What Does a Forensic Psychiatrist Do?

A forensic psychiatrist is a medical doctor trained in law and mental health. Forensic psychiatrists may use their knowledge of mental health to act as expert witnesses assisting juries, lawyers, and judges during the course of a trial. Schools offering Clinical Psychology degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Career Overview

Forensic psychiatrists differ from forensic psychologists in that they are trained medical doctors and can prescribe medication. Typically, a forensic psychiatrist will complete several additional years of training in the area of mental disorders. They will learn more about how to properly diagnose, understand, and treat mental disorders.

Important Facts About This Occupation

On-the-job TrainingFour year psychiatry residency and one year forensic psychiatry fellowship
LicensureRequired, must pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE)
Key SkillsAnalysis, critical thinking, decision-making, observation, speaking, writing
Work EnvironmentCorrectional facilities, courts, hospitals, private practices

Duties and Responsibilities

The duty of a forensic psychiatrist is to hold no bias. He or she must evaluate the facts and the mental state of the defendant and report the findings to the lawyer when asked. Only if the lawyer believes that the findings are helpful to the case will the forensic psychiatrist be asked to testify in a court of law. Forensic psychiatrists evaluate specific areas that include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Hysteria
  • Psychotic conditions such as schizophrenia

Testify at Trials

A forensic psychiatrist's primary responsibility is to provide expert testimony to the jury during the course of a trial. A series of interviews allows a forensic psychiatrist to formulate a professional opinion of the defendant. Usually, a forensic psychiatrist is paid for his or her testimony.

To be successful as an expert witness, a forensic psychiatrist must have a pleasing manner and be able to communicate well with members of the jury. A forensic psychiatrist doesn't need to hold a law degree, but he or she must have an acute understanding of the legal process. The more knowledge a forensic psychiatrist has of the legal process, the better his or her chances are of being contacted as a consultant on a regular basis.

Salary Info and Job Outlook

Although the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) doesn't provide information specific to forensic psychiatry, it does report that as of 2014 all psychiatrists earned a median annual wage of $173,330. Similarly, the BLS doesn't track data for the particular field, but lists psychiatrists under physicians and surgeons. The job outlook for physicians and surgeons is expected to increase 18% between 2012 and 2022, according to the BLS.

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