How did you become interested in Personality Assessment?
As a teenager, I worked in a library, shelving books, and it gave me a chance to see all of the books we didn't see in school. I saw books about the Holocaust, and I couldn't believe that the world could have such cruelty and, also, that very few people stood up against the concentration camps and slaughter of Jews. I will note that I'm not Jewish, but Swiss by heritage. This began a sojourn into social psychology and ultimately into individual psychology. In graduate school, I found personality assessment the ultimate way to put together the pieces that explain human behavior. Gradually that evolved into an interest in other behavior that crosses the line, e.g., aberrant or criminal behavior.
Tell us about your current job. We are interested in hearing about the different things that people do who work in the area of personality assessment.
At UCLA, I teach Violence Risk Assessment to staff and trainees (predoctoral and postdoctoral). I teach a regular course called Advanced Psychodiagnostic Assessment, which focuses on assessment of psychotic, mood, trauma, and personality disorders, as well as the psychological components of medical disorders, and malingering. I teach trainees how to design a test battery, and how to administer and interpret a variety of psychological tests. I also supervise interns and post-docs on actual assessment cases. In forensic practice, I evaluate pre-trial defendants for criminal court and focus on a variety of mental states, such as competence to stand trial, NGRI, and mental states that may have been present during a crime, such as an honest belief in the need to defend oneself. I also evaluate malingering. I conduct evaluations in the Juvenile Justice System, which are focused on Competence to Stand Trial, Fitness (or Juvenile Waiver), and issues to consider in sentencing. In Dependency Court, I evaluate parents, grandparents, and children; many of these cases involve trauma and/or attachment disruption. I also conduct evaluation of bonding/attachment in Adoptions cases. In Civil Court, I evaluate individuals for emotional damages. Finally, in Federal Court, I conduct evaluations of individuals which are typically submitted for consideration at sentencing. In the private sector, I conduct Fitness for Duty evaluations of professionals and take referrals from private schools for a variety of issues
What are the most interesting and/or meaningful aspects of your job?
After 30-some years of work, I still find the individual person interesting. I've been privileged to work on fascinating criminal cases, conduct in-depth interviews with individuals who have done terrible things, and have been able to use assessment to uncover the dynamics of their behavior. I find the Courtroom and the legal system of great interest, as well, including the dynamics of a jury, the behavior of judges, and the differences between expert psychological/psychiatric witnesses. A person need not commit a crime to be interesting to me! I have experienced much satisfaction from assessment and intervention with battered women and other trauma victims. I am also fascinated with how people experience and manifest psychosis, and with the warning signs of impending violent acts. Teaching assessment has been very meaningful. I began teaching the Rorschach in the UCLA Psychology Department as a very young psychologist. The Rorschach was not very well regarded, after a decade or more of critiques, and the (at the time) new Exner Comprehensive System, but the powers that existed at UCLA were open-minded enough to allow the Rorschach to be taught, and I did so for about ten years. Gradually, I began teaching general assessment. I ran a UCLA-based assessment clinic and now teach advanced assessment at the Medical School. It is always such a pleasure to see a student learn all that can be gleaned from an assessment battery, and learn to describe individual dynamics in a way that brings a person to life. Some of my former students are now professors at other universities, teaching assessment, and that is really gratifying. Finally, I very much enjoy writing about assessment, all the way from writing a single report on an interesting assessment case, to writing for publication!
Tell us how you initially learned about and joined SPA.
I learned about SPA when attending a Rorschach Workshop, led by John Exner and Phil Erdberg. The year was 1988. At the time, I was teaching the Rorschach at UCLA, and I felt rather isolated from those who conducted and valued assessment. John Exner was a great spokesperson for SPA, and I was delighted to learn that there was a large groups of psychologists who also loved assessment, and even some who used it in forensic work. From membership in SPA, I also learned about the American Board of Assessment Psychology, which is a way to become credentialed as a specialist in Assessment Psychology.
How has SPA impacted or benefited you or your career?
Immeasurably. I found a group of colleagues that were experts in their respective areas of assessment, heard lectures and symposia on the most recent advances of the tests we use, and formed collegial relationships and friendships that have led to collaborations in teaching and writing. The people at SPA feel like my second family. My professional life today would not be what it is without these wonderful colleagues and the body of knowledge they have provided.
As we look forward to SPA's 100th anniversary in 2038, what do you think is important in order for the field of personality assessment to thrive and to benefit others?
To begin with, the ability to conduct personality assessment sets the assessment psychologist apart from many other mental health professionals. When we add assessment to a clinical interview, we are tapping into a data base that is far wider than our individual clinical experience, and we are presenting conclusions that are tempered by this data and less affected by our biases. With personality assessment, we are able to look beneath the surface of behavior, to evaluate drives and motives that may be unavailable from history-taking and clinical interviewing. With diagnosis, we are able to make a systematic survey of symptoms and their severity, and this is more elegant, data-based, and comprehensive than structured interviews, checklists, and the like. We are also able to use assessment tools as measures of personality traits, symptoms, or behaviors which are the focus of research. Much valuable research has come from our most valued assessment tools--for example, the further exploration of pschopathy, trauma, and dependency, and the complexities of malingering. I believe it is very important for the Journal of Personality Assessment to survive as well, because it is a vehicle for publishing research that may not be published in other assessment journals.