Forensic Psychology: Background information when reading Emma in the Night

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Emma in the Night

by Wendy Walker

Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker X
Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2017, 320 pages
    Paperback:
    Aug 2018, 320 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Sarah Tomp
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Forensic Psychology

This article relates to Emma in the Night

Print Review

A forensic psychologist for the FBI, Dr. Abby Walker, is one of the two narrators of Emma in the Night. Her understanding of the thought process of the missing girls' narcissistic mother allows her to fill in the gaps in Cass's story.

The American Board of Forensic Psychology identifies forensic psychology to be "the application of the science and profession of psychology to questions and issues relating to law and the legal system." Forensic psychology is commonly used to help solve and prevent crimes. In the past it may have been called a detective's "hunch."

Ted Kaczynski Forensic psychology has been used to create psychological profiles of serial murderers and kidnappers, arsonists and other criminals. Some famous cases where forensic psychologists have helped include those of Ted Bundy and Aileen Wuornos (portrayed in the movie, Monster), and Gary Ridgway, the "Green River Killer." Forensic psychology played a significant role in identifying the "Unabomber," Ted Kaczynski and George Metesky, the perpetrator of a dozen explosions in Radio City Music Hall between 1940 and 1950.

Investigators often start with a basic understanding of a perpetrator's state of mind, and then gather the more specific clues for each case. When a person is accused of a heinous crime, forensic psychologists interview the accused to determine competency to stand trial. A forensic psychologist may be called on to evaluate a defendant's state of mind at the time of the crime. A defense of insanity must prove that a person was incapable of knowing his/her actions were illegal and wrong. However, there is no clinical mental illness called "insanity" in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders used by psychologists and psychiatrists. It's a legal term. While conducting assessments, there is hope that insights gained will also help identify other criminals in the future. Forensic psychologists may also assess convicted criminals for parole hearings.

In addition to complementing investigators' efforts of collecting evidence, sometimes the job of a forensic psychologist is to try and explain the psychology of horrific crimes to the public. We want to understand how these crimes might happen, and to seek reassurance that these are not typical actions.

More commonly, forensic psychologists may assess witness credibility, consult with attorneys on mental health issues, help design correctional programs, work with trauma victims, and evaluate children in custody cases.

Article by Sarah Tomp

This "beyond the book article" relates to Emma in the Night. It originally ran in August 2017 and has been updated for the August 2018 paperback edition.

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