Judith Armstrong

Judith Armstrong, PhD

Clinical and Developmental Psychology, University of California, Berkeley, 1968

Current Positions

Psychological Consultant (Trauma Assessment, Therapeutic Assessment, Forensic Assessment, Trauma Research)

Clinical Associate Professor, University of Southern California

How did you become interested in Personality Assessment?

It was like falling in love, as you'll see. We had a single assessment class in graduate school so not much time was devoted to learning each test. The Rorschach was our last test to learn. We were skeptical but intrigued by its air of mystery. After learning the scoring system we were all seated behind a one-way mirror with our Prof. Luckily there were only 10 of us because our task was to each give a card to our volunteer client and afterwards get feedback from the Prof. and classmates and work on test interpretation. Our volunteer was a male engineering graduate school student. Our first three classmates eagerly presented their cards and just got a single, pure form defined response.Behind the mirror we decided that either our volunteer was boring, or the Rorschach was, or maybe both. Then everything changed with Card IV, administered by a female classmate known for her natural clinical skill. Fresh faced and modestly dressed in a way that could not hide her natural voluptuousness, she asked our volunteer what he saw. He smiled and gave several responses with human movement and other determinants. Sorry to say, it was our only glimpse of his inner life because after she left the door to his mind shut. Poor me, who gave Card X, didn't even get a hint of movement or color in his single, final response. Two weeks later, we heard rumors that our volunteer and our Card IV classmate were going out and looked quite in love. Later that year she was pregnant (well, it was Berkeley in the 60's). They were married in time for the baby's birth. I decided that if the Rorschach was as powerful as that, I'd better learn assessment!

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.

I've already described my job in question #2 but to understand how I got to this point, and to indicate some of the different things personality assessors can do, I'll describe some of my earlier jobs and how my assessment career developed from them. I was first hired by a medical school to head their new pediatric psychology division, only to find out that the MD's didn't refer their patients because they didn't know how therapy and assessment could help them. So I trained the residents to give and score some simple drawing tests, which opened their patients' mouths and their residents' eyes. They became assessment converts, told their medical supervisors about it and referrals started pouring in. This led to my promotion to a tenured faculty position in the Medical School's Child Psychiatry Division, where again, interdisciplinary teaching played a major role. After my year teaching in Paris I was able to get a tenured professorship in a University Psychology Dept. to run a grant funded undergraduate clinical program jointly with the University and a nearby private hospital. As the students helped treat the children, it became clear that the hospital needed a child assessment program. It needed to focus on the effects of trauma, a long interest of mine, because police were bringing in physically and emotionally battered children. I set up the assessment program with the help of the hospital's Joy Silberg, who also belonged to SPA. She ran and further expanded the program. I then "sold" the value of trauma assessment to the head of the Adult Psychiatry's new Trauma and Dissociative Disorders program, Dr. Loewenstein and we began our assessment research together. With the help of the National Institute of Health psychologist Eve Carlson and Psychiatrist, Frank Putnam, we developed some new trauma measures and did further clinical research with them. I also did research with the head of the Eating Disorder Unit, David Roth, using the Separation Anxiety and other measures we developed to look at attachment and body image. With my move to California I found that lawyers were interested in having accuracy and effects of trauma complaints more objectively evaluated so there began my forensic career alongside my therapeutic assessment one. Take home message: assessment not only applies to a wide range of jobs, it can also help psychologists redefine their job and get promoted.

What are the most interesting and/or meaningful aspects of your job?

First, the areas where different fields intersect. Developmental and clinical, cognitive and emotional, statistical and narrative, medical and psychological, assessment and forensics, philosophy and psychology of the self and reality, all lend different insights from a clinical land research perspective. That's why I've always done my research with people in different fields. Second, once I felt I had enough clinical experience to ask meaningful questions, I wanted to do research to find out if, and how well, assessment picked up possibly trauma sequelae and helped us understand traumatized clients' strengths that could be supported to help them conquer its effects. These two interests have done more than help me think outside of the box. They've helped me move from job box to job box in my career, and when job box didn't fit me, make one that did. Third, being now in the latter part of my career, I've turned my interest to consulting with and mentoring younger psychologists, trying to help them feel depth, joy, and security in their work that I did in their own, unique ways.

Tell us how you initially learned about and joined SPA.

I heard about SPA through Rorschach workshops and an MMPI colleague. I went and was hooked

How has SPA impacted or benefited you or your career?

Networking is so essential to people throughout their career and SPA has been a network of communal assessment learning, teaching, friendship, and support. I love the times after meeting presentations where groups get together in the hall and discuss the ideas generated and where afterwards, people with widely different opinions go off for and drink, a dinner, together, share thoughts in a relaxed way and differences converge or fade into the background of good will. I wish our government ran that way!

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?

A famous economist said it best; "If something can't go on forever, it won't" (Stein's Law). So I think if assessment is to thrive in the future and SPA plays a part of this, which I certainly hope it will, we need to involve young psychologists in any committee that's set up to formulate SPA's future. I practice what I preach, which is I appointed two graduate student to be members of our APA Clinical Trauma Assessment team. Their awareness of how their University was, and was not, meeting their assessment needs and those of their diverse clientele helped broaden and round out the wisdom of our more experienced trauma experts. In brief, young psychologists have their ears and eyes and pocketbooks facing the future. With the emergence of online learning along with new developments in tests and scoring systems, an exciting updating of assessment is already occurring. But we need to sell it. I'd recommend inviting in psychiatrists as members. They are one of our major referral resources. Inviting a variety prominent members of other fields, such as judges, neurologists, can also broaden our impact. The one thing that hasn't changed with time is the simple fact that most graduate psychology schools don't have time to teach assessment in depth. That's why I'm so glad that our president and Board are considering ways to offer post graduate training in which SPA and it's members can play a role. There's a big future market in that!

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