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What is a Forensic Psychiatrist?

Stephen M. Raffle, M.D.

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Curriculum Vitae

By Stephen M. Raffle, M.D.

A Forensic Psychiatrist is

  • a licensed physician, Board-Certified in Psychiatry.  Board certification in Forensic Psychiatry requires further experience and training in Forensic Psychiatry.
  • A Forensic Psychiatrist assesses medical and psychiatric history of an individual, reviews relevant records and may conduct a psychiatric examination (IME) and psychological testing, to synthesize and render an opinion used in a legal framework

Commonly, a forensic psychiatrist performs a psychiatric evaluation within the context of a legal or administrative determination, e.g. civil law, employment (HR) practices, criminal law, and administrative law.  The psychiatrist synthesizes the information obtained to render conclusions which he or she is prepared to defend before the legal venue.  Familiarity with the governing legal questions assists the trained forensic psychiatrist to come to a conclusion, issued by report or testimony, although most forensic psychiarists do not have this understanding.  The forensic psychiatric examination (Independent Medical Examination  or IME) is not the same as a clinical psychiatric examination as the law and forensic practices present thressholds and questions which are unique to law and medicine.

Since 1994, the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN)  has certified Psychiatrists (through examination) in Forensic Psychiatry.   I became Board‑Certified by the ABPN in Forensic Psychiatry in 1994, the first year the specialty was certified.  I already had been Board‑Certified in (general) Psychiatry for many years.  Presently, in order to be eligible to take the Board examinations in Forensic Psychiatry, the psychiatrist must complete a one‑year fellowship in Forensic Psychiatry at an accredited institution.

When I completed my residency in psychiatry, there were no forensic psychiatry fellowships; psychiatrists learned by doing, and usually obtained consultation from psychiatrists who were experienced in forensic psychiatry.  I chose first to audit selected law classes at the University of California, Berkeley (Boalt Hall), in a special program arranged for me by Bernard Diamond, M.D., who was then Professor of Law, Professor of Psychiatry, and Chairman of the Department of Criminology at the University of California, Berkeley.  Upon completion of my one year at Boalt Hall, Dr. Diamond continued to mentor me for four more years.

3% of all Board Certified Psychiatrists also hold Board Certification in Forensic Psychiatry. It is of note that since 1994 only half of all Board Certified Forensic Psychiatrists are still in practice.  Most have obtained this Board Certification in only the past 8-10 years**.    It is a small population and, when you need experience on and off the stand, the pool shrinks further.  For those reasons, an experienced Forensic Psychiatrist makes any case stronger where mental health is at issue in a medical-legal venue.

* These two Board Certifications are significant because a doctor who is not Board Certified as a Forensic Psychiatrist specifically, may still hold him or herself out as a “Forensic Psychiatrist.”

** Per the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology.

DISCLAIMER: The information provided on this website does not constitute legal or medical advice. Readers should consult with their own legal counsel or physician for the most current information and to obtain professional legal advice or medical advice before acting on any of the information presented.

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