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When you hear the words “forensic psychiatry,” you most likely think of shows like “CSI” and “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” or those FBI profilers who come on news programs to discuss the psychology of a serial killer.

It looks pretty sexy on a crime solving series, but forensic psychiatry is much more basic in practice. It is the application of psychiatry to legal issues. Some psychiatrists may focus exclusively on legal issues, but at some point in their careers, nearly all psychiatrists have cases where the legal system and a patient’s mental health issues intersect. But forensic psychiatry is a specific medical sub-specialty that focuses on the connection between mental health issues and the law.

In addition to the courts, according to Forensic, forensic psychiatrists also assist administrative law bodies, governmental agencies, boards, and other entities in the work of conflict resolution.

The issues addressed can include violence, criminal responsibility, a person’s competency to face trial in civil as well as criminal cases, mental disability, workers compensation cases, parenting evaluations or malpractice.

Forensic psychiatrists also are often called as expert witnesses in court cases, where they give an independent, professional opinion about a specific issue about issues that might not be easily understood by a judge or jury.

Forensic psychiatry is also a growing area of research and the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law provides information on fellowship programs in the U.S. and Canada that educate and provide clinical training and research opportunities.

Meharry Forensic Services, a division of the Meharry Medical College, offers comprehensive psychiatric and psychological evaluations that address legal issues of the court.

Dr. Rahn K. Bailey, chairman of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Meharry and president of the National Medical Association (NMA), oversees the training of psychiatrists who are trained not only to treat mental illness but address any underlying issues, such as substance abuse, but to deliver those services to patients in an empathetic manner and stay abreast of the latest research on mental health and psychiatric services to better serve patients and their families.

Bailey chaired the Katrina Response Effort of the NMA, leading teams of physicians in treating the mental health needs of those displaced by the hurricane. In January 2010, Bailey traveled to Haiti with the National Medical Association to provide medical care for the basic needs of Haitian residents after the devastating earthquake there.

When he took the helm of NMA this summer, Bailey said in a statement thathis agenda would focus on eliminating health disparities and raising awareness on the need for mental health care for black Americans, as well as support for President Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

“Health care policy is changing rapidly and, for more than 100 years, the National Medical Association has been at the forefront of the effort to provide quality health care for medically underserved populations.”

Click here for answers to your mental health questions.

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