Treating Mental Health and Forensic Populations

No longer is it possible to assess and/or treat a mental health population without also interfacing with forensic issues such as legal infractions, Courts, violence, sexual behavior problems, delinquency, crime, Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity, substance abuse, and others. The training and approaches to the mental health population is different than that for a forensic population. So what is to be done, if a person has both issues? We must be cross trained for dually affected clients Behavioral Health Assessment Tools.

How Are the Populations Different

A Mental Health population is comprised primarily Axis I disorders, such as Bipolar Disorder, Schizophrenia, Major Depression, PTSD, and Anxiety Disorders. Daily functioning is on a continuum. Recovery is quick for some and slow for others and is also on a continuum. Well controlled intermittent, mild to moderate episodes of a mood or anxiety disorder will not necessarily interfere with daily functioning. Someone with severe, chronic Schizophrenia or Mood Disorder requiring periodic hospitalizations and extensive community support, will have impairment in daily functioning. Goals for these folks are often pro-social and involve being an active member of society. A therapist can be fairly sure that the mental health client without forensic issues will be relatively honest in his or her interactions and the therapist can take most of what he/she says at face value. An emphasis on a strengths model works well when no personality disorder is involved.

A forensic population can be defined as having personality disorders, interpersonal difficulties, behavioral problems, multiple problems and life long courses of various levels of dysfunction or difficulty. Again, this population fills the full spectrum of effective daily functioning. However, social functioning is often the most severe impairment. There are issues of trust, appropriate relationships, ego centrism, moral development, honesty, manipulation, and danger to self and others. They often have a negative view of themselves and others, especially authority figures. Moral development is often delayed leaving them at the egocentric stage of development. This means that what serves the self is what matters and empathy for others and the ability to have an honest relationship with another person may not yet have developed. Their goals are often self-serving.

The capacity to understand the importance of the best interest of the group through laws and rules that we voluntarily follow, may not be well understood. Many, if not most, have histories of childhood abuse, neglect, or exposure to domestic violence. The assessment and interventions with this population is necessarily different that those for a people with no Axis II disorder or trait. The people with forensic issues do not always tell the truth because of their lack of trust in relationships. The therapist cannot take what he/she says at face value. The therapist must separate the sincere from the manipulative moves for self-gain. The internal boundaries are such that they need the therapist to put external boundaries into place for them. Information must be checked with other sources of information.

How Assessment Tools Differ

In a mental health population, assessment can quite effectively be done through instruments such as the MMPI-A, BASC, and MACI. These self-report tools are quite sufficient for this population and will elucidate psychological dynamics and mental illness, if present. Self-report is not as much of an issue as it is in the forensic population, where third party verification is more important. However when a youth has multiple problems, both mental health and forensic, a combination of tools is preferred.

Forensic evaluation tools rely less on self-report because of the trust issues and because it is not always in the client’s best interest to be completely truthful. Self-report assessment instruments can be used, but third party and official reports should also be used in the evaluation phase of a forensic assessment. Courts are concerned with public safety, therefore, the need for tools that assess future risk of dangerousness to others. Risk of future aggression and sexual behavior problems that have been derived from statistical models (actuarial tools) should be part of the evaluation since clinical assessment of risk of future dangerousness is only a little better than chance. While risk assessments are not perfect, they are better than clinical judgment in this area.

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