There are many similarities between psychologists and psychiatrists and on some cases they may work together. However, there are crucial differences in the way they assess and treat patients. Whereas psychiatrists are medically trained and have the ability to prescribe medication and treatment plans, psychologists take a more therapeutic approach and focus on behavioural intervention. When a case is brought to court which requires expert testimony, it is important to make the right choice of whether it is an expert psychologist or psychiatrist which is required.
Psychologists study the mind and behaviour of individuals, and provide insights which help the court understand potential reasons which led the defendant to commit a crime. Childhood experiences, emotional development and trauma can influence the way an individual behaves, and it is the role of a psychology expert witness to uncover what role these factors have played. Psychologists are often required to verify to the court whether a defendant has learning difficulties, and offer expert opinion on the extent of which these difficulties affect an individual’s culpability. Psychologists can also analyse whether a history of abuse, neglect or substance misuse could have caused offending behaviour. Some cases involving defendants with mental health needs require the insight of a psychologist, however more severe cases of mental illness usually require the medical insight of a psychiatrist. Psychologists, although highly qualified professionals, are not medically trained, and therefore cannot give an accurate assessment of an individual who needs medical care for a condition such as psychosis, acute depression, or schizophrenia.
Psychiatrists are able to offer insight into the effect of an individual’s mental health condition on their behaviour, and advice on the medical care which their illness requires. Conditions such as schizophrenia can affect an individual’s ability to make sound judgements, and lead an individual to commit a crime. In these cases, a psychiatric expert witness will highlight to the court that the defendant acted under the influence of their illness. Psychiatrists are often brought into a case to assess the level of risk an individual poses to themselves or the public, and evaluate whether a defendant is capable of testifying in court. Psychiatrists are able to make medically informed decisions about the treatment of these conditions, and in some cases they might advise that instead of a prison sentence, an individual requires residential mental health care. Residential psychiatric care in a secure hospital is sometimes a more appropriate option, as these facilities aim to treat these conditions rather than punish offenders. In prison, there is a significant risk of an individual’s mental illness worsening, and possibly leading to self harm and suicide.
Both psychiatric and psychological reports and expert testimony can have a significant impact on the outcome of a case, but it is important to choose the right expert in order to build a convincing defence. Our experienced case managers can help you decide which expert or combination of experts is right for your case, so contact Foresight if you require a psychology or psychiatry expert witness.