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Building bridges to a different kind of integration: new students' frequently asked questions about law and psychology.

After a hectic week at work or while trying to work out issues, I like to take long walks on the beach near my home. Blessed to live and work at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California, the waters that refresh my soul are only minutes away. When I'm being really healthy and environmentally responsible, I don't drive there. Instead, I take a long downhill walk along the edge of our campus, cross the bustling traffic on Pacific Coast Highway, hike through the wildflowers and scrub brush of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy trail, and finally make my way through a narrow passageway between two multimillion dollar homes that leads to a lovely stretch of white sand and ocean waves. Perhaps I am more open to hearing God's voice when I'm surrounded by the beauty of His creation, but I always seem to learn something on these journeys. Last week when I was trying to overcome writer's block, my beach walk provided me with the inspiration for this article.

While taking in all of the sights on a large rock that seemed made for lounging in the sun, I became engrossed in watching a nearby group of children make sandcastles. Given my training in play therapy, I sometimes envision the beach as one large sandtray. As I watched a Hispanic boy with brown curly hair focus on constructing tunnels and bridges, the image triggered memories of my own preferred sandcastle activities as well as an apt metaphor for my professional life: building bridges.

My vocational path has led me academically and professionally to build bridges within and across fields, programs and people. I am motivated by C. S. Lewis (1947), who has pointed out that the older, and better, name for integration is virtue. In my clinical work and my scholarly activities, therefore, I strive to bridge the research-practice divide by integrating knowledge and practice from different disciplines of psychology, public policy, and law, as well as religion and spirituality.

As both a lawyer and psychologist, one focus of my scholarship concerns the nexus between law and psychology. My work in this field, also known as forensic psychology, provides ways to better understand and improve mental health professionals' understanding of how the law affects their work with clients (Sales, Miller & Hall, 2005) and, specifically, the legal system's use of psychology to better serve the needs of children and families, particularly those who have experienced trauma, violence and maltreatment (Hall & Sales, 2008). To improve understanding of and support resiliency in children and families affected by violence and maltreatment, I am particularly interested in exploring the intersection between psychology (clinical psychology and positive psychology) and religion/spirituality in the context of these families' lives and have built dissertation labs in which to mentor master's and doctoral students in this area.

Many of my master's and doctoral students in clinical psychology and marriage and family therapy are very interested in forensic psychology. After sharing their love of television shows like CSI or Law & Order, they ask me many questions and I try to provide them with information about the reality of law and psychology. The field is not, for instance, exclusively or even mostly about profiling or serial killers, because most forensic psychologists are not involved in solving crime. Profiling is better described as a law enforcement skill and art that is based on law enforcement experience with serial offenders rather than psychology or science (Hicks & Sales, 2006). I also explain where students can find training and education in law and psychology, and how they can start practicing in the field.

As forensic psychology continues to be a hot topic in the media and is viewed as a lucrative, exciting and intellectually challenging area of clinical practice, Christian clinicians might also benefit from more information about the field. I would also like to see more connections between those who integrate their faith and their clinical practice, with those who integrate law and psychology. Although individuals like me may engage in such work, for example, I am not aware of any training in forensic psychology at any of the major centers of Christian faith/psychology integration. There are a number of Catholic universities that provide training in this area, but the extent to which they integrate faith issues in this training is not clear. I am also not aware of any forensic psychology group on Psychology Crossroads (, the online community sponsored by the Christian Association for Psychological Studies. Thus, I will first share some answers to my most frequently asked questions about law and psychology, and then offer some thoughts about building more formal bridges between Christian therapists and forensic psychology.

What is Law and Psychology/Forensic Psychology?

I find that educating students about the broad scope of the field of law and psychology often begins with definitions. For example, if someone believes that forensic psychology is focused on pathology or death, I ask her to consider that the word forensic comes from the Latin forensis, meaning "of or pertaining to the forum," which was where the courts of law were located in Roman times (Mart, 2006). Accordingly, Mart, in his helpful book, Getting Started in Forensic Psychology Practice: How to Create a Forensic Specialty in Your Mental Health Practice, says that forensic psychology "involves matters in some way associated with the courts and legal decisions" (p. 2). Similarly, I define forensic psychology and law and psychology as any intersection of the legal system and psychology. Such a definition allows for contributions from both fields, rather than an exclusive focus on what psychology can offer the law. Also, various specialty areas within psychology, such as clinical, cognitive, counseling, developmental, experimental, industrial-organizational, school, and social, contribute to forensic psychology in different domains, including clinical practice, research, public policy, teaching/training and theory building.

