“The greatest challenge of practicing forensic psychiatry is reducing the complexity of the mind to something that can be measured and then explained,” forensic psychiatrist Robert Granacher Jr., M.D., a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Kentucky, told Psychiatric News. “Due to the complexity of the brain, psychiatry lags behind almost all other medical specialties in its ability to measure things….But we can measure the brain much better today than a decade ago. And 10 years from now, it will be even better than that.”
Another challenge, Granacher observed, is that it “requires tremendous ability to analyze and store large amounts of data. It’s not unusual in a complex forensic case to have to go through 20,000 pages of information.”
“A lot of what forensic psychiatrists do is review most, if not all, of the treatment records of the person they are evaluating,” Patricia Recupero, M.D., J.D., a clinical professor of psychiatry at Brown University, pointed out. “Getting those records is sometimes difficult. Getting collateral information, information about how the person is actually functioning in their usual environment, contacting family members or people who know them is a challenge, because maybe they were estranged from their family, maybe they don’t want their family to know they are undergoing evaluation…,” she said.
“One of the rewards of practicing forensic psychiatry is that it’s fascinating to try to get to the bottom of a case, to try to figure out what actually happened,” William Bernet, M.D., a professor emeritus of psychiatry at Vanderbilt University, said during an interview. “And it’s fun to be an educator; juries and judges are really interested in what we have to say. I think it’s fun to put complex scientific information into language that the everyday citizen can understand.”
“As forensic psychiatrists on an individual case, we’re not supposed to be rooting for one side or the other,” Recupero explained. “So even if a defense lawyer were to retain me to do an evaluation, I would not be rooting for the defendant. I would be rooting for justice and trying to provide the best information I could for the best outcome for the whole judicial process without slanting things. So personal gratification comes from doing a good job at that, as opposed to the outcome of the case.”