www.MyPsychMentor.com: For Psych Majors and Enthusiasts

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

CSI?? Ever wondered about a career in Forensic Psychology?

When most people think of a career in forensic psychology, they think of television shows such as "CSI" and envision experts working in high-tech laboratories in order to solve crime mysteries... In fact, one of the contributors (below) consulted on scripts for this show as well as "Vanished."

It is true that some forensic psychologists work in crime scene investigation, but the field of forensic psychology is actually very broad. In fact, it is so broad that it will be covered in two installments or more in this site.
This first installment contains two career testimonials from two highly accomplished forensic psychologists. You will notice that each have very interesting and quite different careers...

These testimonials will also be posted on the mypsychmentor.com page with others that were contributed to the "Insider's Guide to Psychology" book (APA, 2010). Many thanks to the contributors for sharing their personal stories!
Bette L. Bottoms, Ph.D., Professor, University of Illinois at Chicago

“A Career as aUniversity Professor and Psychologist”

I grew up on a farm in beautiful Southside Virginia, a couple hours from anything resembling an urban environment. I am now a Professor of Psychology at the University of Illinois at Chicago. How did I get here? I often wonder that myself, so let’s see if I can tell you.

I first became interested in the field of Psychology and Law when I was in college in the mid-1980s at Randolph-Macon Woman’s College in Virginia (alma mater of Pearl Buck and home of the first psychology laboratory in the South). A professor named Frank Murray pointed me to a few exciting new books: John Monohan’s Predicting Violent Behavior and Beth Loftus and Gary Well’s Eyewitness Testimony. I was drawn to the topics and Mr. Murray encouraged me to write to Professors Loftus and Wells for their advice about how to enter this field of research. I still have the encouraging letters they took the time to write to me. I conducted my honor’s thesis research on the accuracy of eyewitness memory. Then I was told that I had to go to something called “graduate school” to continue my studies. So I mailed out applications fairly randomly, including one to the University of Denver, where there was a cognitive developmental psychologist named Gail Goodman, who was at that moment starting the field of children’s eyewitness testimony. I took my first ever airplane flight and visited her laboratory, and I knew it was the place for me. I got my Master’s Degree in cognitive psychology at the University of Denver, then followed Gail to the State University of New York at Buffalo, where, with her and others’ wonderful guidance, I got my Ph.D. in Social Psychology.

I knew I wanted to teach and conduct research, so I went on the academic job market and ended up at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), a research-intensive university with a long history of excellent psychology and law scholarship, led by a former faculty member, Shari S. Diamond. Shari and I established a Psychology and Law Minor at UIC, a program that has now produced a number of excellent Ph.D.s who conduct research and teach at places ranging from the University of Evansville to the Centers for Disease Control.

In terms of my own research, because my graduate training was very broad, I’m a mix of cognitive, developmental, social, and even a little community and clinical psychology. My work then and now is unified by the theme of children, psychology, and law. I study the accuracy of children’s eyewitness testimony, techniques to improve children’s reports of past events, jurors’ perceptions of children’s testimony when children are victims and when they are juvenile offenders, and various issues related to child abuse.

As I write this, I’m finishing my 16th year at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). I have published a number of journal articles and chapters describing my research, and co-edited 5 books on children and the law. But my career has also included a great deal of teaching, graduate student training, and service to the university, the community, and the discipline. I have won a number of teaching awards, including the American Psychology-Law Society (APLS) Teaching and Mentoring award for my work advancing our field through student training. Some of the best moments of my professional life have been sharing in the accomplishments of my students. In terms of service, throughout most of my career of research and teaching, I have also held part-time administrative posts at my university, which allowed me to learn about the business of higher education and the context in which academics do their research and teaching. In fact, I am currently serving as Dean of our university’s Honors College and Vice Provost for Undergraduate Affairs.

I have also enjoyed years of service to APLS in the form of work on various committees, and I served as President of the APA Division 37: Society for Child and Family Policy and Practice, and as President of the APA Division 37 Section on Child Maltreatment. Those presidential experiences were particularly rewarding, because of the opportunities to accomplish much of practical value by translating research into public policy aimed at improving the lives of children and their families.

Thus, I have had many rewarding experiences within the field of Psychology and Law, a field that supports scholars who are interested in both advancing the basic science of psychology as well as applying psychology to public policy and law.