By further examining the areas of intersection of the legal system and psychology, I hope that clinicians can recognize potential areas of practice and training opportunities. Hess (2006) has identified three intersections between law and psychology: (a) psychology in the law, (b) psychology by the law, and (c) psychology of the law. The first area of intersection is perhaps the most familiar to people because it focuses on the provision of professional psychological services within the areas of clinical psychology, counseling psychology, neuropsychology and school psychology, such as assessment, treatment and consultation, in the justice or legislative system. For example, the court seeks the expert advice of a clinical psychologist to assist in its sentencing decision regarding a young man charged with criminal sexual conduct for allegedly coercing a female member of his church's youth group to engage in intercourse with him.

The 1970s marked the start of more formalized interactions in this first domain, including: (a) the introduction of the term "forensic psychology," (b) the founding of the first psychology-law program at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln by my mentor, Dr. Bruce Sales, (c) the formation of the American Psychology-Law Society (AP-LS, Division 41 of the American Psychological Association) ( and the American Academy of Psychiatry and Law (, (d) the initiation of an interdisciplinary journal (Law and Human Behavior, and a book series (Perspectives in Law & Psychology,, and (e) the establishment by AP-LS of the American Board of Forensic Psychology ( for the credentialing of psychologists specializing in forensic issues. Since that time, the field has grown. In addition to considering other legal standards, ethical codes and guidelines (e.g., the American Psychological Association's 2002 Guidelines on Multicultural Education, Training, Research, Practice, and Organizational Change,, forensic psychologists follow a specialized set of ethical guidelines developed in 1991 (presently in the process of revision) when engaging in clinical practice within the legal system. This first domain of expertise, forensic psychology, was recognized as a specialty by the American Psychological Association in 2001.

The second area of intersection, psychology by the law, involves developing specialized knowledge of legal issues that affect the practice of psychology (Hess, 2006). Clinicians are well aware of how the laws of confidentiality and privilege affect their work with clients. They may be less aware about other areas, such as how employment and discrimination law (e.g.,; affects their workplace, including how they function as employers of office managers, receptionists, psychological assistants and interns.

In the third area of intersection, psychology of the law, research is conducted on legal questions involving psychological processes or "psycholegal issues" (Hess, 2006). Like others (e.g., Ogloff, 2000; Saks, 1986), however, I find it exciting that every aspect of the law could be considered amenable to psychological study (see for an exhaustive list of conferences on legal topics, including law and psychology). Some would say that the history of forensic psychology started in this domain with Hugo Munsterberg's 1908 book, On the Witness Stand, in which he critiqued false confessions and eyewitness testimony (based on the example of a burglary of his own home). Current social science research from developmental, social, cognitive, and clinical psychology continues to examine these and other psycholegal issues. The results of forensic research are used to influence legal decisions (e.g., through the writing of amicus briefs, and developing psychologically sound practices. Cognitive psychologists, for instance, "work with law enforcement agencies to develop investigative procedures to enhance the likelihood of accurate memory and testimony about crimes and accidents" (

Common Questions Regarding Forensic Psychology from New Therapists

How Can I Obtain Experience in Forensic Psychology?

Given the broad scope of forensic psychology, mental health professionals can take on a variety of diverse roles in each of the three intersecting domains of law and psychology. I use the acronym CARER when describing five role areas open to master's and doctoral students: clinician, advisor, researcher, evaluator and reformer. When focusing on the role of clinician with my master's students, they are sometimes pleasantly surprised to know that with appropriate training and supervision, they can provide forensically relevant treatment services in a variety of settings: inpatient and residential treatment centers, sheriff's departments, federal judicial centers, court clinics, state and federal correctional facilities (jails, detention centers), federal investigatory and drug enforcement agencies, child advocacy centers, victim advocacy programs, domestic violence shelters and treatment programs, rape crisis centers, sex offender treatment programs, community mental health agencies, and private practice settings. In other words, clinicians can include forensic experiences as part of their generalist master's degree work in clinical practica, and clinical or research volunteer or paid jobs.

