The field of psychology is quite broad, its application ranging from the clinic to a myriad of other areas. Among them, forensic psychology stands out for having a series of characteristics and tools of its own in which the interests of the people evaluated are not the most important thing. The psychological expert’s report is one of these tools .
Like the other psychological reports, this one is a scientific, legal, non-transferable and personal document . The main difference between the psychological expert report is that the process ends once the report has been delivered.
In this article we will see what a psychological expert’s report is and how it is made, its structure and characteristics.
When a psychological expert’s report is required
Specifically within the forensic branch of psychology, the psychological expert’s report is the culmination of the work done by the professional in forensic psychology .
Therefore, this document is made to inform the judicial processes of the psychological characteristics of one or more people, paying special attention to what this implies about the facts that are being investigated and that could lead to penalization.
This report contains the information that has been gathered in the forensic evaluation, and is then forwarded to the authority that requested it, either a judge or a prosecutor who requires the report for use in court.
Bearing in mind that the psychological expert’s report is the achievement of the psychologist’s work within this area, it must be prepared with special care . Let us now look at the considerations to be taken into account when preparing it.
Editorial staff: how is it done?
Firstly, it should be noted that this type of report is aimed at people who do not belong to the psychology profession , and therefore should not contain too many unexplained psychological terms; the clearer and more universal the language used in the writing, the better.
The forensic psychologist who made the report must be prepared to appear before the hearing and answer as clearly as possible all the questions put to him by the authorities present. That is why in the psychological expert’s report there must be contrastable and defensible evidence , and none of the details relevant to the case should be overlooked, as some of them could raise a question during the hearing.
The irrelevant aspects of the cause must be avoided at all costs, as well as inaccuracies in the statements. The content of the document must be totally coherent and arguable , otherwise the report could be declared invalid for the case.
The forensic psychologist must under no circumstances give any judgement to the subject in question, since the psychological expert’s report must be free from all kinds of biases and personal opinions . The imputability of the subject is the responsibility of the judge who will read the report. The psychological expert will only expose the mental alterations that could have given rise to the actions committed by the subject in question.
The report should begin by stating that it is a forensic psychological report. After this, the information is emptied in a structured manner, as we will see below.
1. Identification data of the expert and evaluated
That’s the data from the forensic psychologist in charge of the report.
2. Reason for reporting
The purpose of the report is explained and what is requested in the judicial office is quoted textually.
The techniques used during the process of evaluation of the subject are mentioned and explained: direct observation, semi-structured interview, psychological tests…
4. Presentation of the information collected
It includes the subject’s family, personal, toxicological, hygiene, sleeping and eating habits, medical history and psychological background . At the end, it is clearly explained what the relevant history is for the case and why.
Its fundamental characteristics
Apart from the aspects in the writing already mentioned, there are two indispensable characteristics for a correct communication of the results in the psychological expert’s report.
1. It is a scientific document
As such, it must meet the following criteria for validity.
- Be a procedure subject to rules that can only be applied by a professional in forensic psychology.
- The conditions set out in the report shall only be of a psycho-legal nature, set out in such a way that they can be understood by members of the court .
- The data contained within the report should be sufficient to be replicated by other forensic psychologists.
2. The document must comply with a number of legal characteristics
It should be written taking into account the constitutional guarantees and the laws of the country of residence . For example, in Spain it is according to the Law of Criminal Procedure. It fulfils the function of an element of proof, that is, it serves as a guarantee for judicial decisions.
The psychological expert’s report is an archivable document that does not lose validity, that is, that serves as a basis for future evaluations , and functions as a background to a specific situation in a person’s life, to determine, for example, the date on which he or she had a psychotic episode.
- COPC. (2014). Good Practice Guide for Forensic Psychological Assessment and Expert Practice.
- Shapiro, D. L. (1984). Psychological Evaluation and Expert Testimony. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold.