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Differences Between Clinical & Forensic Psychology

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When a clinical psychologist works in a legal setting, they are doing forensic psychology. Clinical psychologists help people adjust to life. Forensic psychologists provide information to assist the legal process.

Forensic Psychologists

Most forensic psychologists work primarily in the forensic field by providing personality assessments for pre-sentence investigations.

Injury and Trauma

Clinical psychologists occasionally act in a forensic role. When they testify in court about the long term psychological impact of the accidental loss of limbs or sight on the individual's life, they are acting in a forensic role.


Personality and intelligence tests provide tools to indicate whether or not a person can learn healthy behavior. When a psychologist conducts these assessments and writes a report about the person for the court, they are acting in a forensic capacity.

Criminal Activity

When people commit crimes, forensic psychologists are called upon to evaluate the likelihood that they may repeat that crime against another person. They report their findings to the court, to parole boards, to probation officers or juvenile court counselors. They may also recommend certain types of treatment for purposes of rehabilitation.

Non-Forensic Clinical Psychology

Clinical psychologists work in non-forensic settings. They help people deal with grief and loss, and adjusting to trauma and changes in life circumstances, like death, divorce, retirement or serious illness. They may help doctors figure out whether an older patient has dementia or Alzheimer's.


Only Louisiana and New Mexico allow clinical psychologists to prescribe drugs to help with depression, anxiety and other psychological conditions.


Jenny Landis-Steward has written reports for child welfare research for over 14 years. She has a master's degree in clinical psychology. She was the editor of two social service agency publications for seven years. Her economic thesis was an analysis of employment trends.

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