Forensic Psychology on Television

Presented by Leandra Frye

American Justice: Myth of a Serial Killer: The Henry Lee Lucas Story

  • Henry Lee Lucas was convicted of 11 murders in 1983 and sentenced to death. He confessed to several hundred murders, but later recanted his confessions. He cited coercion and poor treatment as reasons for the false confessions (to read more about false confessions click here). His death sentence was commuted to life in prison in 1999. He died two years later of natural causes.

2000: CSI (Crime Scene Investigation)

  • CSI follows detectives at the Las Vegas Police Department Crime Scene Investigations Bureau as they solve puzzles and catch criminals.
  • Perhaps one of the most well known shows with a forensic psychology theme, CSI has a large impact on viewers perceptions of forensic psychology. On one hand, the increased popularity of forensic psychology because of the show is good and more people are taking an interest in forensic psychology as a career. On the other hand, the forensic psychology that viewers see every week on television may not be exactly the same as forensic psychology in reality.

2001: Law & Order: Special Victim’s Unit

  • Special Victim’s Unit is the second variation of the Law & Order series and follows officers who specialize in handling sexually based crimes.
  • B.D Wong (played by George Huang) is a forensic psychiatrist whose job is to get into the minds of suspects in order to help solve the crimes.

Click on the video below to see an interview with B.D. Wong where he discusses his role as a forensic psychiatrist on the show:
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  • In the above video B.D. Wong describes Law & Order Special Victims Unit as it relates to Forensic Psychology. He notes that the nature of the crimes makes it necessary to use psychology to get inside the minds of the perpetrators. In Law & Order Special Victim’s Unit the character Dr. George Huang is called in to give the detectives profiles of the suspects and perpetrators they are trying to find and arrest. Much of the character Huang’s job as a forensic psychiatrist is giving what he thinks are the motivations for the crimes committed and descriptions and profiles of the types of people who would commit the crimes. Psychology, especially abnormal psychology, is prevalent in just about every episode of Law & Order Special Victim’s Unit.

The Overall Portrayal of Forensic Psychology on Television

Forensic psychology has gained increasing popularity. This can be partly attributed to the television shows that feature it as their main theme. More and more people tune in to the shows and are entertained by the dramatic story lines. What does this mean for forensic psychology as a discipline? Although it is a good thing that the interest in forensic psychology has grown, the way forensic psychology appears on television may not be the same as how it is in reality. There is much more to the discipline than profiling serial killers and working high profile cases. In reality, forensic psychology is not as dramatic as the television shows portray it to be. Forensic psychologists often offer their expertise as expert witnesses in court cases and hopefully television shows in the near future will begin to explore other areas of forensic psychology.

NBC. Law and Order Special Victims Unit. (2010). Retrieved from

Steve Richer. (2000). IMDb. retrieved, November, 8, 2010.

Thesleepingsage (poster). Police Sketch: B.D. Wong . Retrieved from:

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