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How To Become A Forensic Psychiatrist

Updated on November 6, 2011

How To Become A Forensic Psychiatrist

The Forensic Psychiatrist unifies psychiatry and law, and is often called upon as an expert witness in all kinds of trials. By virtue of the 5th amendment in the U.S (or the fitness to plead act in Britain) a defendant must have the mental capacity to understand and withstand judgement. It is an important and humane practice, often riddled with difficult decisions and challenging problems that make it something of a moral mess. The role of the forensic psychiatrist is a niche that not many people are willing or able to occupy, but is nevertheless one of the most important examples of how psychology has become an integral part of society and morality.

This article will detail the role, methods and characteristics of a forensic psychiatrist, as well at tips and guidelines for people who aspire to become one themselves. If you're still with me -- read on.

What Does A Forensic Psychiatrist Do?

The Forensic psychiatrist is usually asked to attend a trial in order to gauge the mental stability of the defendant. He must reach several conclusions, all of which can turn a trial on its head:

  • Competency evaluation - This is a decision the psychiatrist must reach regarding the mental capacity of the defendant and whether or not he is "fit" to stand trial. This practice is rooted in law. This practice was heralded by a landmark decision in a famous trial known as Dusky v. United States (1960), wherein the court granted the defendant the right to a competency evaluation before entering the trial. A competence evaluation is not only limited to the defendants fitness to proceed, but also in his competence to e executed and plead guilty. The psychiatrist may also rule that the defendant is feigning incompetence.
  • An expert witness - The forensic psychiatrist may also be called to give an opinion and form a report before testifying.
  • Mental State Opinion - The power of forensic psychiatry is enough to stop a trial in its tracks. The psychiatrist is called to judge the mental state of the defendant at the time of the crime, and list possible motives and conditions. A psychiatrist can excuse a defendant, in the following ways (source - wikipedia):
  1. M'Naghten rules: Excuses a defendant who, by virtue of a defect of reason or disease of the mind, does not know the nature and quality of the act, or, if he does, does not know that the act is wrong.
  2. Durham rule: Excuses a defendant whose conduct is the product of mental disease or defect.
  3. ALI test: Excuses a defendant who, because of a mental disease or defect, lacks substantial capacity to appreciate the criminality (wrongfulness) of his conduct or to conform his conduct to the requirements of law.

How Do I Become One?

Become a forensic psychiatrist can be a time consuming process. Feeling that you have a good "hunch" about people is certainly not enough to make you an expert, though it might be enough for making a living cold reading. 

The beginning is heralded by a four-year college degree, preferably with pre-med or science major, or you run the risk of not being accepted into medical school. After your degree, medical school will run a further 4 years, and sharpen your medicinal skills. A years internship, with on-the-field experience is also requires to become a doctor. 

You may have noticed by now that you are first-and-foremost a doctor. Which is not quite the image you may have understood watching CSI. 

The process doesn't end here however. After having passed the three part National Medical Board Examination, you will need to do 2 to 7 years in residency training, where you will specialize towards your ultimate objective which is hopefully (at this point)  forensics. 

Gimme the good news

  • A good forensic psychiatrist can earn up to $500 an hour. Your hourly rate will oscillate tremendously based on notoriety and skill. 
  • It is challenging and romanticized.
  • The merging of law and medicine make for an interesting living. 
  • Occasionally take part in high-profile trials as an expert.
  • You are also a certified doctor.

Gimme the bad news

  • While watching CSI it is easy to forget that much of your work will involve stacks of paper and report compiling. It can be demanding and tedious at times. The prospect of spending hours with only a pen, PC and paper can seem unhealthy to some. But there you have it. 

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The Bottomline

Contemporary Forensic Psychiatry must be forcefully removed from the romanticized view of a criminal investigator with cool looking shades and a propensity towards shallow one-liners. The truth is based in a heap of work, papers and a constant moral and mental challenge. The upsides are a satisfying and rewarding (in terms of salary as well) job. 

I hope you enjoyed this hub as much as I enjoyed writing it. Thanks for stopping by, 



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      Leslie 5 years ago

      Thank you so much this has helped me so much!!!!!