Michael Perrotti, PhD. Clinical and Forensic Psychologist, Michael Perrotti Inc.
”An Applied Career in Forensic Psychology”

The beginnings of my career in forensic psychology were fostered by a family tragedy wherein my mother became ill with cancer. My sister and I had to care for her and watch her suffering for several years. This provoked nurturing in both of us. My sister became a surgical nurse.

I initially wanted to go into medicine. I was an emergency room volunteer orderly from age 15 to 16. I also attended premed medical education. However, psychology always intrigued me with the impact that one can make on other peoples’ lives as opposed to the more insular circumscribed impacts that one has with medical treatment on other individuals.

I received an early exposure to forensic psychology at Delaware State Hospital as a staff clinical psychologist. I had the good fortune of working in the forensic unit of the hospital. There, I evaluated individuals who were referred by the courts and/or correctional facilities. These individuals were referred for competency testing to stand trial, sanity, and other forensic matters. Other individuals had been suicidal and were referred to us to be stabilized and then transferred back to prison. In this setting the chief psychologist supervised me with psychological testing, and I was able to assist him with three to four partial test batteries a week. This gave me tremendous experience in psychological testing. Moreover, the Jefferson Medical School had an in-service training program in their hospital. Psychiatrists, physicians, and psychologists were all permitted to attend the seminars and training. Thus, it was a very collegial atmosphere. My interest in forensics merged with my interest in neuropsychology. We dissected human brains and were able to see the effects of such things frontal lobes of the brain that were atrophied due to alcoholism. Thus, I received what would later prove to be invaluable training in neurology, brain anatomy, and brain physiology.

My bachelors program in psychology at the University of Delaware and my masters program in psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University provided the best of both worlds following the research scientist model, or the Boulder model, as well as applied clinical model with extensive training in psychological testing. Thus, I received a good background in biological sciences, research, and psychometrics as well as statistics, statistical analysis, and research design.
My Ph.D. dissertation was also in a forensic setting at California Youth Authority. The focus of the dissertation was on the effects of Direct Decision Therapy on locus control, aggression, and self-esteem in juvenile offenders. There was a significant and dramatic reduction in violence as a result of Direct Decision Therapy, which is a cognitive therapy focusing on decisions behind problems and consequences of problems. These results showed me that there could be a viable model for reducing violence and helping young people in terms of making better, prudent decisions for their lives and their futures.

My training in forensics was further elaborated at the New School for Social Research in New York, where there were faculty from the University of Chicago. There was extensive training in research and research methods.

At Alliant University in San Diego, my pre- and postdoctoral Ph.D. internships were at the California Youth Authority which afforded me the opportunity to work with youthful offenders and gain further experience in forensic psychology, i.e., assessment and therapy.

I developed a love for the law and psychology and forensic assessment. I have conducted comprehensive evaluations for family, civil, and state courts as well as for the government. These assessments and evaluations gave me an opportunity to use all of my training in the biological sciences, research design, statistics, and psychological testing, and to contribute to the profession common to the betterment of individuals’ lives as well as offering expert opinions to the courts. I also was called on to assist with scripts for CSI Crime Scene. I developed a character for the show Vanished who would be a cult leader. This was patterned after a real life case.

I cannot think of any more rewarding area of psychology than forensic psychology in terms of the rigorous training, opportunity to impact individual lives, and to experience a mix, or blend, of law and psychology and the application of psychology to problems with law.

My current passion is development of a group for the homeless to teach them about self-support and support of each other.

Other titles held:
Certified Forensic Expert
Expert Witness Panel, San Bernardino County Superior Court
Expert Witness Panel, Juvenile Court San Bernardino County
Expert Witness Panel, Orange County Superior Court
Expert Witness Panel, Juvenile Court Orange County
Expert Witness Panel, Los Angeles County Superior Court
Expert Witness Panel, Juvenile Court Kern County
Expert Witness Panel, Kern County Superior Court
Member, National Academy of Neuropsychology
Member, American Psychological Association
Member, California Psychological Association
Member, National Register of Health Services Providers in Psychology
Expert Evaluator, Orange County Family Law Court
Expert Witness, State of California, Department of Consumer Affairs, Enforcement Division, Board of Behavioral Science Examiners
Member, American College of Forensic Psychiatry
Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Behavior Sciences, USC Keck School of Medicine, 2005-2006

American Psychological Association Division 41 http://www.apa.org/about/division/div41.aspx
American Psychology-Law Society http://www.ap-ls.org/


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