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Webinar: Forensic psychologists & immigration law

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Thank you to those who joined us for today’s webinar, Forensic Psychologists & Immigration Law, featuring Dr. Julia McLawsen. If you were unable to attend we invite you to view the video of the webinar below. In this post you’ll find:

  1. A description of the webinar;
  2. An introduction to our speaker;
  3. Video of the live webinar;
  4. Slides used in the webinar;
  5. Written materials from the webinar; and
  6. Answers to a questions raised by our live audience.

About this webinar

Immigration lawyers frequently need psychological evidence in support of waiver cases. But mental health professionals have importantly distinct areas of focus. This webinar will explain the role of forensic psychologists, who provide expert testimony and reports to guide legal decision making. We will discuss what you should expect in a high-quality report, and the evaluation and testing that should support the report’s analysis and conclusions. We will specifically discuss hardship evaluations of qualifying relatives, as used in I-601/601A waiver applications.

The webinar explains:

  • How is a forensic psychologist different from a “regular” psychologist, therapist, counselor, or social worker?
  • What are the training qualifications of a forensic psychologist?
  • What is the difference between a therapist’s letter of support and a forensic evaluation?
  • What goes into creating a strong forensic evaluation?
  • What are objective psychological testing instruments, why are they useful, and what instruments are typically used in forensic evaluations?
  • Best practices for immigration attorneys working with forensic psychologists.
  • Psychological reports in I-601/601A waivers, VAWA applications, U-visa applications, Drug and Alcohol Abuse/Rehabilitation, Mental Health Inadmissibility

About the speaker

Dr. Julia McLawsenDr. Julia McLawsen provides psychological evaluations that guide legal decision-makers. Her practice focuses on evaluations for immigration contexts, with special emphasis on I-601 extreme hardship waivers.

Dr. McLawsen earned her PhD from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, one of the country’s most respected forensic psychology programs. Her doctoral dissertation examined how different states implement sex offender civil commitment laws.

  • Independent practice, focusing on forensic psychological evaluations in support of I-601/601A waivers, VAWA applications, U-visa applications, Drug and Alcohol Abuse/Rehabilitation issues, and ongoing research related to these topics.
  • Pierce County Competency Panel. Dr. McLawsen is one of a handful of expert psychologists contracted by Pierce County to assess capacities relevant to criminal defendants’ competence to proceed to trial. She regularly evaluates criminal defendants at the Pierce County Jail and provides reports to Pierce County Superior and District Courts.
  • Western State Hospital. Dr. McLawsen is a former forensic evaluator for one of Washington State’s two psychiatric hospitals. Her work focused on providing forensic psychology evaluations for use in civil commitment proceedings, competency hearings, and assessments related to mental state at the time of the offense (e.g., not guilty by reason of insanity, diminished capacity). Dr. McLawsen provided multiple evaluations to courts on a weekly basis and testified in scores of cases.
  • Washington State Special Commitment Center. During this initial postdoctoral fellowship, Dr. McLawsen provided sexual violence risk evaluations for individuals detained on McNeil Island and in assorted secure transition facilities. Evaluations focused assessing future risk for sexual violence. This experience, along the scope of her doctoral dissertation, informs Dr. McLawsen’s assessment of subjects in Adam Walsh Act immigration matters.

Slides from the webinar

Video from our live webinar

Written materials

Finally, here’s a table, from a prior presentation by Dr. McLawsen, that outlines the difference between treating psychologists and forensic psychologists.

