Legal and Ethical Issues in the Assessment and Treatment of Psychopathy. Chapter uri icon


  • This chapter discusses core issues in assessing and treating individuals labeled "psychopaths," focusing both on the legal contexts in which this construct may be introduced and on the ethical issues that arise when mental health examiners choose (or are obligated by statute) to assess psychopathy for purposes of addressing legal questions (e.g., treatment amenability, violence risk). In the first part of this chapter ("The Role of Psychopathy in the Legal System"), the authors provide a brief overview of the legal contexts in which the term "psychopath" has been used. The authors also note a number of threshold issues, including questions of language, probabilistic versus individual decision making in legal settings, and general questions of admissibility. The second part of the chapter ("Assessing Psychopathy: Ethical Standards and Guidelines") discusses the specific role of the mental health examiner in assessing psychopathy, focusing on ethical issues related to the assessment itself, controversies regarding what types of conclusions and inferences should be made regarding the results of these assessments, and how to best communicate these conclusions and inferences to nonclinicians in the legal system who may be unfamiliar with this construct and its implications. In particular, the authors review contexts in which we believe the relevance of psychopathy data has been or can be overstated, such as in relation to violence risk issues and perceived lack of treatment amenability. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2016 APA, all rights reserved)

author list (cited authors)

  • Edens, J. F., & Petrila, J.

complete list of authors

  • Edens, JF||Petrila, J

editor list (cited editors)

  • Patrick, C. J.

Book Title

  • Handbook of psychopathy

publication date

  • January 2006