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(p. 195) The Founding and Early Years of the American Board of Forensic Psychology 

(p. 195) The Founding and Early Years of the American Board of Forensic Psychology
(p. 195) The Founding and Early Years of the American Board of Forensic Psychology

Florence W. Kaslow

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date: 26 April 2018

It is deceptively easy to think of medical specialties like pediatrics, obstetrics, gynecology, and nephrology as having a very long-standing practice of certification. In actuality, board certification in a medical specialty was only introduced in 1933 by the American Board of Medical Specialties. There are currently 24 general board certifications, within which there are as many as four specialties in some, specifically within psychiatry and neurology, plus 14 subspecialties, including forensic psychiatry. Being board certified in a specialty is close to routine in medical practice, with about 85% of physicians within the United States being certified (Sutherland & Leatherman, 2006). Psychiatry was one of the earliest specialties, dating back to 1935.

Professional psychology was slower to develop. While incorporated in 1947, the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP) did not take its present form until 60 years after medicine, in 1993 (ABPP, n.d.). With 15 specialties, among them psychoanalysis, rehabilitation psychology, (p. 196) couple and family psychology, school psychology, and neuropsychology, much of the content covered by direct service is represented. Unlike with physicians, only a minority of professional psychologists are board certified, largely because it is unusual for work environments or careers to require such certification. In this chapter, I write about the start of board certification by the American Board of Forensic Psychology and its allied partner, the American Academy of Forensic Psychology (AAFP). This chapter describes the beginnings.

How I Got There

In 1972 and 1973, I served as a consultant to the Pennsylvania Law and Justice Institute. The then-commissioner of the Pennsylvania Bureau of Corrections, Stewart Werner, approached me at a conference and asked if I would be willing to work out an arrangement to place psychology doctoral students from an American Psychological Association (APA) approved psychology program in the Pennsylvania prison system under my supervision for their internships. He offered to fund my salary and the internships. A few weeks later, Jules Abrams, chair of the psychology program at Hahnemann Medical College (now University), asked if he could interest me in leaving my teaching appointment at another medical college and joining the faculty at Hahnemann. I told him about the offer from Commission Werner, and everything moved swiftly after that.

In September of 1973, I began teaching in the Department of Mental Health Sciences at Hahnemann, primarily in psychology but also in psychiatry and in the family therapy program. A student unit of three was sent to Graterford Maximum Security Prison. My simultaneous appointment to the Bureau of Corrections was as consultant for training and treatment. I learned what it was to walk a cellblock, to always have an honor prisoner accompany me, to make sure our students were well protected and cautious, and how to do (and did) hostage negotiations. I always experienced a great sense of relief when I exited the prison, and the gates clanged shut behind me.

(p. 197) A year later, Israel Zwerling, the chair of the Department of Mental Health Sciences at Hahnemann and himself a clinical and forensic psychiatrist, asked if I would co-teach a course he was introducing in forensic psychiatry. Honored, thrilled, and a bit naïve, I accepted and began reading avidly. He asked me to run several day-long forensic programs, and I invited the best-known and most respected people I could over a period of a few years to offer panels and solo presentations. I chaired the programs and let the acknowledged experts do the presenting. This provided me various excellent opportunities to continue learning from the best and brightest. I also attended workshops outside of the Philadelphia area to get an exposure to different speakers and domains. It all was intriguing, challenging, and exciting. I also joined the American Psychology–Law Society.

Zwerling created a Forensic Psychology and Psychiatry section within the department in 1975 and asked me to chair it. He appointed mostly psychiatrist members from the department along with two other psychologists to be members. When I told lawyers and judges what we were doing, several prominent judges asked if they might apply for adjunct teaching appointments in the department and serve in the Forensic Section. Zwerling and I were surprised and liked the idea, and he rapidly had all their credentials checked. Voila! We soon had four well-respected judges on board.

In the meantime, PhD–JD programs had been started at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln under Bruce Sales, one at Stanford University headed by David Rosenhan, and one combining the resources of the University of Maryland Psychology Department and John Hopkins University Law School with Donald Bersoff as its director. I began thinking we had an excellent department in which to also begin a combined program. Therefore, I contacted the dean of Villanova Law School, Charles O’Brien, with whom I had worked when I was consultant to the Pennsylvania Law and Justice Institute, with Dr. Zwerling’s permission. We agreed we could and should try to develop a joint PsyD (the degree Hahnemann awarded)–JD program between Hahnemann and Villanova (Kaslow, 1976).