Conventional vs. Forensic Mental Health Roles

Eleven Differences Between Therapeutic and Forensic Relationships
1Whose client is patient/litigant?The mental health practitionerThe attorney
2The relational privilege that governs disclosure in each relationshipTherapist-patient privilegeAttorney-client and attorney work-product privilege
3The cognitive set and evaluative attitude of each expertSupportive, accepting, empathicNeutral, objective, detached
4The differing areas of competency of each expertInterventions for treating the impairmentForensic evaluation techniques relevant to the legal claim
5The nature of the hypotheses tested by each expertDiagnostic criteria for the purpose of therapyPsycholegal criteria for purpose of legal adjudication
6The scrutiny applied to the information utilized in the process and the role of historical truthMostly based on information from the person being treated with little scrutiny of that information by the therapistLitigant information supplemented with that of collateral sources and scrutinized by the evaluator and the court
7The amount and control of structure in each relationshipPatient structured and relatively less structured than forensic evaluationEvaluator structured and relatively more structured than therapy
8The nature and degree of “adversarialness” in each relationshipA helping relationship; rarely adversarialEvaluative relationship; frequently adversarial
9The goal of the professional in each relationshipTherapist attempts to benefit the patient by working within the therapeutic relationshipEvaluator advocates for results and implications of the evaluation to benefit court
10The impact on each relationship of critical judgment by the expertThe basis of the relationship is the therapeutic alliance and critical judgment is likely to impair that allianceThe basis of the relationship is evaluative and critical judgment is unlikely to cause serious emotional harm
11Discovery disclosure requirements (as articulated in Federal Rules of Civil Procedure)Must be identified by partiesMust present a detailed written report containing all opinions and support for opinions; qualifications, previous testimony, and compensation must be disclosed

Items 1 – 10 are adapted from Table 1, “Ten Differences Between Therapeutic and Forensic Relationships,” located on page 52 of: Greenberg, S. A., & Shuman, D. W. (2007). Irreconcilable conflict between therapeutic and forensic roles. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 28, 50-57.

Item 11 is from Greenberg, S. A., & Shuman, D. W. (2007). Irreconcilable conflict between therapeutic and forensic roles. Professional  Psychology: Research and Practice, 38, 129-132.

Questions from our live audience

One of our audience members asked about objective testing instruments that have been validated for Hispanic populations. Here is Dr. McLawsen’s response.

True cultural competence is aspirational. “Culture” isn’t a clear entity to which people do or do not belong. Rather, most people see themselves as fitting within multiple cultural and/or subcultural groups based on factors such as race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, language, heritage, religion, socioeconomic status, hobbies, and so on. When providing mental health services, whether they involve treatment or evaluation, a responsible mental professional realizes (1) that different people embrace their culture(s) differently, (2) seeks to understand how their client’s cultural norms shape their experience, and (3) recognizes that one’s cultural affiliation(s) has the potential to shift over time.
That said, a comprehensive discussion of culturally-competent practice is beyond the scope of this post. During the webinar, there was a question about Spanish-language assessment instruments that are not only written in Spanish (or translated from English to Spanish), but but that also include normative data for Spanish-speaking populations. By the way, merely translating an assessment instrument from English to another language — let’s say Khmer — does not necessarily mean that the instrument necessarily assesses the same construct in a Seattle-born native English speaker as it would in a Cambodian national. This is one of many situations where a mental health professional’s cultural competence would come into play, encouraging them to pay special attention to information such as their Cambodian client’s body language, use of culturally-specific metaphors, the significance of reported symptoms, etc.
Most of the people I work with are English-speaking, and so I have little first-hand familiarity with assessment instruments written in languages other than English and that are appropriately normed. However, here are a few assessment instruments — that I’m aware of — with Spanish language versions available and that are considered culturally appropriate for measuring the constructs they were developed to measure:
  • 3 different forms, great for repeat administrations
  • No language-based norms (except provisional data for French versions), but translation was done in a culturally- and linguistically-sensitive manner, and extant normative data is considered adequate for interpreting Spanish-language versions of this instrument.
  • Items are translated in a culturally- and linguistically-sensitive manner
  • Normative data collected in Spain and “Latin American countries”
  • Minimal verbal instructions in several languages
  • Minimal verbal instructions in several languages
  • Brief and full-form versions


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Greg is recognized as the leading national authority on enforcement of the Form I-864, Affidavit of Support. Greg represents low-income green card holders in lawsuits to recover support from their sponsors. Practicing family-based immigration law, Greg also focuses on helping married and engaged couples with U.S. immigration.

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