In The Role of a Forensic Psychiatrist in Legal Proceedings forensic psychiatry expert witness and Harvard Medical School Associate Clinical Professor Harold J. Bursztajn, M.D., writes on the kinds of determinations forensic psychiatrists make in civil proceedings.
Forensic psychiatrists are involved in a range of particularized competency determinations, including the competence to make wills, dispose of property, or refuse medical treatment. In custody disputes they may be called upon to assess how autonomous and authentic the expressed wishes of a child of a certain age can be. They evaluate and testify in cases of alleged emotional harm and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Here it is necessary to reach a deep understanding of the person’s life history, so as to identify prior experiences that may have created a special vulnerability to trauma (as opposed to prior impaired functioning), as well as to distinguish genuine trauma from faking, malingering, exaggerating, or misattributing.
Forensic psychiatrists are involved in worksite issues such as workers’ compensation, supervisory negligence, disability discrimination, and sexual harassment. On the environmental front, they are helping to define the limits of product liability and stress caused by fear of illness. They also are trained in the use of the psychological autopsy to determine cause of death.