Therapeutic and Forensic Roles




In psychology, the coexistence of a therapeutic and a forensic role has refocused attention on the ethicality of the practice. The roles that a modern psychology plays in society are expansive. In fact, these roles have increasingly become more profound over time. It is this reality that brought about a reassessment of ethical practice in the profession. Importantly, major emphasis has been paid to providing clarity on whether the role of a psychologist can ethically exist where there are multiple relationships for any given single client (Grisso & Vincent, 2005). For most part, it is an ethical dilemma that aims to provide clear definition of the ethical expectations within the practice.

To present a clear stance on this dilemma, an analytical review of relevant literature is performed, and a final stance rendered. It takes account of all the important details of the roles that psychologists are expected to perform. The main focus is on the therapeutic versus the forensic role of a psychologist. Can these duties coexist in an ethical environment? The divergent ethical intent of each role has presented and nurtured the views that these roles cannot be ethically coexist. However, opponents of this view support such a coexistence and provide support for their views. This work performs a comprehensive analytical review to reach a conclusive standpoint.

Similarities and Differences in Roles

Therapeutic roles are those where a psychologist is sought by a client to obtain relief from a mental health problem such as anxiety, and depression. The role of such a psychologist is confined to offered the best possible relief to such a patient. This is the only relationship that exists in this role (Erard, 2014). The forensic role of a psychologist is one where an assessment of a client is requested by an attorney of a court of law. The intention of such an assessment is to determine the legal facts under question during a lawsuit of criminal trial. This means that this role requires a psychologist to develop multiple relationships for a given single client.


To understand the major difference between a therapeutic role and a forensic role, it is important to identify the purpose of each. The therapeutic role is one where a psychologist has the best interests of a client in mind. This means that they have to focus on offering relief to such a client (Erard, 2014). Conversely, a forensic role is one where the psychologist focuses on determining legal facts under question during a lawsuit of criminal trial.

Although the purposes of each role might be different, the qualification for both remain relatively similar. This means that a qualified psychologist can easily perform either role. the ethical guidelines that define the field of psychology do not present any preference for either of the roles. Further, there are no restrictions that limit psychologists from performing both roles. However, mostly external ethical questions about the coexistence of both a therapeutic, and forensic role have consistently emerged. They view these roles as vastly differently, and therefore unethical to coexist.

Assessment and Treatment

The assessments for each of the roles is distinctive. The psychologist’s role in the therapeutic approach is to determine the problems that a client needs. This means that such a psychologist has the best interests of the client. There are no other relationships in this role; the psychologist’s only aim is to serve the needs of the client. This differs from the forensic role. the treatment of a client in the therapeutic approach solely aims to benefit them. It is common for the psychologist to convey empathy and inspire trust with the client. The client’s involvement in this assessment does not need to be factual, and the psychologist does not attempt to establish the accuracy of the information provided by the client.

Assessment and treatment under the forensic role are vastly different from those in the therapeutic role. forensic assessment aims to determine legal facts. The most common form of forensic assessment is for the psychologist to determine whether the client is legally sane to face criminal trials. In these assessments, the psychologist does not display empathy because the aim is to determine the facts of a situation. This means that the psychologist does not have the best treatment interests if a patient in mind.

Possible Ethical Issues

There have been ethical issues that have emerged from the coexistence of these distinct psychologist roles. One of the most notable ethical issues is when a psychologist does not have the best interests of their client. Under forensic assessment, the psychologist’s role is to determine the legal facts involved in a situation. This means that such a psychologist does not have to be empathetic with the client. Rather, their only objective is to serve the interests of an attorney or court of law. In most cases, such clients do not receive the treatments they might need (Murrie & Boccaccini, 2013).

This is one of the main areas of ethical dilemma in the profession. An interaction where the psychologist determines that a client needs treatment, but overlooks it for the purposes of their commitments in other relationships. This refocuses attention on the expected interactions between a psychologist, and their client. Most importantly, should the psychologist always have the best interests of the client? Many think so, and recommend that this should always be the case. Even during forensic assessments, psychologist should always have the best interests of the client in mind. this would require them to be empathetic, and provide necessary treatment.

Another ethical issue is one that relates to the clarity of each role. There has to be a clear distinction between therapeutic and forensic assessment (Seto & Harris, 2004). For example, if a psychologist has established a therapeutic relationship with a client, can they later provide testimony about legal matters about the same client? For most part, such clarity is missing in the profession. From an ethical stance, some consider this as a breach of ethical It is obvious that psychologists are an important part of either role; but there lacks a clear distinction between the two.

