Forensic Psychology in the Courtroom | Interview

Interview with Jennifer Weeks Ph.D. LPC CAADC CSAT-S CMAT, Expert Forensic Psychologist and Addiction Treatment Specialist.

by Laura Morrison, April 2015

When it comes to treating and assessing addictive illnesses and behaviors, Dr. Jennifer Weeks knows that there is always more to the diagnosis than what meets the eye. Just to name a few of her areas of expertise, Dr. Weeks is often called on to deliver expert testimony on people accused of sexual crimes. She is an expert on substance abuse, sexual addiction and compulsivity, trauma and addiction, women’s issues, domestic violence and general mental health issues.

Dr. Weeks began her extensive education by earning her undergraduate degree in psychology from Purdue University. She then went on to earn her master’s and doctorate degrees from the University of Georgia, with a focus on neuropsychology. In addition to her degrees, she is credentialed as a Certified Sexual Addiction – Supervisor Therapist, a Certified Advanced Alcohol and Drug Counselor, and a Licensed Professional Counselor.

When she’s not in the courtroom testifying, she currently treats individuals, groups, and families at the Sexual Addiction Treatment Services center in Pennsylvania. She also provides training and outreach on topics related to sexual addiction with her prevention-based blog, the New Age of Sex Education, and her Dr. Weeks Recovery Readings blog—which highlights recent discoveries for those studying or themselves recovering from sexual addiction and chemical dependency. Dr. Weeks has been a guest speaker at industry conferences, including the annual Pennsylvania Substance Abuse Conferences, a teen symposium at Millersville University, and the National Conference on Addictive Disorders.

Forensic Psychology in the Courtroom

Enjoy our full interview with Dr. Jennifer Weeks, and find out how a forensic psychologist’s testimony can make or break a court case.

GradSchools: Why did you decide to pursue your doctorate in psychology?

I feel like I always knew this was what I was going to do. I decided when I was 12 years old. Apparently I did a 6th grade science fair project on Rorschach testing.

GradSchools: Why did you decide to specialize in forensics and cybersex crimes?

The specialization in Cybersex crimes is something that evolved. When I moved out of teaching and into clinical work, I started working with addicts and offenders in Colorado. When I moved back to Pennsylvania, I was given the opportunity to work for a company that specialized in treating sexual addiction and I took on the sex offender group/population. I really love this work and continued it as a main focus in my private practice. I had a large number of legal clients and I needed to learn how to write evaluations and reports for them. I found that I loved the work and the research, and the practice grew from there.

GradSchools: How did you develop your specialized expertise in these areas? Did you have to engage in a specialized course of education, or accumulate a certain amount of experience to become qualified to perform the work that you do?

I truly came to this in a roundabout fashion. I first became a certified addiction therapist and then a certified sexual addiction therapist. I maintained an interest in offender work (regular, and sexual offenders) from my work in Colorado so I joined ATSA (Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers) and maintain an active membership, attending the conference each year, etc.

GradSchools: What is the nature of the forensic work that you do in the area of cybersex crimes?

I do several things for my clients. First, for some attorneys, I do a psychosexual evaluation. This is a comprehensive report about the client and his or her risk of recidivism [repeating the crime]. The process involves at least one client interview as well as testing. Testing might include:  MMPI, MCMI, Abel Screening, SASSI-III, etc. I also use risk assessment measures such as the STATIC-99, Stable 2007/Acute 2007, MnSOST-R, etc. Finally, the details about the client are compared to the research data for goodness of fit and prediction of risk for recidivism.

For some clients, they engage in treatment in the office, group and individual, and then we provide a written assessment of their work as well as possibly testify in court regarding their treatment. Finally, I consult on cases and provide assessment without seeing the clients. These are not clinical assessments but assessments based on the data provided by the attorney. I then, based on research, etc, determine which cybersex profile best fits the client. The majority of the work is used for sentence mitigation.

GradSchools: How many court cases have you worked on?

I have quite a number of clients that we have provided treatment assessment for. I have testified in several county courts, I believe half a dozen times and Federal court in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.  Federal testimony is less frequent as the judges do not have as much leeway with sentencing. I am also currently working on a case in Louisiana.

GradSchools: How do people get in touch with you to serve as a witness in the court cases?

Attorneys normally get in touch via our pre-existing relationships or by finding the company on the internet, at Sexual Addiction Treatment Services. We have a section on the site for attorneys.

GradSchools: Can you identify any one case that stands out as a career high? Was there a case that made you say to yourself “This is why I do what I do!”

I honestly don't think any one case sticks out. Cybersex crimes are rather misunderstood by the general public as well as many lawyers in terms of the offender's risk to the community and risk to re-offend. I like to try to bring science to the decision making process and help folks get a fair decision. Obviously, if they are guilty they need to be punished for the crime they committed. I see my job as providing accurate information both about the client and the offense to help the judge make a fair decision based on data as opposed to prejudice against sex offenders.

GradSchools: What are some of the more typical types of questions that you are asked to answer as an expert witness?

Many of the questions I am asked are about the nature of sexual addiction and how it relates to the crime. I will be asked about recidivism risk, etc. I also get asked frequently about whether or not I can guarantee a person's behavior. Of course, no one can but this is a way for prosecution to accentuate the fact that we work on statistics and that we cannot fully predict human behavior.

GradSchools: What is the most challenging aspect of your job?

Being cross-examined. It is always a bit nerve wracking. The prosecution's job is to try to make me look like I don't know what I am doing. They try to discredit what you say.

GradSchools: What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?

I really enjoy when a judge asks questions about my testimony and the role of sexual addiction in the offense. This means that they are really listening to what I have to say and are seeking more knowledge. I like a judge who asks questions.

GradSchools: What qualities do you think aspiring forensic psychologists should possess?

They have to love research and data. We cannot just give a clinical opinion that is not backed up by science. That gets shot down. A forensic psychologist also has to have good writing skills, as a lot of your time is spent writing reports. You also need to be very comfortable with testing.

GradSchools: What is some advice that you would give to forensic psychology graduate students or graduates who are new to the profession?

Read everything about your area of expertise. You are being paid to be an expert so you need to be an expert. You need to know all the research in your area. You need to know more than a clinician who sees clients all day.

Learn about the court system and understand how your reports will be used. Hold your ethics. Sometimes attorneys do not like what a report says. Don't change it. If they don't like it, they can choose to not submit the report.

Don't take it personal. Everyone in the forensic process is doing their job. Not all attorneys are going to like your conclusions as they don't always benefit the client. Prosecutors are supposed to try to poke holes in your testimony. It's all part of the process and not personal. It is how opposing counsel can be at odds in the courtroom and continue to be good friends outside of the courtroom.

Forensic Psychology Master's Degree

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