Workshop Review: Forensic Psychotherapy Presented by Dr. Patrick Randall, Clarion Hotel, IFSC, Dublin, Jan. 2010

Reviewed by Pauline Little

Patrick Randall is a clinical and forensic psychologist by profession. He worked at Temple Street Children’s Hospital from 1995-6 and then joined the Granada Institute where he became Principal Clinical Psychologist / Assistant Director. During this time he assessed and treated both adult and adolescent sex offenders. In addition he worked with young people who sexually offended against minors or vulnerable people. In 2009 he founded Forensic Psychological Services Ltd. in response to the growing need for forensic psychological services in both the state and the voluntary sector in Ireland.

This workshop is part of the 2009/2010 workshop programme being run by IAHIP for its members. Following a late start, which I found frustrating, and then some technical difficulties with a laptop, the workshop began with 16 psychotherapists present. Patrick first checked out our knowledge of forensic psychotherapy. Like myself, many of the group didn’t understand the subject fully. He suggested we brainstorm our ideas on a flipchart. With that exercise and his own interventions, we saw that psychotherapy is forensic in nature when the legal profession is involved, and when any third party requires feedback on a psychotherapist’s work with a client. Forensic psychotherapy has been described as the interface between  psychology and the law. Most forensic psychologists provide such services which are both clinical and forensic in nature.

The courts, solicitors, and social workers accept the important contribution that psychotherapy can make in people’s lives and the crucial role it can have in supporting behavioural and emotional change. Patrick considers the forensic psychologist to be central in the relationship between the client, the court, the professions, and society. Their work may include compiling evaluations and reports on clients to assist the court with decisions regarding family, civil or criminal matters, child abuse evaluations, child custody and adoption issues. Having completed such an evaluation or report, the psychologist should be in a position to defend the logical conclusions using explanations which are understandable, and to be able to explain complex psychological issues to non-psychologists. Psychologists working with these issues should have a broad clinical background, excellent assessment skills and experience in completing these evaluations in a legal setting.

After lunch Patrick took questions from the group. His responses to these were  informative and useful. He outlined the need for psychotherapists and forensic psychgologists, when writing reports and evaluations for court, to;

Be coherent and cohesive,

State who referred the client to you,

The number of sessions you had with the client,

What your conclusions were and what these conclusions were based on,

Use collateral information to back up the report, ie medical reports, and or, psychiatric reports if relevant.

Later in the afternoon, we had a discussion about being subpoenaed, and also about court appearances. His advice was that if subpoenaed the practitioner should be present in court. Sessional or client notes, though the property of the psychotherapist, refer to the client. These may also be subpoenaed. Notes and other documents need the written permission of the client before being released. As a witness in the court, our role is to be there to meet the needs of the client and never to advocate. If questioned, we say what we believe. We should never offer opinions outside our area of professional competence. We should never have a solicitor or barrister tell us what to say; they are not experts in this work.

Patrick had assumed that we knew each other, and once this inaccurate assumption was named and questions were invited, my sense was that the group energy lifted. I felt that Patrick’s strength was in his comfort with the subject and in normalising the issue of court appearances and related note taking. The question and answer session was informative and succeeded in reducing my own concerns about these issues. As a result of attending this workshop, my anxiety about note taking, legal implications and court appearances  has considerably reduced and I now have a much clearer understanding of the practice of forensic psychotherapy, and of the role of the psychotherapist / psychologist  within that practice.

Pauline Little, IAHIP, IACP, is a psychotherapist and supervisor working in private practice in Dublin.