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 that mainly relate to the question how the (mental health) interests, basic human rights and social position of various stakeholders (forensic patients, observants, potential and actual victims, professionals and the wider society) relate to each other. 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.
- As a professional, students may also get involved in scientific research, take the role of a forensic researcher and be involved in situations where forensic patients 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.
- 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 patients' human rights and their bodily integrity, as well as harm to or the safety of patients themselves as well as others and public safety issues.
- In the last years, increasing emphasis is being put on the possibility of direct neurointerventions to offenders with the aim to change their behavior. Because of their potential to bypass people's will and endanger their mental integrity and freedom of thought, such interventions trigger a series of novel ethical questions which will be presented and discussed in the final meeting of the course.
- students are able to identify and explain ethical dilemmas in forensic psychology;
- students are able to identify and explain the role that human rights play in forensic psychiatric contexts and how this can help steering ethical dilemmas and questions;
- students are able to differentiate between different professional roles and able to infer respective responsibilities, rights and obligations;
- 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 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 identify ethical issues particularly or exclusively relevant in direct neuro-interventions, understand the meaning and relevance of mental integrity and are able to critically judge current and upcoming means of forensic neuro-modulation;
- 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