability to act in a calm way, even in circumstances of high stress.
Critical: Person that looks for objectivity, to be impartial, and able to consider different points of view.
A forensic psychologist should learn during his studies to be ethical and careful with the information he handles, he must know the deontological code and the legal procedures in criminal, civil, administration, disciplinary laws, because he may find himself involved in a mal practice situation.
Knowledge on the Ethical Code published by APA in required. This code includes the following general principles:
a. To help others
b. Responsibility and loyalty
e. Respect human rights and dignity
And the 10 ethical rules are:
1. To solve ethical problems
2. To be competent
3. To have adequate human relations
4. Confidentiality and privacy
5. To avoid false public statements
6. To file registers and price lists
7. Education and training
8. Ethics in investigation and in publishing
9. Ethical assessment
10. Ethical therapy
In addition the forensic and legal psychologist is known for the following values:
A sense of justice: This is a virtue in which the one seeks always to give others what is fair. A fair person, is known by his integrity in his thoughts and actions towards others and himself.
This includes the search for justice despite the circumstances, because not only who acts in an unfair manner is un ethical, the person that can avoid an unfairness and doesnt to so, is acting in an unethical manner too.
Loyalty: Person for who fidelity is a quality that guides his behavior; that joins and defends a group and its ideas.
Tolerance: Respect towards others opinions and actions.
To be discrete: To be careful, foreseeing the consequences in correct way.
Acceptance for boundaries: Person that accepts the rules imposed by society and that has self control.
To be neutral: A person that is impartial, even under extreme circumstances.
Good family relationships: Harmonious and fair family interactions as a model in social relationships that becomes in a protective factor for psychological difficulties that happen in the legal and forensic work, such as stress, burnout syndrome, chronic fatigue etc.
Acceptance towards community: The legal and forensic psychologist acts in an ethical way, so that the community can adjust to him.
Sensitivity: Ability that human beings posses to perceive and comprehend the mood of others, the way they are and the way they act, and to understand the nature of the circumstances and environments, in order to act correctly in the benefit of others.
Commitment: To commit beyond obligation, to use correctly our abilities in order to achieve what has been trusted in us.
Responsibility: to be responsible is to acknowledge constantly the consequences of our actions and decisions, acting coherently with the idea of justice and duty.
The truth: To seek the truth is to go beyond subjectivity. The person who wants to understand the dynamic of a problem of tolerance must in first place understand the concept of truth.
Honesty: Because it guarantees trust, security, confidence, in other words integrity. Honesty is a way of living coherently between what one thinks and the conducts displayed towards others. This joined with the notion of justice demands giving each one what is right and fair.
THE LEGAL AND FORENSIC PSYCHOLOGISTS DUTIES
With the requirements stated above the legal and forensic psychologist in his professional rol can work in all the study functions (evaluation, investigation, diagnosis), treatment (individual and group psychological intervention, counseling, penitentiary treatment, prevention, rehabilitation) and guidance (training, consulting, evaluation, mediation, guidance on programs and treatments) in each one of the following people and processes.
The above duties are applicable in any of the areas of specialty of criminal law, Civil and family law, penitentiary law, minors etc:
Specific Duties in Criminal Law
- To select or assess in the selection of jurors.
- Evaluate people charged with felonies that use as a defense mental illness
- Evaluate the psychological or neuro-psychological effects of a person after being a victim of a crime or accident
- To elaborate psychological profiles of offenders after analyzing the crime scene and not finding the necessary information to make the profile based only on the scene
- To evaluate the credibility of the testimony through psychological techniques such as behavior indicators of lying, and the polygraph.
- To train and asses the police in interviewing techniques, in taking statements, both of victims and witnesses, lie detection, memory of the witness, false statements etc.
- To design psychological techniques that may help in criminal investigation
- To train in the proper way to conduct a questioning session
- To give an expert report on dangerousness and recidivism
- Evaluation due to the use of drugs and its relationship with criminal behavior
- Evaluation and treatment in cases of sexual abuse
- To design prevention programs for possible future offenders
- To asses in judges and jurors on possible mistakes related to legal decisions, matters regarding memory (effect of the weapon, forgetting details etc), detecting cheating, child testimony, trust and reliability an testimony, etc.
- To give psychological assistance (prevention and treatment) to victims, offenders, police etc.
- Ability to testify in oral trials. Knowledge on the proper techniques to present the results of his evaluation an in a proper legal-psychological language, in a reliable and effective way.
Specific Duties in Civil and family law
- Evaluate people that suffer a mental illness, and that must are in a trial to decide if they can or cannot be responsible for themselves, their properties, their finances etc.
- To asses in cases where a person wishes to change his/her name or gender
- Study cases of annulment in civil and catholic marriages
- To asses on the decision regarding custody of the children
- To guide in the schedule for visitation rights for the parent that does not have custody
- To evaluate the suitability of couples that wish to adopt a child
- To act as a mediator in conflicts prior or after divorce and develop prevention programs
- Evaluation and treatment of child abuse cases
- To design prevention programs in spouse and child abuse
Specific duties in penitentiary law, and in minor (under 18 years old) law
- To asses penitentiary policies
- To participate in the evaluation and treatment of inmates in order to classify them
- To do follow ups on criminals and offenders to suggest treatment
- To make suggestions and protection and penitentiary treatment on each specific case
- To evaluate in cases of special permissions for inmates
- To select and train the personnel for jail and reformatories for minors
- To develop programs on occupational health and prevention of burnout syndrome for penitentiary personnel
- To give technical reports required by the judge or district attorney
- Follow up of the interventions
- To apply individual and group treatments
- To elaborate and apply programs in open, closed or mixed environments
- To design and apply programs to prevent and manage stress
- To asses in the designing of prisons to avoid negative psychological effects on the inmates
Specific Duties in Labor and administrative law
- To evaluate the psychological and neuro-psychological consequences that may be caused by an accident in the working place or by occupational hazard
- To asses on the capacity of a person to continue a military, police or judicial career, and to participate on decisions to fire, compensate or change the work location of the worker in cases of psychological disturbance. To evaluate other circumstances such as personal or family difficulties, bad relationships with co-workers, stress, inability to perform adequately in his job etc.
- Recruiting and training judicial workers
- Evaluation of trauma caused by judicial work and post traumatic stress in combat situations of police, military or judicial workers
- Psychological evaluation and reports in cases of abuse of authority, and in decisions regarding dismissals
- To evaluate the ability to continue a military or police career due to psychological illness
SUGGESTIONS FOR RECRUITING PERSONNEL
The person, people or institution that are in charge or recruiting must use for this task all the information contained in this document, and for the final decision an Assessment center must participate, so that the required characteristics can be found in the candidates in order to reduce the risk of an in adequate selection.
It is also important to do constant evaluations and follow ups in order to maintain and increase the workers abilities.