DSHS forensic evaluator’s research aids shift in practice toward social responsiveness


Jude Bergkamp is a forensic evaluator for the Department of Social and Health Services’ Office of Forensic Mental Health Services.

For close to a decade across multiple agencies and within various roles, one forensic evaluator for the Department of Social and Health Services’ Office of Forensic Mental Health Services is helping transform the practice through ongoing contributions to expanding the research and application of cultural competency within the field.

In addition to his career with DSHS, Jude Bergkamp is also a well-published clinical expert in the field of forensic psychology and a research fellow for the American Psychological Association. Bergkamp also serves as core faculty in the Clinical Psychology Department at Antioch University Seattle and holds a clinical faculty position in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Washington.

“Helping clinicians understand cultural competency is imperative,” Bergkamp said. “It’s a major factor in determining a client’s competency and their ability to understand what is factual, rational knowledge, and ability to assist counsel.”

Bergkamp embarked on a journey more than a decade ago to educate others on cultural competency and the disparities encountered by people from lower socio-economic backgrounds and minority groups within the criminal justice system and government agencies. His path started with involvement in family reconciliation services for the state before transitioning to work with the Department of Corrections, which eventually led to him pursuing his doctorate in clinical psychology and then ultimately beginning his career in forensic psychology as a forensic evaluator at Western State Hospital.

Bergkamp’s passion for issues is not only around culture but also includes issues of power and privilege and oppression.

“Those two concepts get really conflated and confused. But they’re very different,” Bergkamp said. “And what I would posit in my research is that we have been focused so much on culture that it’s kind of masked issues of straight-up privilege and oppression.”

While working as a forensic evaluator for DSHS, Bergkamp quickly realized that there was no set of best practices for clinicians to provide care that’s socially responsible.

“If I were to ever talk about the social location of myself or the social location of the defendant, that could be seen in a court of law as being subjective or political and it would threaten the objective veracity of my testimony and may not pass the Frye and Daulbert Standard in order for my testimony to be admitted into evidence,” he said. “A lot of forensic evaluators are waiting tense and kind of stuck in the middle waiting for some sort of external authority or body to say this is how you do these things.”

The Frye (and Daulbert) Standard is used to determine the admissibility of an expert’s scientific testimony.

Recognizing the absence of established best practices for forensic evaluators regarding the incorporation of cultural responsiveness into their work, Bergkamp initiated collaboration with authoritative bodies within the field, such as the American Psychological Association. He gave one of his first presentations in 2016 at the APA forensic psychology seminar on the issue of culture, power, and privilege in forensic psychology.

Now a research fellow with the APA, Bergkamp is researching cultural competencies and minority health disparities.

It’s also important to acknowledge how socioeconomic status (also referred to as SES) and socially conferred privilege affect mental illnesses, Bergkamp said.

Studies have shown people with a low SES experience a much higher rate of mental illness.

“I don’t think as a field we have given enough credence to that to see that actually, the epidemic of mental illness could actually be a similar epidemic of sociopolitical oppression,” he said. “In the form of racism and sexism, classism and all those sorts of things that that we simply, in a way may be complicit too but, in another way, it might actually be a part of perpetuating.”

Because the APA, the American Counseling Association, and similar professional associations dictate the training and education models and curriculum of all forensic psych clinicians, Bergkamp hopes to influence a change institutionally by working with these programs to change how clinicians practice in the field.

“There’s kind of a reckoning that I think needs to happen within our clinical fields that is only just beginning,” said Bergkamp “My hope is that it is not a fad, but we’re going to stick with the work.”

To help influence sustainable change within his field, Bergkamp also works with new intern and post-doctoral forensic psychology students to incorporate these topics of cultural responsiveness and social justice into how they practice. Because of this, he believes that new forensic psychologists are entering the field with these principles instilled in them and are providing services that incorporate social responsiveness.

“Every licensed clinician needs to adhere to their professional organization’s ethics code,” said Bergkamp. “If clinicians are actively incorporating principles of cultural responsiveness, treatment outcomes are better.”

(By Jacob Jimenez)