I have found that master's students often mistakenly assume that they need their doctoral degree to engage in forensically relevant practice. I let them know that doctoral work can be helpful to them if they wish to obtain: (a) advanced training in research, (b) advanced training in assessment and treatment, (c) a career in an academic position, (d) a position in public policy or a think tank, and (e) greater marketability in some areas of forensic practice and some parts of the United States. Also, students can obtain a general doctoral degree (Psy.D. or Ph.D.) in clinical psychology and gain forensic experiences through clinical practica, pre-doctoral and post-doctoral internships at forensic sites (e.g., Federal Bureau of Prisons, state hospitals), and their forensically relevant research projects (e.g., dissertations).

I also remind students that to gain experience in forensic psychology, the best job may not be the best paying job. They may want to consider a volunteer position and ask potential employers about in-house training, money for outside training, and opportunities for advancement. Similarly, I try to encourage them to not worry about having a niche right away so that they remain open to new experiences and concentrate on developing a good base of forensically-relevant skills in counseling, assessment, research, communication (e.g., public speaking) and problem-solving.

Where Can I Learn More About Forensic Psychology?

There are numerous sources of education and training in forensic psychology. Attending, presenting and networking at seminars and conferences throughout one's professional life is important for developing expertise, maintaining connections and keeping current in the field, especially in the ever-changing field of law and psychology. I recommend several conferences and workshops to my students: American Academy of Forensic Psychology (, American College of Forensic Psychology (, and the annual AP-LS conference ( Some of my students benefit from reminders that connections made with other professionals at conferences are sustained through emails, phone calls, coffee or lunch meetings, and volunteer activities.

Joining professional associations is another way of forming and growing an identity in forensic psychology. To assist my clinically- and empirically-minded students, I provide them with the following list of organizations: the American Psychology-Law Society (;, the European Association for Psychology & Law (, the International Association of Forensic Mental Health Services (, National Association for Forensic Counselors (, Law and Society Association (, and the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues (SPSSI, I then encourage them to read the scholarly journals or related material (e.g., newsletters) from these organizations to further develop their clinical skills and knowledge in forensic psychology. For those students who are interested in research, I also encourage them to get involved with research projects.

What Forensic Psychology Degree Programs Are Available?

In my own professional journey, I desired formal training in law and clinical psychology because I wanted to be able to be able to understand and apply in an integrated fashion the language, culture and skills from both fields in order to most effectively work with, and on behalf of, families affected by violence. Although there are currently more options available compared to when I applied to programs in the early 1990s, the numbers of forensic psychology programs are still limited when compared to other specialization areas within psychology. I refer prospective students to the AP-LS website for a complete list of programs in forensic and legal psychology (, including: (a) 14 master's programs in forensic psychology, forensic mental health, forensic and counseling psychology, criminal justice with forensic psychology concentration, and clinical or experimental psychology with a concentration in psychology and law, (b) three master's joint degree programs (J.D./M.A. in clinical, social, counseling or criminology, law and society), (c) nine Psy.D. programs with a concentration or emphasis in forensic psychology, (d) 16 non-clinical Ph.D. programs and 11 Ph.D. programs in forensic psychology, forensic and behavioral sciences, or clinical psychology with an emphasis or concentration in forensic psychology or psychology and law, and (e) four J.D./Ph.D. programs in law and psychology or clinical psychology.

In addition to completing a degree program, individuals who want to provide courts with clinical services, such as conducting psychological and neuropsychological evaluations and testifying as expert witnesses about their findings, need to be licensed. A few states also require special certification as a forensic psychologist (Bartol & Bartol, 2006). Beyond licensure, some clinicians may also consider obtaining the "gold standard" of diplomate certification through the American Board of Forensic Psychology.

Time to Build a New Bridge?

