How did you become interested in Personality Assessment?
During coursework for my Master's degree, I was introduced to Exner's Comprehensive System (CS) for the Rorschach Inkblot Method. This was in 1986, when the second edition on his CS handbook came out. We started studying this book in detail in an extracurricular workgroup composed of students and Dr. Leo Cohen, then assistant professor in the Clinical Psychology Department at Utrecht University, The Netherlands. As we worked our way through the book, we became more and more enthusiastic, and I made a telephone call to Dr. Exner to find out how we could receive official training in CS coding and interpretation. He was extremely helpful and gave us the contact info of Dr. Concha Sendin from Spain and Dr. Anne Andronikof from Paris. We contacted Dr. Andronikof, and she was willing to come to the Radboud University in Nijmegen to give an Introductory workshop in the CS to a group of young and more experienced clinical psychologists. This was in June 1987. After this first introduction to the mysteries of performance-based personality assessment, I was 'sold' and in the ensuing years I continued learning about personality assessment in workshops from esteemed scholars in the assessment field, such as Sidney Blatt, John Exner, Paul Lerner, Irving Weiner, Alex Caldwell, James Butcher, David Nichols. I also started reading the classic works of scholars such as Rapaport-Schafer, Holtzman, Weiner and Exner ('The Rorschach systems').
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.
As a university professor, my work consists of the classic combination of teaching, research, administrative duties and service to society. I teach two Assessment Skills courses in the Forensic Psychology Master's program that I developed together with my colleagues. In these courses, students gain hands-on training in different assessment tools, such as the MMPI, the Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R) and semi-structured interviews. I use videomaterial and file information, including test results, from real forensic patients, to provide students with a feel for what working in the field of forensic psychology is about. We also spend time practicing with specific forensic assessment instruments, such as structured violence risk assessment tools, competency and criminal responsibilty assessment. I enjoy sharing my forensic-clinical experience and my knowledge of the scientific literature with the students. In my private practice, I provide forensic mental health evaluations in criminal cases. Usually, the assessee is imprisoned, so I have seen almost all prisons in The Netherlands from the inside by now. I also provide training workshops in several (forensic) assessment tools, including the PCL-R and the Child Abuse Risk Evaluation. My website www.corinederuiter.eu gives an overview of my teaching activities. It also provides a lot of my publications in PDF-format. In the past, I have also taught the Rorschach Comprehensive System to practicing clinical psychologists in The Netherlands.
What are the most interesting and/or meaningful aspects of your job?
The aspect that I find the most meaningful at this point in my professional career is my ability to convey the incremental value of multi-method psychological assessment to my students. Forensic case work is challenging in terms of the psycholegal questions that need to be answered, the complex psychopathology of most assessees, and the emotional/ethical issues involved. I feel that over the years my extensive clinical experience (having worked in general outpatient psychiatry and in inpatient forensic psychiatry for many years) has become integrated with my knowledge of the scholarly literature, both in psychological assessment and forensic psychology. This blend of skill, experience, and knowledge is what I always admired in senior colleagues who introduced me to psychological assessment, and the feeling that I now stand on their shoulders, and can inspire a new generation fills me with gratitude. The second most meaningful aspect of my work is conducting forensic mental health evaluations for the court, the prosecution or the defense. To build a relationship with the defendant, who usually is quite distrusting of mental health professionals at first; to perform the assessment in an objective and respectful manner; to provide the assessee with a written report and feedback that is meaningful, these are challenges I like to take on. And if I succeed and the defendant feels understood and understands him/herself a little better perhaps, that is a rewarding experience to me. Thirdly, I also like to provide information on forensic psychological issues to the general public by means of weblogs and media appearances. For one of my webblogs, see: http://fpblog.nl/.
Tell us how you initially learned about and joined SPA.
I learned about SPA through my visit to one of the conferences of the International Rorschach Society, I believe it was the one in Boston. There I met a number of SPA members, and I decided to attend the next SPA annual meeting. I learned so much from the lectures, symposia and the preconference workshops at the meeting, and I very much enjoyed the collegial atmosphere, that I made attending SPA's annual meetings a priority. Since then, I have been at SPA meetings in New Orleans (two), Chicago (two), Philadelphia, San Diego, Arlington, Albuquerque, Boston, San Antonio, and I am probably forgetting a few. Every time I return from an SPA conference, I feel intellectually and emotionally recharged.
How has SPA impacted or benefited you or your career?
SPA has brought me many transatlantic friendships with psychologists who are just as interested in assessment as I am. The high quality of the workshops and presentations at SPA has benefited my clinical work as an assessment psychologist and also my academic teaching. Every SPA meeting feels like a homecoming, a place to meet like-minded professionals with high standards for personality assessment. The openness and warmth of the SPA community is very special and with every meeting I get to know more wonderful colleagues.
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?
The field of personality assessment has not been void of controversy in the last decades. The attacks on the Rorschach Inkblot Method and the decreasing number of hours reserved for training in assessment skills in university programs, have challenged us to show the value of personality assessment. I think this is good and we should continue supporting research that tests the impact of personality assessment on the quality of people's lives. I also think we should build bridges to neighboring areas, such as neuropsychological assessment and neuroimaging techniques. Both in research and clinical work, these fields tend to be quite separated and I believe our understanding of human psychological functioning can grow from their integration. I hope SPA will continue to thrive and that I may live to celebrate its centennial anniversary.