The Difference Between Clinical and Forensic Psychology

by Dr. Lorin Bradbury

Question: What is the difference between Clinical and Forensic Psychology?
Answer: All psychologist, whether practicing Counseling Psychology, Clinical Psychology, Neuropsychology, or Forensic Psychology are licensed as Psychologists. Each jurisdiction (i.e., the State of Alaska) defines the educational and experiential requirements to be licensed as a Psychologist. If the educational and experiential requirements are met, then an applicant for licensure must pass the State Board examinations.
Once licensed, a Psychologist must practice within the scope of training received. Clinical Psychology is the application of psychological principles, research, and techniques to the treatment, diagnosis, or assessment of human behavior and functioning. The practice of Clinical psychology is very broad and can range from the use of psychotherapy, or counseling with a broad spectrum of clients to the use of standardized assessment instruments, known as testing.
That which differentiates psychologists from all other mental health professionals is training in the use of standardized testing instruments and training in interpreting the results of those tests.
Most people think of Psychologists as counselors, but nearly all of the mental health fields are trained to practice counseling. Only Psychologists are trained to administer and interpret certain types of tests.
Clinical Psychologists often perform testing to clarify or establish diagnoses. This can be very helpful to disability evaluators, parents, teachers, and/or physicians. The practice of psychology is probably underused in defining diagnoses.
Though Forensic Psychology is a field of its own, it generally requires a strong background in Clinical Psychology. It is the intersection between psychology and the law. Forensic Psychologists answer psycho-legal questions for attorneys, judges, probation officers, and others involved with the legal system.
To practice Forensic Psychology, a Psychologist must be trained to administer a different set of instruments. These instruments have been developed to measure certain legal constructs generally established by statute and case law. Once a psychologist renders an opinion, for example an opinion that an individual is not competent to stand trial, then the Psychologist will turn to Clinical Instruments to attempt to explain the causation of the incompetency, or why the person is probably not competent to continue with legal proceedings.
There are other differences between Clinical and Forensic Psychology. A Clinical Psychologist typically is an advocate for his or her client or patient. A Forensic Psychologist, on the other hand is generally working for an attorney, judge, or some other legal authority. The client is the one who hires the Psychologist and the person being evaluated is the examinee. The Psychologist can release the results of an evaluation only to the person who requested the evaluation (i.e., attorney, judge, probation officer, etc.). In essence, a Forensic Psychologist needs a strong background in Clinical Psychology, but a Clinical Psychologist needs no background in Forensic Psychology.
Lorin L. Bradbury, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Bethel. For appointments, he can be reached at 543-3266. If you have questions that you would like Dr. Bradbury to answer in the Delta Discovery, please send them to The Delta Discovery, P.O. Box 1028, Bethel, AK 99559, or e-mail them to [email protected].