Collateral Consequences for Third-Party Interviewees in Forensic Contexts

Collateral Consequences for Third-Party Interviewees in Forensic Contexts

Featured Article

Featured Article | The Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law  | Volume 51, Number 4, 2023

Article Title

Collateral Consequences for Third-Party Interviewees in Forensic Contexts


Julie Goldenson, PhD, Stanley L. Brodsky, PhD, and Kirk Heilbrun, PhD



Collateral interviews can be an integral source of third-party information used in a range of forensic mental health assessments. Although family members and spouses often have the most knowledge about the evaluee, research suggests that they may also experience distress related to the legal proceedings. This article discusses the nature and purpose of collateral interviewing with close collateral contacts, comparing collateral interviews with direct interviews with evaluees. The secondary consequences of having a justice-involved family member are considered, including the possibility of vicarious trauma. Finally, the responsibilities of evaluators are considered, especially in the context of trauma-informed principles applied to collateral interviewing. Recommendations regarding consent, the use of empathy, and feedback to collateral are provided.


collateral interviewing; forensic mental health assessment; trauma-informed forensic practice; vicarious trauma

Summary of Research

Forensic Evaluation Purpose and Practices: Forensic evaluations play a distinctive role, providing impartial opinions crucial for legal decision-making. Evaluators, particularly forensic mental health evaluators (FMHAs), employ multiple data sources, including collateral interviews, to enhance accuracy. This research article explores the nuances of collateral interviewing, emphasizing its significance when emotionally involved parties, such as family members, are involved. The article identifies gaps in ethics considerations and routine procedure impacts, stressing the need for further exploration. Recent attention to trauma-informed practices in forensic mental health assessment (FMHA) underscores the evolving intersection of trauma-related knowledge and legal evaluation.

Challenges and Shifting Standards in FMHA: FMHEs navigate challenges aligning legal and psychological standards with an emphasis on beneficence, nonmaleficence, and respect, especially for individuals with trauma histories. The evolving recognition of fundamental human rights in FMHA prompts a reconsideration of established practices. The article explores the complexities and responsibilities of interviewing collateral contacts directly or vicariously affected by a justice-involved family member’s actions.

Trauma-Informed Practices in FMHA: Distinguished from clinical practices, forensic evaluations require a unique balance between impartiality and acknowledging the fundamental human rights of justice-involved individuals. The article advocates reconsidering fundamental aspects of FMHA practice integrating trauma-informed principles. The growing recognition of trauma-informed practices in mental health extends to forensic contexts, emphasizing the delicate equilibrium needed in assessments at the intersection of psychology and law.

Consequences of Forensic Assessments and Collateral Interviews: The consequences of forensic assessments in criminal, civil, and family matters significantly impact individuals’ lives. Collateral interviews, a crucial aspect of FMHA, lack formal guidance, prompting the need for research in this area. The article delves into practical considerations, including the role of interviewers, formats, mediums, and the potential personal impact of legal circumstances on collateral sources. Additionally, it explores collateral consequences experienced by family members of justice-involved individuals.

Translating Research into Practice

Personal Impact of Legal Circumstances: Family members and close contacts of justice-involved individuals face potential vicarious traumatization and psychosocial consequences. With its inherent stress and adversarial nature, the legal process can strain relationships, induce burnout, and trigger negative changes in parental identity.

Feedback and Empathy in Collateral Interviewing: The article delves into the nuanced provision of feedback in forensic mental health assessments and its relevance to collateral interviews. The debate on using empathy underscores the necessity for a balanced and sensitive approach, respecting interviewees’ emotions while maintaining professional boundaries.

Complexities in Collateral Interviewing: Collateral interviews pose emotional challenges, urging forensic mental health professionals to navigate interpersonal dynamics with care. Tailoring questions appropriately and judiciously using empathy becomes crucial in conducting interviews that delve into potentially distressing situations.

Impact on Collateral Interviewees: Collateral interviewees, often family members, may grapple with distress, stigma, and trauma-related symptoms due to their involvement in legal processes. Recognizing these potential secondary psychological consequences highlights the imperative need for a compassionate and trauma-informed approach in forensic assessments.

Trauma-Informed Collateral Interviewing: Acknowledging Potential Adverse Impact | Researchers advocate for a trauma-informed approach, recognizing the potential adverse impact on interviewees. They emphasize transparency in the informed consent process, offering choices and judiciously using empathy, all while demonstrating respect for the unique experiences of interviewees.

Interpersonal Considerations: The emotional impact on collateral interviewees underscores the need for heightened sensitivity. Balancing empathy to build rapport, the article emphasizes maintaining ethical boundaries. Providing feedback requires careful consideration, focusing on transparency, and respecting interviewees’ emotional reactions.

Practical Considerations: Adapting interview approaches based on the unique dynamics of collateral interviews is suggested. Flexibility in choosing interviewers, formats, and mediums is highlighted. The article prompts forensic mental health professionals to consider the potential emotional impact of legal circumstances on collateral interviewees and adjust their approach accordingly.

Other Interesting Tidbits for Researchers and Clinicians

Collateral Interviews in Forensic Contexts:

Collateral interviews are crucial in forensic assessments, impacting outcomes in criminal, civil, and family legal matters. The reliability of an evaluee’s self-report can be influenced by various factors, making third-party data crucial. Collateral sources, often emotionally involved, may introduce bias. However, the literature lacks formal guidance on conducting collateral interviews, leaving evaluators to navigate differences in format, medium, and personal impact. Practical considerations, such as interviewer qualifications and the interview format, remain critical in achieving accurate and unbiased results.  

Trauma-Informed Collateral Interviewing:

Trauma-informed principles are increasingly recognized in mental health and legal settings. The article advocates applying trauma-informed approaches to collateral interviewing. Transparency, providing choice, judicious use of empathy, and respect for interviewee experiences form the core of trauma-informed practice. Providing clear information to interviewees about the nature, purpose, and intended use of the information gathered is vital, considering potential trauma-related consequences.