Full course description
In forensic psychiatric practice, forensic psychologists are involved in diagnostic assessments, court reporting and clinical treatment of mentally ill offenders (or suspects). In this practice, a variety of ethical tensions and problems arise. During this course students will get to know the most salient ethical issues for forensic psychologists and get acquainted with what may be called ‘the ethical stance’, that is students will learn to reflect on these issues from an ethical point of view. Moreover, this course will show how ethical issues and questions differ from science and scientific questions and how professional ethics can contribute to careful and responsible practices. To this end, students will focus on four different issues.
- The practice of a forensic psychologist is characterised by the so-called double role. One role is connected to the state is initiated by the state and connected to the process of criminal justice. This is the professional’s role as an agent of the state. The second role is given by the professional obligation to do good for the patient/client. This is the therapeutic role. In practice, these two roles might conflict and corresponding ethical dilemmas might emerge. For example: How to deal with confidentiality, privacy and secrecy, central elements in doctor-patient relationships, if one –also- has to report to the court? In this course students will get to know the dilemmas connected to these ‘two-hats’ and discuss how to properly deal with them.
- During his or her stay in forensic psychological institution, a patient may be subjected to coercive interventions. Compulsory treatments or measures might be applied. In this course students will critically discuss and reflect on the use of coercion in forensic psychological practice. Ethical aspects that are crucial in this regard are the requirement to respect the bodily and mental integrity of the individual at stake, harm to or the safety of the patient him- or herself, as well as harm to others and public safety issues.
- In the last years, insights have been gained on neurobiological and genetic influences on antisocial and criminal behaviour, targeting the concept of free will and responsibility. This is the topic of the subdiscipline of 'neurolaw'. Students will get acquainted with these topics and learn how to take a professional stance in this context.
- As a professional students may also get involved in scientific research in which forensic patients may serve as research participants. Scientists have to adhere to certain, well-defined research ethical requirements, with informed consent as its cornerstone. Given the involuntary character of the situation of forensic patients, specific questions arise, which will be discussed in this class.
- students are able to identify and explain ethical dilemmas in forensic psychology;
- students are able to differentiate between different professional roles and able to infer respective responsibilities, rights and obligations;
- students are able to identify and explain various levels of involuntariness in the domain of forensic psychology, they can differentiate accordingly, compare these levels and judge their respective relevance and justifiability;
- students can recall various meanings of responsibility, can interpret them in the context of forensic mental health, behavioural genetics and neurosciences, and are able to infer corresponding judgements;
- students are able to identify salient issues in research ethics, can infer these to the domain of forensic psychology and use them in specific research projects;
- students are able to identify an ethical dilemma in forensic psychology on their own, they can explain its salience, use ethical insight, distinguish relevant sub-topics and questions, coordinate these and on that basis generate a normative analysis of their self-chosen ethical dilemma.
- D. Horstkötter