Academy Aperçus—June 2022

Source: Laura C. Fulginiti, PhD, 2022-23 AAFS President

The Academy Aperçus is a monthly feature that celebrates 75 years of forensic science by spotlighting the history and anticipating the future of each section of the Academy. Beginning with the Jurisprudence Section and progressing through each section in the order of acknowledgement by the Academy, a senior member will join with a junior member to memorialize salient events, highlight members, and provide insight into why the Academy remains the premier forensic science organization in the world. This month features the Psychiatry & Behavioral Science Section.

Leading Advances in Forensic Behavioral Science

Source:  Daniel A. Martell, PhD, AAFS Past President and Psychiatry & Behavioral Science Section Fellow

The AAFS Psychiatry & Behavioral Science Section has witnessed significant expansion and scientific advances over the past 25 years. Our membership has broadened to include both clinical/forensic and research psychiatrists and psychologists who study forensic issues, as well as many international forensic mental health professionals from around the world who bring a broader perspective to forensic behavioral science practice and research.

Along with expansion of our membership base, the past 25 years have also seen advances in the science and practice of forensic behavioral science. The science underlying forensic psychiatry and psychology has experienced significant growth in multiple areas, and members of the Psychiatry & Behavioral Science Section have been involved in many areas that have advanced the practice and profession of forensic behavioral science, for example:

Forensic Neuroscience 
The past 25 years have witnessed the rise of neuroscience within the forensic arena, with evidence from neuroimaging and neurocognitive testing playing an evolving role in both criminal and civil litigation. Evidence of brain abnormalities identified by neuroimaging, including Computed Axial Tomography (CAT) scans, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans, functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) imaging, Single-Photon Emission Computed Tomography (SPECT) SCANS, and Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scans, have been introduced at an increasing rate, particularly in criminal cases in support of findings of incompetence to stand trial, insanity, diminished capacities, and mitigation at sentencing.

Brain imaging evidence has been supplemented by advances in neuropsychological testing that help to bridge the link between imaging evidence of brain abnormalities and violent criminal behavior. This evolution has resulted in the rapid expansion of scholarly thinking about the role of free will vs. determinism and spawned the entirely new academic field of "neurolaw."

Terrorism and Mass Violence
With the onset of terrorist incidents and mass violence in various settings, (including schools, workplaces, and public gatherings), members of our section have been leaders in efforts to study the characteristics of perpetrators. This effort has focused on identifying and systematizing the characteristics and risk factors that may underlie and potentially prevent these tragic events by improving prediction and offender profiling.

Forensic Assessment
The past 25 years have seen the proliferation of tests and methods for the evaluation of forensic issues, including, for example, specialized tests for competency to stand trial, malingering and response bias, psychopathy, assessment of future dangerousness, and psychiatric diagnosis. Significant interest and scholarship have also been devoted to the issue of parental alienation in child custody determinations.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders has continued to evolve our diagnostic nosology and is now in its 5th edition with a recent text revision (DSM5-TR). Finally, psychodiagnostic and neurocognitive testing have also evolved, providing better and more accurate methods for the detection and assessment of mental diseases and defects.

Ethics and Cognitive Bias
The issue of cognitive bias in forensic science, the idea that unconscious allegiance effects can result in forensic opinions that are more favorable to the side that has retained an expert, is one of the most important concepts to emerge in forensic science over the past 25 years. The problem of cognitive bias in forensic science has generated a new wave of research aimed at replication of the effect and methods to counteract it in the service of greater precision in forensic methods to protect reliable and valid decision-making. Because of the insidious nature of cognitive bias, as it is understood to be an unconscious phenomenon, there have been efforts to isolate the information provided about a case to only what is necessary to perform one's forensic analysis in order to minimize extraneous information that could potentially bias an expert's perceptions.

On a parallel track with these efforts, there has been growing interest more completely exploring and codifying professional ethics in forensic psychiatry and psychology. For example, section member Robert Weinstock, MD has a new book on forensic psychiatric ethics forthcoming from the American Psychiatric Association that is expected to become a touchstone in forensic psychiatric training programs nationwide.

Advances in Treatment for Forensic Psychiatric Populations
Members of our section are at the front lines of protecting the public through the evaluation, care, and treatment of forensic psychiatric patients in secure settings. Advances in neuroleptic medications are improving the available treatment options for patients with major mental disorders such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

New treatment approaches are evolving for the evaluation and restoration of competency to stand trial in both individual and group therapy settings. Exciting new research has developed innovative approaches for understanding and treating psychopathy, including brain imaging studies that have identified regions associated with empathy and the use of transcranial magnetic stimulation for the treatment of mental disorders, including psychopathy, and violent behavior.

Service to Section and to the Academy
The Psychiatry & Behavioral Science Section has continued its tradition of contributing to the AAFS as a whole with members serving on academy-wide committees, reviewing papers for the Journal of Forensic Sciences, actively participating with the Forensic Sciences Foundation, and serving in the Academy leadership. Our section and the Academy have also honored many section members for their contributions to the field and to the AAFS at large.

