FAQ Forensic Mental Health Evaluations

Why do people/lawyers/courts seek forensic mental health evaluations?

People need forensic mental health services for varying reasons. Some need to  comply with court orders while others need evaluations for employment reasons.  Mental health evaluations can be used in criminal court cases or to enhance a civil case currently under litigation. They can also be required for probation/parole purposes. Sometimes individuals may chose to seek a mental health evaluation as a “second opinion.” Sometimes people may need mental health evaluations for prior to medical surgery. Mental Health Evaluations are completed by a neutral professional with extensive training in mental health and forensics.

What can I expect in a forensic evaluation?

A mental health evaluation can take up to 8 hours to complete the testing and interview portion (for one adult).  When a custody evaluation is conducted it is a more involved process and usually takes between 30 to 60 days depending on the case.  At times, you may be asked to take certain actions outside of the interview, such as collecting information or keeping records.  You will be required to pay for evaluations in advance. At your appointment the reason for evaluation, role of evaluator, confidentiality issues (or lack of confidentiality) will be discussed. Your evaluation will include a detailed personal history, answering questions, and verbally participating with the evaluator. Most times you be given tests to complete. The tests do not have a “right” or “wrong” answer but are designed to assess your personality, level of mood, etc. Your evaluation may take one visit or more than one visit, depending on your situation. There are no right or wrong answers to give when talking to the evaluator. It is important to be honest and “be yourself.” Plan to spend three hours at your first appointment.

What benefits can I expect from working with a certified forensic evaluator/mental health professional?

A number of benefits are available from having your forensic evaluation completed by a mental health professional. Many people and/or attorneys find that working with a mental health professional to be a tremendous asset to managing difficult aspects of their case.   Some of the benefits available from forensic mental health services include:

  • Having a professional explain to a jury or judge your situation, possible diagnosis or lack of diagnosis
  • Finding resolution to the issues or concerns that led you to seek forensic services
  • Improving your chances for successful jury selection
  • Refuting testimony of other opposing expert witness that could be potentially damaging to your case

Why do Mental Health Evaluations cost so much?

Evaluations are conducted by professional mental health evaluators who have a minimum of a Masters degree (six years of college). The evaluator also has many hours of post-Masters training and experience. The Evaluation is a lengthy process and includes the ability to assess, diagnose, provide comprehensive reports, and sometimes testify in court. Child Custody Evaluations are much more involved and take specialized training to conduct. They take many more hours to complete and include the ability to work well with children and adults. Often there is interaction with many people and other professionals.

Why do I have to pay for my evaluation in advance?

It is necessary to provide funds in advance of appointments, because the evaluator attempts to avoid being vulnerable to allegations of bias. It is helpful, in assuring both parties of objectivity, to be free to render one’s opinion or recommendation without fear of difficulty collecting fees.

What can I expect from a preoperative bariatric evaluation?

This office will conduct a mental status exam, psychosocial history, clinical intwerview and administer the MMPI2 test.

Here is a good article about this question:
by Anthony N Fabricatore, Canice E Crerand, Thomas A Wadden, David B Sarwer and Jennifer L Krasucki, Published online: 01 May 2006

Background: The prevalence of extreme obesity and the popularity of bariatric surgery have increased dramatically in recent years. Many surgery programs require that candidates undergo a preoperative psychological evaluation, but no consensus exists for guiding mental health professionals in the conduct of these evaluations. Method: A survey was sent to bariatric surgeons, who were asked to distribute the surveys to the mental health professionals to whom they refer surgery candidates for preoperative evaluations. 194 respondents provided information on the assessment methods they use, which psychosocial domains are the focus of their evaluations, and what they consider to be contraindications to surgery. Responses to open-ended questions were coded for content. Results: Most respondents reported using clinical interviews (98.5%), symptom inventories (68.6%), and objective personality/psychopathology tests (63.4%). A minority used tests of cognitive function (38.1%) and projective personality tests (3.6%). Over 90% of respondents listed mental health issues among the most important areas to assess. Similarly, 92.3% listed psychiatric issues as “clear contraindications” to surgery, but no specific disorder was listed by a majority of respondents. Issues related to informed consent and treatment adherence were the non-psychiatric domains most frequently listed as important areas to assess and as contraindications to surgery.

Conclusion: The assessment practices of mental health professionals who evaluate bariatric surgery candidates vary widely. No consensus is likely to emerge until large long-term studies identify consistent psychosocial predictors of poor postoperative outcomes.

Are Forensic Evaluations Confidential?

In general, the law protects the confidentiality of all communications between a client and a psychotherapist/Forensic Evaluator. Information is not disclosed without written permission. However, there are number of exceptions to this rule. Exceptions include:

  • Suspected child abuse or dependent adult or elder abuse. The Mental Health Professional is required by law to report this to the appropriate authorities immediately.
  • If a client is threatening serious bodily harm to another person(s) The Mental Health Professional must notify the police and inform the intended victim.
  • If a client intends to harm himself or herself. The Mental Health Professional will make every effort to enlist their cooperation in insuring their safety. If they do not cooperate, further measures may be taken without their permission in order to ensure their safety.
  • Court evaluations.  The forensic evaluator can explain areas of confidentiality in each case.  Generally speaking the evaluator is hired to give the court recommendations so confidentially may be limited.