If your divorce involves child custody issues, you may need the assistance of mental health professionals. It is important to understand the differences between the professionals likely to be involved—therapeutic psychologists and forensic psychologists. Although both interact directly with clients, their roles and ethical responsibilities diverge. This article will discuss the different services they provide, and how they might work with you.


A therapeutic psychologist serves the client. The therapeutic psychologist’s role is to provide emotional support and mental health care. They may address a broad range of issues, depending upon the circumstances, including matters such as thoughts and perceptions and coping skills.

A forensic psychologist, on the other hand, serves the court and addresses specifically defined objectives as part of a custody evaluation. (A custody evaluation may also be referred to as a social study or a home study depending upon your jurisdiction.) It is important to recognize that a forensic psychologist is not necessarily your ally and does not provide mental health treatment. Rather, a forensic psychologist may be tasked with making a recommendation to the judge as to the primary parent, a possession schedule, and the rights and duties of the parents.


Source of Information

A therapeutic psychologist will typically accept the client’s perspective as truth and will provide care based upon that information alone. A forensic psychologist, however, will independently seek to validate the allegations and information provided by a client. In addition, a forensic psychologist may obtain information from independent sources including testing data, the other parent, witnesses, and documents. Judging the honesty and veracity of the client may also be a part of the forensic psychologist’s responsibilities.


The relationship between a therapeutic psychologist and client is voluntary and may continue for as long as it is beneficial; it may be terminated by either the psychologist or the client at any time. Because a forensic psychologist is typically selected by the attorneys or appointed by the court, the client’s participation in the evaluation process is usually mandatory. The client’s work with the forensic psychologist ends when the custody evaluation is complete and the client is released by the forensic psychologist. Therapeutic psychologists and forensic psychologists cannot perform each other’s functions.

Working Relationship

Trust is a vital part of a client’s work with a therapeutic psychologist. Quite often, the client may form a very close relationship with a therapeutic psychologist due to the personal nature of the discussions. By its very nature, the relationship with a forensic psychologist will be different. Still, you should be honest and transparent in working with a forensic psychologist while also maintaining an emotional distance during the process.


Mental health professionals fulfill critical roles in helping you achieve a resolution of your divorce. A therapeutic psychologist can care for your emotional health during the divorce and assist with a positive transition afterwards. A forensic psychologist may be one of the most significant witnesses in securing favorable custody arrangements. Your attorney has the experience and contacts to refer you to the right mental health professionals. Be sure to discuss with your attorney the best strategies to protect you and your family, now and in the future.

Thomas A. Greenwald

“Discipline and thoughtful planning are the secrets to successfully achieving clients’ goals while minimizing the emotional and financial costs of their cases.” – Tom Greenwald