Standard Article

Psychological Autopsy

  1. Thomas W. White

Published Online: 30 JAN 2010

DOI: 10.1002/9780470479216.corpsy0726

Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology

Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology

How to Cite

White, T. W. 2010. Psychological Autopsy. Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology. 1–2.

Author Information

  1. Training and Counseling Services, Shawnee Mission, KS

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 30 JAN 2010


Approximately five decades ago, the term psychological autopsy first appeared in the mental health literature. The methodology is most often associated with cases of completed suicide and involves constructing a psychological profile of the deceased during the time immediately prior to death. By conducting interviews with significant individuals, reviewing records, and investigating events that appear to bear directly on the deceased's emotional state, investigators seek to determine the motivation or circumstances that may have contributed to the death. Initially, it was utilized as a clinical tool to assist coroners and medical examiners in determining the cause of death in equivocal cases (Clark & Horton-Deutsch, 1992), but the technique has evolved over the years to become a recognized research, clinical, and forensic tool. Yet despite this general acceptance, the methodology still has many critics and a number of legitimate shortcomings that severely limit its utility in some settings (Pouliot & De Leo, 2006) while offering promise in others (Aufderheide, 2000).


  • autopsy;
  • post-mortems;
  • psychological autopsy;
  • suicide causation