Dr. Michael Welner is board certified in Forensic Psychiatry and Clinical Psychopharmacology. He is an Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the NYU School of Medicine and an Adjunct Professor of Law at Duquesne University School of Law. He founded and serves as chairman of The Forensic Panel and developed the Depravity Scale, a method for codifying and standardizing evil acts. I am pleased to have him as my guest on The Writer’s Forensics Blog.
DPL: Of all the medical specialities available, what attracted you to Forensic Psychiatry?
MW: I came to forensic psychiatry by accident. I was never drawn to blood n’ guts, and have never had a great fascination for bogeymen. All I wanted to do was take care of patients. And so I was near the end of my residency training, anticipating going out into treatment practice. I happened to go to a lecture in which we watched a videotaped interview of a teenage defendant accused of killing his whole family, who had raised the insanity defense. We, as a group of fourth year psychiatry residents, were asked to consider the criteria of the insanity defense and to then offer our opinion as to whether the defendant met the criteria for same.
Doug, I got so fired up in that discussion, working on all cylinders, that I left the lecture with an epiphany of, “If you can get this energized by something, you need to do it every day.” The next day I was on the phone with fellowship programs. I was fortunate then to be invited at an early stage to the fellowship program of Dr. Bob Sadoff, who became my mentor at the beginning of my career. It only got better from there.
Forensic psychiatry forces you to confront a case related question on several planes, simultaneously: the psychiatric, the medical, the legal, the investigative, and the tactical, and often the cultural. I cannot imagine another line of work in which the challenges you face have such complex depth and textures, ever shifting, and over a period of time. Incredibly stimulating, and the more experience one has, the more you see things that add to the microscopic depth of your capabilities. I’m terribly grateful.
Apart from that, you are working in the adversarial system. In clinical medicine, your work has less accountability. In the courts, your work is under high scrutiny, so you have to have a competitive temperament to excel and to get it right. That requires a lot more soul searching than one may realize. It’s a very athletic endeavor as much as an intellectual one, because you find yourself competing against previous high marks for your skills. That suits my temperament.