I: Foundations of Forensic Counseling and the Family Law System


What Is Forensic Counseling?




Welcome to the world of forensic counseling. Forensics has been around a long time. Other professions, particularly criminal justice, psychology, and psychiatry, have had their fingers in the forensic pie for many years. But counseling is just now recognizing that this area of expertise is a natural fit for professional counselors. Forensics relies on relationship-building, active listening, reflection, confrontation, hypothesis, and deduction. It uses all the skills of a professional counselor and then makes additional demands in the forms of relationships with clients, attorneys, and judges. Forensic counseling covers a broad spectrum: from counseling with juvenile delinquents and prisoners to working with pathologists, forensic examiners, and law enforcement officers. But before narrowing the scope of forensics for the purpose of this book, it is best that we start at the beginning to understand how the field of forensics has evolved into what it means today for professional counselors.

Forensics is the process of relating or dealing with the application of scientific knowledge to legal problems. In other words, forensics uses knowledge (both objective and subjective) to better understand facts and circumstances for the purpose of clarifying legal issues. Forensics uses professional knowledge and expertise to isolate understandable and usable information about a case’s issues to help make reasonable recommendations for resolving that case. For the professional counselor, this means using specific expertise, knowledge, and practice to help others understand pertinent information that can help resolve conflicts; this includes making recommendations that can help attorneys, judges, parents, and children continue their lives in a positive, growth-producing manner.

To better understand forensics, you have to step back in time. In 1248, in China, forensic science was used to identify a sickle and thereby a murderer. But not until the 16th century did European medical practitioners begin systematically gathering information about causes and manners of death. This expanded to identification of poisons in the bodies of homicide victims, then to systematic studies of how different diseases cause specific changes in human organs. These scientific studies allowed the use of forensics in criminal cases to prove (or disprove) guilt. As a case in point, the uses of logic and procedure in a criminal investigation are generally traced back to the case of John Toms, who in 1784 was tried and convicted of murdering Edward Culshaw using a pistol. Culshaw’s body was examined and the pistol wad removed from the pistol. It was determined that the paper of the pistol wad matched perfectly the torn newspaper found in Tom’s pocket: evidence gathered through forensic inquiry at its best.


Over many years, the use of forensic science in criminal investigation expanded. New forensic scientific methods were introduced and established by British pathologists such as Bernard Spilsbury, Francis Camps, Sydney Smith, and Keith Simpson; in 1909, the first school of forensic science was founded in Great Britain by Rodolphe Reiss. The growth of forensic science continued through publications and methods introduced around the world. An increasing number of forensic scientists became involved in criminal investigations, using formal procedures to provide evidence used in convictions and acquittals.

Numerous national forensic science professional organizations now exist that focus on the use of forensic science in criminal investigations, including the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (1948), the Canadian Society of Forensic Science (1953), the British Academy of Forensic Sciences (1960), and the Australian Academy of Forensic Sciences (1967). The members of these professional organizations publish articles and work professionally in forensic science. With the aid of these professional societies, and through the advances and changes in technologies and cultures, including mores and societal expectations, the scope of forensic science has continued to expand.

From a scientific standpoint, the field now includes sophisticated methodologies such as DNA evidence, trace evidence, body decomposition, impression evidence (e.g., fingerprints, tire tracks, footwear impressions), controlled substances (both legal and illegal), ballistics, firearm marks, and weapon and tool marks. Databanks available worldwide now allow the comparison of information gathered at various crime scenes, greatly aiding forensic scientists.

Technological progress has required the development of the area of investigation often called computational forensics, which includes tracking digital communications and wire transfers as well as developing algorithms and software. Additionally, digital forensics