Meier Tuchler Award
Our most prestigious award for service to the profession and to the section has been bestowed upon several Psychiatry &  Behavioral Science Fellows for their outstanding contributions. Honorees have included: Alan Felthous, MD (2000), J. Arturo Silva, MD (2006), Dan Martell, PhD (2007), Stephen Billick, MD (2010), John Young, MD (2012), and Karen Rosenbaum, MD (2016).

Academy-Wide Recognition
Richard Rosner, MD,
 received the AAFS Distinguished Fellow Award in 2011 for his remarkable contributions to our field and to the Academy. Dr. Rosner has been the bedrock of our section for decades. He has been a longstanding leader in the field and an inspiration to all of us in the section though his leadership, vast scholarship, personal mentorship, and warm friendship. He established the Award for the Best Paper for a Fellow in Forensic Psychiatry or Psychology (which was subsequently renamed in his honor) to encourage a new generation of forensic mental health professionals to contribute to the research base in our discipline.

Finally, on a personal note, it was my honor to be the first forensic psychologist to become President of the Academy from 2014-2015. I am proud to have helped establish the AAFS Early Career Achievement Award in Forensic Science, the Past Presidents Council, the Forensic Sciences Foundation's Warren-Young Scholarship, and the AAFS Human Rights Resource Center during my tenure.

The past 25 years have seen our section grow and advance on multiple fronts. Looking to the future, the Psychiatry & Behavioral Science Section seeks to continue its tradition of encouraging and supporting young forensic mental health professionals with opportunities to present their research, be recognized for their scholarship, and be exposed to the depth of knowledge and experience carried both by our section membership and all the other sections of the Academy who's work directly informs our discipline.

Our Journey Into the World of Forensics

Source: Kari Danser, BS, Psychiatry & Behavioral Science Section Student Affiliate

I knew since I was seven years old that I wanted to be a forensic scientist. Growing up, I was obsessed with crime scene shows and trying to determine someone's motives for their actions. I loved hearing about the individuals my dad dealt with as a Deputy Sheriff. When I was older, I knew I wanted to follow in his footsteps at being law enforcement and helping others, but I wanted to do so in a more scientific way. Once I was in high school, I had the opportunity to take forensics courses and the opportunity made me love forensics more.

Now I am 23 years old, attending Duquesne University as a graduate student in their Master's Forensic Science and Law program. During my time here, I researched successful re-entry based on the experience of returning citizens, which has opened so many doors for me. I also became a Student Affiliate with the Psychiatry & Behavioral Science Section. I graduate in May of 2022 and plan to enter the forensics field.

Being a Student Affiliate is great! I have learned so many things from AAFS and had the opportunity to attend the conference in Seattle. It was an amazing experience to have so many forensic scientists at one conference.

I am so honored to be a Student Affiliate of the Academy. I am excited to see the future plans for the Psychiatry & Behavioral Science Section and to meet various forensic professionals in the field.

Source: Elizabeth Jensen, MBA, EdM, MA, LPC, NCC, Psychiatry & Behavioral Science Section Student Affiliate

My mother is a clinical psychologist and my father is a lawyer. I grew up in a household that supported education and, as such, I was afforded the opportunities to pursue my dreams. Interestingly, both of my parents wanted me to follow in their footsteps, always encouraging me to explore areas where they thrived. Along my educational and professional journey, I could not pick either psychology or law, so I chose both.

The field of forensic psychology is predicated on a range of issues that involve the intersection of law and psychology. As a graduate student, I am currently enrolled in a Master's of Forensic Psychology program and have had the opportunity to learn about a multitude of issues like competence to stand trial, not guilty by reason of insanity, race and legal system, false confessions, clinical assessments conducted within the forensic landscape, and a host of other salient issues that have broadened my understanding within the field. Additionally, I work within a government sector that focuses on investigations involving human trafficking and crimes against children. My earlier education consisted of degrees in Counseling and Marriage, Family, and Couples Counseling. Specifically, I learned about counseling modalities for working with families and identifying ways to change the family system. As such, my educational background predicated in psychology, coupled with the practical experience of legal matters and the United States Legal Code, has fostered a passion focused on matters pertaining to forensic and behavioral science. My research interests lie in areas related to family and domestic relations cases, juvenile justice involved populations, and sex offender treatment programs.

In order to further my research interests and become a forensic psychologist, I am enrolled in a PhD program in Clinical Psychology for the Fall of 2022. It is through this educational endeavor that I plan to explore questions related to juvenile delinquency and work with clinical populations who were involved in the criminal justice system. Throughout this academic and professional journey, I want to be supported and connected to other like-minded individuals who value and honor the same interests I have. I believe in the exchange of ideas and collaboration and want to contribute to the field. As a result, I was introduced to AAFS. The AAFS consists of 12 sections, which comprise more than 6,000 professionals. However, we all have a common desire to further the field of forensic science. As Theodore Roosevelt said, "Do what you can with all you have, wherever you are." I believe that is exactly what each member of AAFS strives to do, and I am honored to be a part of this prestigious organization.

Hopes for the Section
We look forward to the continued research and advancements the Psychiatry & Behavioral Science Section will produce. Additionally, we hope to contribute to these advancements, now and in the future. As students, we look to the leaders in our section and across AAFS as a whole, striving to follow in their footsteps and one day become leaders ourselves.


The views and opinions expressed in the articles contained in the Academy News are those of the identified authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Academy.