What’s the Difference Between Clinical Evaluations and Forensic Evaluations?

What’s the Difference Between Clinical Evaluations and Forensic Evaluations?

Understanding the difference between forensic and clinical psychology evaluations requires you first to know what each involves. Both clinical and forensic psychologists perform evaluative practices with their clients, but their ethical obligations are different. While clinical psychology consists of applying psychological research techniques and principles in the treatment and analysis of human behavior, forensic psychology applies this knowledge to making legal decisions. Below are some differences between the two evaluations.

Clients in Forensic and Clinical Evaluations

During clinical evaluation, the adult under assessment is the client, but for a child’s assessment, the parent or guardian acts as the client. In a forensic evaluation, the retaining party, which is often an agency, court, or attorney, acts as the client. Additionally, for clinical evaluation, the client receives their test results, but for a forensic assessment, the report, recommendation, and opinions are directed to the referral source.

Referral Sources for Each Evaluation

Clients who undergo clinical evaluations follow their doctor’s or therapists’ advice mainly because they deem the exercise helpful to their health or that of their child. Conversely, individuals who undertake forensic evaluations receive an order from a government agency or defendant attorney for legal purposes. In some cases, the request comes from employers who need test results to act as a pre-employment evaluation.

Confidentiality of the Report and Client Relationship

Clinical assessments and tests are confidential; however, any information obtained during a forensic evaluation ordered by a court is not private. In some instances, courts post results of all forensic assessments on their websites. Psychologists also issue results of forensic evaluations ordered by an employer to the referral source, which limits the confidentiality.

During clinical evaluations, the psychologist plays a helping and supportive role to the client. Most forensic evaluations aim at solving legal matters or meeting particular legal conditions and regulations, so psychologists maintain an objective stance as a ‘friend of the court’ and assist by providing relevant information about the legal issue at hand.

Advancing your studies as a mental health professional can help you gain a better understanding of both clinical and forensic psychology. At CONCEPT Continuing and Professional Studies at Palo Alto University, we provide in-person and online professional training on a range of relevant, specialty mental health topics. Browse our self-paced, online programs and register for your training today.

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