What is the difference between a clinical psychological evaluation and a forensic evaluation? Knowing when and how to obtain a forensic evaluation – which typically goes beyond the scope of a basic clinical interview or a non-forensic psychological evaluation – could make or break your case. Following are several things you should look for in a forensic evaluation:

1. In all evaluations, psychologists complete a clinical interview with the client. While a clinical interview is certainly better than no evaluation by a doctor, it is not a thorough method of assessment as it is purely self-report.

2. Psychological testing must be used so the bulk of information is not based on the client’s self-report. Many psychologists administer psychological instruments such as the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI-2), which is an objective measure of personality and major categories of psychopathology. The MMPI-2 is widely used because it is well known to be a reliable, valid test. It also has a Lie Scale to help determine if someone is trying to form a favorable impression or mislead the examiner regarding severity of illness. However, though better than an interview only, this test is, again, based on the client’s self-report.

3. It is therefore recommended that multiple tests be completed. A full battery should look at the client’s cognitive, emotional, and personality functioning. A battery gives added weight to your argument that the client was fully evaluated. This may be where some psychologists end their evaluation, which would still mean this is not a forensic evaluation.

4. A full battery could still be a clinical evaluation and not a forensic evaluation. According to the American Academy of Forensic Psychology, a full forensic evaluation includes actively seeking information from more than one source that would differentially test plausible rival hypotheses. This means psychologists need to actively seek prior records. They also need to talk to people who know the client, to assess both pre- and post-functioning. These collateral contacts may at times be family members or friends with a vested interest in the client, but better collaterals are professionals or disinterested parties who will provide impartial accounts of the client.

5. In summary, be sure when sending your client for a ‘psychological evaluation’ to be used in court the evaluation meets the standards of a forensic psychological evaluation. This type of comprehensive approach, testing alternative hypotheses by using multiple testing and data sources, creates a strong evaluation useful to the courts. Be sure the psychologist you use knows to do a forensic evaluation and not a simple psych evaluation.


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