At times I’ve seen VA raters suggest that a professional who isn’t a C&P examiner and isn’t a “treatment provider” is automatically “biased” in favor of the Veteran who paid them for an independent opinion. While it may help the rater unfairly disregard evidence they don’t want to address, this, of course, is not how our professional ethics work. The rater would essentially be accusing the licensed professional of unethical behavior. We know that treatment providers often defer to forensic providers to avoid multiple roles and the tendency to want to advocate for their patient. Who are they deferring to? They are deferring to specialized forensic professionals.
The APA’s Specialty Guidelines for Forensic Psychology outline how this should work. You can see the entire document here: Specialty guidelines for forensic psychology (apa.org)
Here are some relevant excerpts that raters concerned about bias should be familiar with and know that forensic professionals must strive to provide independent and unbiased opinions.
Forensic practitioners strive for accuracy, honesty, and truthfulness in the science, teaching, and practice of forensic psychology and they strive to resist partisan pressures to provide services in any ways that might tend to be misleading or inaccurate.
1.02 Impartiality and Fairness
When offering expert opinion to be relied upon by a decision maker, providing forensic therapeutic services, or teaching or conducting research, forensic practitioners strive for accuracy, impartiality, fairness, and independence (EPPCC Standard 2.01). Forensic practitioners recognize the adversarial nature of the legal system and strive to treat all participants and weigh all data, opinions, and rival hypotheses impartially.
When conducting forensic examinations, forensic practitioners strive to be unbiased and impartial, and avoid partisan presentation of unrepresentative, incomplete, or inaccurate evidence that might mislead finders of fact. This guideline does not preclude forceful presentation of the data and reasoning upon which a conclusion or professional product is based.
When providing educational services, forensic practitioners seek to represent alternative perspectives, including data, studies, or evidence on both sides of the question, in an accurate, fair and professional manner, and strive to weigh and present all views, facts, or opinions impartially.
When conducting research, forensic practitioners seek to represent results in a fair and impartial manner. Forensic practitioners strive to utilize research designs and scientific methods that adequately and fairly test the questions at hand, and they attempt to resist partisan pressures to develop designs or report results in ways that might be misleading or unfairly bias the results of a test, study, or evaluation.
1.03 Avoiding Conflicts of Interest
Forensic practitioners refrain from taking on a professional role when personal, scientific, professional, legal, financial, or other interests or relationships could reasonably be expected to impair their impartiality, competence, or effectiveness, or expose others with whom a professional relationship exists to harm (EPPCC Standard 3.06).
Forensic practitioners are encouraged to identify, make known, and address real or apparent conflicts of interest in an attempt to maintain the public confidence and trust, discharge professional obligations, and maintain responsibility, impartiality, and accountability (EPPCC Standard 3.06). Whenever possible, such conflicts are revealed to all parties as soon as they become known to the psychologist. Forensic practitioners consider whether a prudent and competent forensic practitioner engaged in similar circumstances would determine that the ability to make a proper decision is likely to become impaired under the immediate circumstances.
When a conflict of interest is determined to be manageable, continuing services are provided and documented in a way to manage the conflict, maintain accountability, and preserve the trust of relevant others (also see Section 4.02 below).
We know that professionals should not typically provide both forensic opinions (example, opinions related to disability) and treatment services. Some of the references from the profession’s ethical guidelines are:
4.02 Multiple Relationships
A multiple relationship occurs when a forensic practitioner is in a professional role with a person and, at the same time or at a subsequent time, is in a different role with the same person; is involved in a personal, fiscal, or other relationship with an adverse party; at the same time is in a relationship with a person closely associated with or related to the person with whom the forensic practitioner has the professional relationship; or offers or agrees to enter into another relationship in the future with the person or a person closely associated with or related to the person (EPPCC Standard 3.05).
Forensic practitioners strive to recognize the potential conflicts of interest and threats to objectivity inherent in multiple relationships. Forensic practitioners are encouraged to recognize that some personal and professional relationships may interfere with their ability to practice in a competent and impartial manner and they seek to minimize any detrimental effects by avoiding involvement in such matters whenever feasible or limiting their assistance in a manner that is consistent with professional obligations.
4.02.01 Therapeutic-Forensic Role Conflicts
Providing forensic and therapeutic psychological services to the same individual or closely related individuals involves multiple relationships that may impair objectivity and/or cause exploitation or other harm. Therefore, when requested or ordered to provide either concurrent or sequential forensic and therapeutic services, forensic practitioners are encouraged to disclose the potential risk and make reasonable efforts to refer the request to another qualified provider. If referral is not possible, the forensic practitioner is encouraged to consider the risks and benefits to all parties and to the legal system or entity likely to be impacted, the possibility of separating each service widely in time, seeking judicial review and direction, and consulting with knowledgeable colleagues. When providing both forensic and therapeutic services, forensic practitioners seek to minimize the potential negative effects of this circumstance (EPPCC Standard 3.05).