We moved quickly through the administrative structures of both universities to get the program approved. In 1979, we admitted the first (p. 198) class of five ultra-bright students into a program projected to run six years. Students were to spend years one, three, and five in the Psychology Department, and years two, four, and six at the Law School. All had to meet the entrance requirements of both programs and fulfill all regular curriculum requirements, plus spend summers in practica and internships that incorporated the interface of psychology and law, such as the guardian ad litem unit at the Philadelphia Juvenile Court. I co-directed the joint program for several years with Associate Dean Gerald Abraham at Villanova. I sometimes attended and/or taught classes at the law school. The program was greeted with excitement and enthusiasm, and it flourished for many years (Kaslow, 2000).

Professional Rivalry

One day in 1976, a psychiatrist colleague asked me, “Have you heard that psychiatry is moving toward board certification in forensics?” I had not. I was friendly with a local academic psychiatrist at another university, a valued colleague who was active in the American Academy of Psychiatry and Law, an influential national forensic psychiatry organization. I called him, and he responded that any such development was years away. I suggested we consider a joint credentialing process of forensic psychologists and psychiatrists; his response was, “Sounds like a good idea; when the time draws closer, let’s discuss it.”

At the next monthly meeting of our forensic section, one of our psychiatrist members announced that they had received their applications for applying for board certification. I was appalled at the “deception.” It was clear some action had to be taken to ensure that psychologists did not lose the foothold we had gained in the forensic world, particularly since the Jenkins v. U.S. (1961) decision (Kaslow, 2000) in which psychologists were identified as belonging to a learned science and profession and therefore qualified to give expert opinions on issues of mental disease.

I wrote to Bruce Sales, the president of AP–LS in 1976–1977, to inform him about this development and my misgivings. He suggested that I set up (p. 199) a committee to study the matter. The reception to my inquiries was mixed. A few forensic psychologists thought preoccupation with additional credentialing was unnecessary. Others did not respond. Nevertheless, I moved forward and placed a notice in the AP–LS bulletin indicating that we were creating a committee to study the need for establishing a diplomate (the term current then) in forensic psychology. We met on a Sunday afternoon at Hahnemann Medical College. A hearty band of pioneers came at their own expense, and we designated ourselves the initial committee. The members who first served with me were Leonard Paul from Pennsylvania; Martin Kurke and David Shapiro from Washington, DC; Hirsch Silverman from New Jersey; and Charlton S. Stanley from Mississippi.

We started out as strangers and quickly bonded with one another. We immediately recognized that forensic psychology had many applications outside the clinical realm. Although most of us were clinical or counseling psychologists, our original sextet also agreed it was essential to include nonclinical concerns involving human factors, industrial/organizational psychology, and the interface with legal, judicial, and correctional systems in roles such as serving as expert witnesses. We used the term forensic psychology to encompass the application of many aspects of psychology that interfaced with numerous aspects of law, legal systems, correctional systems, and family systems. Having arrived at a common understanding as to the multifaceted meaning of forensic psychology, we agreed that board certification should be pursued immediately. Forensic psychology constituted a specialty area within psychology that has its own body of knowledge and many specific skills for competent practice, and our expertise needed to be publicized and showcased.

We reported back to AP–LS. Our self-selected group was ambivalent about the action we had taken and reluctant to move ahead swiftly. Nevertheless, we did not want to appear in court as expert witnesses and find in the credentialing process that we were perceived to be unqualified because, unlike the psychiatrists, we were not board certified. They were moving full-speed ahead; their first date for administering examinations already had been set for 1977.

(p. 200) We turned to the Board of Professional Affairs of the APA for information about the process for becoming recognized as a specialty area. APA responded, albeit slowly, that they were not ready to consider new specialties. It is now several decades later, and they still do not accredit doctoral programs in specialties beyond the original ones of clinical, counseling, industrial/organization, and school psychology. This inaction persists despite the knowledge and activity explosion that has occurred in forensic psychology and other specialty areas clamoring for such recognition such as neuropsychology and family psychology.

The response from the ABPP was initially neutral. They were not ready to help us organize, but they did send us material on the ABPP diplomating process, and we followed it closely.

We believed that our mission warranted rapid movement. United by our shared purpose, we decided at our second meeting that we would go it alone if we received no positive sanction from any official bastion of organized psychology. We each contributed $100 to a start-up fund for initial expenses; this was to be applicable against our application fees.

By 1977 Paul Lipsitt had become AP–LS president (after Bruce Sales) and decided to attend our meeting in a liaison role. Impressed by what we wanted to do, he became the seventh member of our committee and arranged for us to receive a loan of $1,000 from AP–LS, which we repaid in 1978. Later presidents of AP–LS, including John Monahan and Len Bickman, were also most cooperative.

The Forensic Board Was Founded

Some of the AP–LS board remained unconvinced about the necessity of certification. Many of the leaders of AP–LS were academics and researchers who were interested in investigating and teaching about law and psychology. They were not on the forensic firing line providing reports and testimony to lawyers and the courts and thus were not being driven by our sense our urgency. Therefore, we decided to spin off from being a committee of AP–LS. We sent AP–LS our report and resigned en masse (p. 201) as a committee, but most of us retained our personal membership in it. We reconstituted as a self-created independent board to which the AP–LS president would have a liaison role.