For instance, a therapeutic psychologist should focus on this role more than any other. This means that they should refrain from taking on any forensic roles (Waszynski & Veronneau, 2013). Likewise, a forensic psychologist should remain focused on a single role rather than multitask on both roles that obviously perform distinct purposes. This is intended to retain a desirable state of professionalism which is undermined by the approach that entertains psychologists with different intentions. In order to realize the overall goals of individual psychologists, it is important to employ clarity that defines each role, and its respective practitioners. Most ethical concerns arise from the lack of such clarity.

Coexistence of Therapeutic and Forensic Roles

The coexistence of both role is professionally unattainable. This view is largely based on ethical considerations. These roles are distinct, and cover equally different scopes. The presentation of their coexistence is contrary to ethical expectations, and professional requirements. Although the qualifications for either role is similar, there is clear distinction between the scope of either. In fact, the process of performing each role is vastly unique (Jaffe & Mandeleew, 2008). It is this challenge that limits the coexistence of these roles. It means that each should be performed separately. Further, the performance of both limits the effectiveness of the psychologist.

Client’s Perspective

Another concern relates to the client’s perspective. It is important for a psychologist to understand the client’s perspective throughout the assessment (Drogin, 2001). Since there are distinctive roles, the intentions associated with each are unique. It is this limitation that further emphasizes the unattainability of a successful coexistence between the two roles. In therapeutic assessments, the psychologist aims to understand the client’s point of view. The psychologist in a forensic assessment focuses on the accuracy of the client’s statements. The skills required to perform each are different. Hence, it is professionally sound for each to be treated separately.


In the field of psychology, the element of autonomy has a profound impact in the attainment of the overall set goals. Autonomy also has a lot of influence on the manner in which assessments are performed. In the two roles, the level of autonomy differs. Voluntary clients have more freedom in meeting assessment objectives (Ifeagwazi & Chukwuorji, 2015). In the case of forensic assessments, where the clients have limited autonomy, the objectives of assessments are merely those provided by applicable statutes or common law elements that are relevant to the legal issue in question. The elements of autonomy during assessments in either roles limits the extent to which both can coexist.

Assessment Validity

There have been serious concerns that psychologist and third parties will work towards a common goal despite possible misrepresentation of a client. This occurs in the case of forensic assessments. In these cases, the psychologist aims to serve the interests of a legal duty. Ethical analysts have serious concerns about the validity of the client representations in such instances. The view is that the main objective of a psychologist should be to serve the best interests of a client. When this is not the case, the validity of the assessment is put to question (Baer, 2001).

Relationships and Dynamics

Therapeutic assessments aim to develop trusting alliances with clients. These alliances further address client concerns and issues, with the aim of offering relief (Coetzee, 2003). On the other hand, forensic assessments are vastly different. Their aim is not to nurture a client, or serve their mental health issues. Rather, the focus is to assist a legal framework. Forensic evaluators are encouraged to create distance with their clients in order to successfully meet their objectives. Since the relationships between the evaluators and the clients are vastly different in either roles, it is almost impossible for these roles to coexist.


The coexistence of a therapeutic and a forensic role has refocused attention on the ethicality of the practice. Importantly, major emphasis has been paid to providing clarity on whether the role of a psychologist can ethically exist where there are multiple relationships for any given single client (Grisso & Vincent, 2005). This work has focused on demonstrating how each of these roles is applied, and how they interrelate. Therapeutic roles are those where a psychologist is sought by a client to obtain relief from a mental health problem such as anxiety, and depression. Conversely, the forensic role of a psychologist is one where an assessment of a client is requested by an attorney of a court of law.

This work found that it is unattainable for these distinct roles to coexist. Some of the reasons provided include the fact that they intend to meet different objectives. Like in most other professions, specialization is important for better performance. From the extensive analytical review conducted, it is clear that these roles have taken distinctive approaches to the profession. Further, they demonstrate that they cannot successfully coexist. A psychologist should either play a therapeutic or a forensic role; but not both.

This conclusion is drawn from various observations. First, there are a lot of ethical limitations to the practice of both roles. One aims to meet the best interests of the client, while others are intent on determining legal facts of a case. It has been shown that the relationship developed in either case is unique, and contradicts the other. For purposes of remaining within ethical standards, it is important for each role to be performed separately of each other (Lilienfeld, 2007).


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