Finding the right mental health expert is an important part of your trial plan.
Forensic mental health experts are called upon by courts to assist in making legal decisions. They also play a role as a “context expert” or maybe even as a “teaching expert”, depending on the particular information needed under consideration.
Although there has been continuing advancement of the understanding of assessments by mental health examiners, there is considerable variation in how the practitioners approach Forensic Mental Health Assessments (FMHA). During an evaluation of FMHA practitioners in 2014, almost 75 percent of evaluations used a structured assessment tool. That leaves a lot of practitioners using no specific assessment tool. Training of assessors varies. As FMHA has subspecialties including psychology and psychiatry other training might solely be clinical evaluations, some with years of medical school, others with years of residency or training in clinical interventions or some including years of research or internships. The nature of psychology and the understanding of the human mind causes a variety of interpretations. Tens of thousands of research papers are written every year and it’s impossible to comprehend all the variations in study. Yes, training in important and that might be what makes a ‘good’ expert, but all training is not the same. The Specialty Guidelines for Forensic Psychology are aspirational guidelines however personal prejudices, beliefs and many other factors will undoubtably have some sort of effect on the evaluation, intentional or otherwise, which could be detrimental to the client.
Some of the things that you (as a client or as an attorney) need to consider in selecting an expert include:
- Does the expert ask reasonable questions about the case and client?
- Does the expert respond to questions with minimal use of technical jargon?
- Does the expert acknowledge the limits of his or her expertise without being defensive?
Before you hire an expert, be sure to vet them. Even though they may have impeccable credentials they still may have been sanctioned in another court, had ethics issues, found to have been involved in questionable situations before or a host of other ‘issues’. Be sure who you are dealing with before you get embarrassed and cause harm to your client.