We elected officers at this second historic meeting in 1977. I was president; Hirsch Silverman, vice-president; David Shapiro, secretary; and Martin Kurke, treasurer. As a follow-up to our second meeting, Marty, Paul, and I drafted the first set of bylaws. We thought that we should have independent legal counsel to handle the incorporation and to double check the bylaws. With the board’s approval, I asked Richard Bazelon, who had become a member of the forensic section at Hahnemann, to serve in this capacity. He was well respected in mental health law circles, a member of the University of Pennsylvania Law School faculty, and the Bazelon name was held in high esteem. He was easy to work with and was pleased to be asked. With our incorporation, we became a viable corporate entity (Kaslow, 2000).

I remember long nights of sitting up organizing, writing, and typing up what was to constitute the credentialing process, the guidelines for work samples, and the basic bibliography. In the next stage, various board members contributed to the initial core knowledge document. We decided that at the diplomate level individuals should have a solid knowledge of the core areas, not just of a narrow spectrum, and spent countless hours hammering away at what should be included as core. We overspent our meager funds. I contributed thousands of dollars out of my personal account to keep the board afloat until examination fees began coming in.

Standards and Examinations

We agreed that our standards should be set very high, and there should be no exceptions. No one would be grandfathered. This was the advice of Hirsch Silverman, who was already board certified in clinical psychology and had been one of the psychologists involved in the infamous Boston Strangler trial in l967. From the first, we agreed everyone would have to pass all three stages of the ABPP process: credentials review, work sample review, and the oral examination. We knew that we wanted to affiliate with ABPP (p. 202) as soon as possible. We were also aware that rigor in our standards would mean that we would not have to undo what had already been accomplished.

Hirsch carefully instructed us on the requisite format for the conduct of exams. The board decided that I should be the first one examined when we were ready in 1978. Hirsch chaired the exam with the other five board members comprising my committee. Since one of my work samples was on the teaching of forensic psychology, which I was doing at Hahnemann, I was interrogated on just about every item on the syllabus. I was awarded certificate #001 and hung it proudly in my office (certificate numbers changed when we became an official ABPP board).

All of the other board members were examined by three- or four-person committees; we were very demanding of each other. Next, we decided that it was imperative that we not be just an East Coast organization and that it was time to go national. I recommended Arthur Bodin and David Rosenhan, stars in the forensic firmament whom I knew and who were both active in forensic psychology work in California. They were approached and accepted, and this brought us up to our full contingent of nine members.

Soon we shifted to comply with our new bylaws, and when vacancies occurred, any diplomate could nominate a possible board member. In 1978 we began to publicize the existence of ABFP and our diplomating process. To our surprise and pleasure, mixed with some dismay, some of the first applications came from very well-known psychologists who already held other diplomates and had fine reputations. It quickly became obvious that we had identified a need in the larger field. Some of the work samples reflected aspects of the field we had not included in our original core knowledge document. Each month we learned that the broad umbrella phrase forensic psychology subsumed much more than our early vision encompassed. We revised and expanded the document accordingly.

As we formed the first dozen-and-a-half committees, we read avidly to augment our own knowledge base to be well-informed examiners. After the original first seven exams, everyone serving on an examining committee had to be a diplomate. Thus, we all put many hours into reviewing credentials and work samples and in serving on exam committees until the pool of qualified examiners increased.

(p. 203) I served as liaison to the ABPP Board of Trustees. Melvin Gravitz was then ABPP board president and was responsive to our needs, encouraging us in our undertaking. The linkages set up at that time helped create a basis for our later affiliation with ABPP.

Dr. Gravitz became one of the early applicants for certification in forensic psychology. I read diligently about forensic hypnosis, the subject of his work sample, to be a well-informed examiner, as did the other committee members. Other APA notables including Ted Blau, Gary VandenBos, Pat DeLeon, and Stephen Morse also took and passed the exam early on. They were positively impressed with what we were doing and with our diplomating process. Several of them later became involved as board members. Ted Blau, an APA recent past president and a diplomate in clinical psychology, quickly became an involved, influential, and valued board member and was especially helpful in a guiding role. Dr. VandenBos became the APA liaison to ABFP for a few years.

To publicize our existence, we began making presentations at the Eastern Psychological Association and other regional and state meetings. Board members and other diplomates wrote articles describing the concerns that ABFP was established to address, like the need for recognition of forensics as a specialty area of psychology (Kaslow & Abrams, 1976; Kurke, 1980, Kaslow, 1989) and books on the role of the forensic psychologist (Cooke, 1980). These efforts led to an increase in the flow of diplomate applications.

