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Matching logical structure to linguistic structure

Arguably one of the most interesting assessments for a forensic psychologist is assessment in “mens rea” (insanity) cases. In the U.S., a person cannot be held responsible for a crime if he/she did not possess a “guilty mind” (mens rea) at the time the criminal act was committed. There are several conditions in which the law recognizes that a guilty mind is absent (e.g., self-defense). “Insanity” is not a psychological term but a legal one. The standard for insanity is determined by each state, and there is also a federal standard. A common standard is whether the person knew what he/she was doing was wrong. The forensic psychologist has to determine not how the person is functioning at the present moment, but his/her mental state at the time of the crime. Thus, much of the forensic psychologist’s work is retrospective and must rely on third-party information, collateral contacts and written communications (e.g., statements made at the time of the crime). 

Although there are master’s level degrees in forensic psychology, all forensic psychologists must have either a PhD or a PsyD degree from an APA-accredited or Canadian Psychological Association (CPA)-accredited doctoral program. They must also have the equivalent of two years of organized, sequential, supervised professional experience, one year of which is an APA- or CPA-accredited predoctoral internship. Often there are other requirements as well. The candidate can apply for licensure and sit for an oral or written exam (depending on the state where the candidate will be practicing). Practitioners can also become board certified (as diplomates) by the American Board of Forensic Psychology.