"Now I know in part, then I will know fully." (I Corinthians 13:12)

In a quick review of the literature using the PsychInfo and other EBSCOhost databases, I was surprised to find no peer-reviewed journal articles and only one book chapter looking at forensic psychology from a Christian perspective. In Christian Counseling Ethics: A Handbook for Therapists, Pastors & Counselors, Alsdurf (1997) provides a balanced approach to this apparently novel type of integration. He advises clinicians to prioritize the place of Christian ethics in their work of integrating good theology with good forensic psychology, which "requires keeping in mind that while psychology informs and theology guides, in the forensic setting the court decides" (p. 267). Thus, for Christians practicing psychology in the law, this process involves examining and substantiating the scientific basis for statements or recommendations to the court rather than relying on pseudo-scientific and untested statements made on theological grounds.

Alsdurf (1997) also offered five ethical guidelines for Christian forensic psychologists (the ethics of redemptive love, respect for the dignity of personhood, justice, hope, and reconciliation), which can provide a solid basis for future research and writings by Christian forensic mental health professionals, therapists, and positive psychologists. And if we extend the bridge to attorneys (and I hope we do!), we find that many lawyers and law schools are already interested in these issues through work in legal subfields, including (a) therapeutic jurisprudence, which examines law's role as a potential therapeutic agent and its impact on people's psychological well-being (, (b) holistic jurisprudence, which seeks to integrate the law with the values of the gospel and Judeo-Christian tradition (Sprang, 2000), and (c) restorative justice, which seeks to promote the cooperative repair of harm caused by criminal behavior (; welcome.htm).

As all clinicians endeavor to practice in an ethical and culturally competent manner, it would behoove forensic psychologists to become more familiar with ways to appropriately assess and treat clients who endorse religious and spiritual beliefs. Christian therapists can play a vital role in educating our colleagues in forensic psychology. In turn, forensic psychologists who become culturally competent in working with diverse groups of Christians could also act as consultants to churches on forensically relevant cases of sexual abuse, domestic violence, violence risk assessment, staff hiring decisions, divorce and custody, estate planning, and guardianship (care for the sick).

In sum, I recall reading that integration involves bringing God's truth from all areas of His creation to bear on our therapeutic endeavors. With this article, I endeavored to introduce Christian therapists and the field of psychology and religion/spirituality to forensic psychology, in order that both fields might begin a dialogue or increase their existing interactions with each other.


Alsdurf, J. M. (1997). Forensic psychology. In R. K. Sanders (Ed.), Christian counseling ethics: A handbook for therapists, pastors & counselors (pp. 258-273). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity.

Bartol, A. M., & Bartol, C. R. (2006). Overview of forensic psychology. In C. R. Bartol & A. M. Bartol (Eds.), Current perspectives in forensic psychology and criminal justice (pp. 3-10). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Hall, S. R., & Sales, B. D. (2008). Courtroom modifications for child witnesses: Law and science in forensic evaluations. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Hess, A. K. (2006). Defining forensic psychology. In I. B. Weiner & A. K. Hess (Eds.), The handbook of forensic psychology (3rd ed., pp. 28-58). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Hicks, S. J., & Sales, B. D. (2006). Criminal profiling: Developing an effective science and practice. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Lewis, C. S. (1947). The abolition of man. New York, NY: Macmillan.

Mart, E. G. (2006). Getting started in forensic psychology practice: How to create a forensic specialty in your mental health practice. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Ogloff, J. R. P. (2000). Two steps forward and one step backward: The law and psychology movement(s) in the 20th century. Law and Human Behavior, 24, 457.

Saks, M. J. (1986). The law does not live by eyewitness testimony alone. Law and Human Behavior, 10, 279-280.

Sales, B. D., Miller, M. O., & Hall, S. R. (2005). Laws affecting clinical practice. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Sprang, K. A. (2000). Holistic jurisprudence: Law shaped by people of faith. St. John's Law Review, 74, 753-781.

Susan R. Hall Pepperdine University Graduate School of Education and Psychology


Susan R. Hall, J.D., Ph.D. is a lawyer and an Associate Professor of Psychology at Pepperdine University Graduate School of Education and Psychology in Malibu, CA.

Correspondence regarding this article should be addressed to Susan R. Hall, J.D., Ph.D., Graduate School of Education and Psychology, Pepperdine University, 24255 Pacific Coast Hwy., Malibu, California 90263-4608;
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Title Annotation:Practice and Professional Issues
Author:Hall, Susan R.
Publication:Journal of Psychology and Christianity
Article Type:Viewpoint essay
Date:Mar 22, 2009
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