Clients coming in for psychological evaluations can frequently have little idea what to expect, and it can be an anxiety-inducing experience for them, considering the potential legal implications of an evaluation. Additionally, it can feel somewhat intrusive to have your personality and functioning evaluated by a stranger. Therefore, they naturally look to attorneys for guidance on how to best prepare for and present themselves during the evaluative process. This article describes some general guidelines for preparing clients for this process.
While there are variations, the forensic evaluation process generally consists of a few components: the clinical interview, psychological testing, review of past related records, and the interviewing of collateral contacts. The interview is the opportunity for the client to share their story and history face-to-face with the evaluator. It is generally somewhat standardized and walks the evaluator through the timeline of one’s life and the events that necessitated the evaluation. Since a defining characteristic of a forensic evaluation is the gathering of information from multiple sources and perspectives, we ask clients undergoing an assessment to bring in the contact information of a few collateral contacts we can interview who can speak to their functioning. Ideally these people are as neutral as possible; for example, if a client is undergoing a psychological evaluation pursuant to a custody dispute, interviewing one side’s best friend whom has a grudge against the other party would not provide much usable information. Coming prepared with a few names of people the evaluator can call will streamline the process and foster a shorter turn-around time on the assessment. The best choices are neutral professionals such as therapists, teachers, childcare providers, etc. In addition it is helpful to advise your clients to provide consent for the evaluator to obtain any relevant records (mental health, academic, legal history, etc.)
Likely the most helpful and significant guidance attorneys can share with their clients is to be open, straight-forward and forthcoming in their evaluation. Many of the tests used include validity scales that assess the approach one is taking to their evaluation, and these scales are fine-tuned in being able to identify malingering, “fake good” profiles, defensiveness, or other forms of less-than-honest responding styles. It is actually common for examinees to provide a defensive profile or a fake-good profile when the testing is for court. In a fake-good profile, the person is motivated the deny problems and appear to be better off psychologically than is the case. In a defensive profile, the person is motivated to present unrealistically favorable impressions by emphasizing positive characteristics and minimizing negative ones, but the examinee does not do this as blatantly as in a fake-good profile. It should be noted a fake-good profile can reflect deceit in the test-taking situation but cannot be seen as a more general tendency to lie or deceive others in daily life. Also one cannot infer in a fake-good or defensive profile the examinee is covering up psychological problems.
Nonetheless sending to the court a report that indicates the responder was so defensive in their test-taking approach so as to render the results meaningless or questionable is not ideal as the judge’s mind can naturally assume the worst when that occurs, and he or she can project whatever that worst case scenario is on what the person may be hiding. Counseling your clients to be up front and forthcoming in responding and in interviews helps increase the likelihood they will provide valid testing useful for the case, and valid testing helps bolster the argument that their interview report is likely truthful as well.
These simple pieces of guidance – what to expect, bring collateral contacts, provide records, and be open and honest – can turn what can be a sometimes anxiety-evoking experience into one in which a client feels heard, understood and like there was an opportunity to tell their story.