The American Academy of Forensic Psychology

In the late 1970s, APA had asked different groups to work on specialty guidelines for practice in their arena. Paul Lipsitt and I drew up and submitted the first specialty guidelines for the practice of forensic psychology. We truly felt that we were accomplishing a great deal.

Since some of the early diplomates wanted to be involved with ABFP beyond the time when they received the board’s imprimatur, I suggested we establish the AAFP as our membership, continuing education, and (p. 204) fundraising arm. It was formed in 1978. I was elected first president of the AAFP. Since then, these two boards have remained separate, yet collaborative, an arrangement that has evolved favorably for both—with the Academy running very successful workshops in forensic topics several times a year and fulfilling both their educational and fund raising missions to advance the field of forensic psychology.

Our first award for distinguished contribution to forensic psychology was given to Margaret Ives in 1980 at the APA convention in Montreal at the first meeting of ABFP. Ives was then executive director of ABPP and had encouraged us from the very start. She had a long-standing interest in forensics and had been the expert witness in the precedent-setting Jenkins decision already mentioned (Jenkins v. U.S., 1961; Kaslow, 2000).

In 1985, the Academy initiated an annual award, the Distinguished Contribution to Forensic Psychology award, to recognize outstanding contributions. In addition, it decided to award dissertation grants annually to doctoral students proposing meritorious studies. In 1995, shortly after the tragic death of Saleem Shah in an auto accident, the Saleem Shah Award for Early Career Excellence in Psychology and Law was established, in conjunction with AP–LS.

The AAFP workshop series that has become the model for successful Academy continuing education efforts was initially chaired by Arthur Bodin, then by David Shaprio, followed by Curtis Barrett. Alan Goldstein took over as chairperson for many years, followed by Randy Otto. These intense workshops essentially provide a major avenue for specialization in forensic psychology. Presented several times a year, these remarkable programs offer training in a broad range of forensic areas, including the intersections of psychology with civil, criminal, mental health, and family law.

What It Was Like Personally

Those first three or four years when I was at the helm were a heady time of good esprit de corps, high energy, much mutual affection, and great productivity. We took many risks and usually succeeded. The next chapter (p. 205) in the story belongs to my successors: David Rosenhan, Robert Howell, Newton “Bud” Jackson, Herbert Weissman, Melvin Rudov, and others who followed. In retrospect, I am proud to have been the “birth mother” of ABFP and AAFP.

To those who helped create the ABFP, I have deep gratitude for their cooperation and belief in our joint venture and for always being there when needed from the very beginning. Their vigorous intellectual perspectives and their extensive backgrounds enabled us to expand our horizons and to become a national rather than an East Coast organization. Gerry Cooke, Bob Strochak, and Bud Jackson, and other early diplomates also generously gave of their time on numerous committees—I don’t know how we could have managed without their excellent input. Many people made themselves available to serve on examining committees and shared in this ambitious enterprise energetically. We also acknowledge the excellent input of our legal counsel Richard Bazelon and his colleagues for steering us through the legal incorporation process and seeing that everything was set up properly.

I appreciated the honor and privilege of being elected first president of both the Board and the Academy and the opportunity to serve with fellow forensic psychologists in creating this board and doing the work it entailed in the formative years. It was often an almost overwhelming task, the magnitude of which none of us comprehended in advance. It was a challenging and rewarding experience. I tried to pilot us through the critical formative years with as much tact, energy, courage, diligence, and humor as I could. The greatest unanticipated byproduct was the very special friendships and collegial relationships we formed; it was the most “loving” and cohesive board I have ever served on. I shall treasure the rich friendships almost as much as my diploma and the continuity of the Board. (Kaslow, 1980).

In 1984 Herb Weismann and Paul Lipsitt, president and vice-president of ABFP, respectively, were invited to meet with the ABPP Board in St. Louis (they later called it the Spirit of St. Louis). There they were queried about our bylaws and examination process. ABFP was accepted as meeting the high standards of ABPP. Our careful preparation toward this goal paid off. In 1985 ABPP accepted our application to become its sixth (p. 206) approved specialty board, and ABFP has remained in good standing and an active member board of the ABPP Board of Trustees since being recognized. All of our diplomates were approved and their board certifications were converted by ABPP, which is what we had originally intended. After we were invited to join ABPP, Paul Lipsitt, then the president of ABFP, and Paul King, ABPP president, formalized in the signing of a document our official designation as an ABPP specialty. Dr. Lipsitt was elected to the ABPP board as the first forensic psychology representative (Personal communication, P. Lipsitt, June 22, 2017).

ABFP has a dignified heritage and many accomplishments to its credit. I believe its mission should continue to expand in the next decades as the role of forensic psychologists continues to increase in many realms of our society.


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