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Mark Ruiz, PhD, ABPP, is a licensed psychologist at the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital and coauthor of the Personality Assessment Inventory Interpretive Report for Correctional Settings (PAI-CS). He specializes in competency to stand trial, mental state at the time of offense, violence and sexual recidivism risk assessment, and sentencing mitigation. In today’s blog, PAR Project Director Sierra Iwanicki, PhD, talks to him about the use of the Personality Assessment Inventory™ (PAI®) in forensic evaluations, how he became drawn to the field, and where he thinks forensic psychology is going in the future.


How did you become involved in forensic evaluations?

It happened by accident. During my undergraduate and graduate training, I had brief experiences working with juvenile and adult offenders. I took some workshops about competency and sanity evaluations through the University of South Florida. Following the workshops, some opportunities to do court-ordered evaluations opened in the county I was in and it took off from there.

Why is it helpful to include a measure of personality in these evaluations?

Psychological testing that can address multiple clinical issues in an objective manner adds credibility to any evaluation. Judges, juries, and law enforcement often are not reassured when a clinician makes an opinion based solely on the words that came out of the client’s mouth. “Because he told me so” is not typically a persuasive argument. Psychological testing backed by science tends to be well received in the court of law.

Describe your use of the PAI in forensic evaluations.

I typically use the PAI in risk assessment and sentencing mitigation evaluations. The evidence-based validity scales are important for gauging the client’s approach to the evaluation. The PAI’s broad coverage of mental health and substance use disorders is also helpful in clarifying the diagnostic picture. Additionally, the well-validated Antisocial Features (ANT) and Aggression (AGG) scales are central to opinions of future risk for reoffending and violence.

What makes the PAI unique from other instruments?

The PAI’s ability to measure personality pathology and substance use independently is critical in many forensic evaluations. The growing body of research validating the use of various PAI scales, most notably Negative Impression Management (NIM) and Antisocial Features (ANT), is helpful in generating persuasive opinions in the forensic setting.

How do you see the field of forensic psychology changing in the next 10 years?

The COVID-19 pandemic has placed an emphasis on telehealth. As such, technologies to ensure the availability and integrity of psychological testing will be very important. Forensic clinicians who typically work in correctional or criminal justice settings are hampered by a lack of access to facilities and an inability to do face-to-face encounters due to the infection control protocols in place. Even in situations where access is available, many clients do not have the know-how or computer access to take a psychological test remotely. Having the capacity to administer tests via telehealth and to ensure the validity of the results will be crucial for forensic psychology.

What advice would you give to anyone interested in pursuing forensic psychology?

Forensic psychology is like scotch—you must have a taste for it. Attorneys play by a different set of rules than mental health professionals, with the main goal of the legal system being to sharpen conflict to resolve a particular issue. Unconditional positive regard is not often practiced in the courtroom. Psychologists are not typically comfortable with the baseline level of hostility and conflict present in the courtroom.  However, the role of the legal system is to resolve conflicts in pursuit of justice; any psychologist interested in stepping into that forum should be ready for the culture that comes with it.  

What is one thing we can glean from psychological science to improve mental health outcomes during the current collective pandemic crisis?

I think psychology has emphasized the importance of human connection, something that has taken a big hit with the social distancing and protective protocols that come with our response to the pandemic. Efforts to maintain connections during this time are more crucial than ever, particularly for the elderly and for vulnerable populations that have been isolated for extended periods of time.

Related article: Mendeley bibliographies available for the PAI!

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Students spend nearly 60% of their school day engaged in the process of written expression. Deficits in the writing process can wreak havoc on students’ education. The Feifer Assessment of Writing (FAW) examines the underlying processes that support proficient written language skills. In addition to identifying the possibility of dysgraphia, the FAW is able to determine the specific subtype of dysgraphia. And now, clinicians can save time and effort by scoring the FAW on PARiConnect.

What is the FAW?

The Feifer Assessment of Writing (FAW) is a diagnostic achievement test designed to examine the underlying cognitive, motoric, and linguistic processes that support proficient written language skills.

It is the third and final member of the Feifer family of diagnostic achievement test batteries, joining the Feifer Assessment of Reading (FAR) and the Feifer Assessment of Mathematics (FAM).

Results of the FAW help specify, from a neuropsychological perspective, exactly why a student struggles with written language so clinicians can develop appropriate, customized interventions. It also provides additional information about a student’s writing skills that allow users to dig deeper into a student’s abilities.

A screening form is also available, ideal for identifying children at risk for developmental dysgraphia within a multitiered system of support service delivery model.

Scoring now available on PARiConnect

PARiConnect automatically provides scores and profiles based on response data from a paper-and-pencil assessment of the FAW. Standard scores, index standard scores, percentile ranks, and score ranges are generated based on raw score inputs. PARiConnect calculates index and subtest discrepancy scores and their base rates and provides some interpretive text to help clinicians plan appropriate next steps. A reliable change report can be generated if the FAW has been administered to the same examinee more than once.

Learn more!

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One of PAR’s core values is to give back to the community, and our dedicated staff provide time and resources to a variety of causes. This blog is one in a series about what drew our staff members to become involved with various charities. Today’s blog focuses on David Houser’s relationship with Metropolitan Ministries.

When David Houser, PAR’s director of sales, began heading up PAR’s involvement with Metropolitan Ministries several years ago, he knew this local, grassroots community nonprofit served struggling and homeless families throughout Tampa Bay. However, there is no way he ever could have expected the increase in need they would see once the pandemic hit.

“Food insecurity in this country is something that shouldn’t even be an issue,” said David, who leads the PAR team in food and gift drives throughout the year. “I’ve always had an interest in feeding people, taking care of that basic need, and making sure people have that ability to thrive.”

In 2019, Metropolitan Ministries served nearly 2 million meals and helped nearly 20,000 families with its support services. The organization provides food services, housing programs, family support services, and beyond. Since March, however, demand has skyrocketed with requests up 75% over the prior year—with the majority of the increase in requests coming from first-time recipients.

“That’s pretty dramatic when you talk about someone who has never needed assistance before,” said David, who normally leads a summer food drive. Knowing that PAR staff could not be in person this year to bring in items to help those in need, he decided instead to host a virtual fundraising drive to help the organization meet the demand it was seeing. PAR staff were able to raise more than $3,600 to donate to Metropolitan Ministries general fund, which they can use for their facilities, to fund programs, expand meal service, or to house the 113 families who live on their campus.

“They are not just a food bank,” said David, explaining why he identifies so strongly with Metropolitan Ministries vision. “They have people living on campus. They offer programs. They want to sustain the whole person and get them back on their feet.”

To learn more about Metropolitan Ministries and how you can get involved in helping their cause, visit their website.

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With a global pandemic, remote learning in many areas, and increased isolation from friends and family, it’s more important than ever to screen students for exposure to trauma and related symptoms this school year.

Symptoms of trauma include:

  • Irritability
  • Hyperactivity
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Aggression or defiance
  • Substance abuse
  • Anxiety and depression

Trauma is widespread

View our infographic to learn more about how trauma affects children – click here to view.

Trauma can result from any type of adverse childhood experience (ACE) including physical abuse, substance abuse, divorce, witnessing violence, and certainly a global pandemic and ongoing quarantine. More than two thirds of children report at least one traumatic event by the age of 16 years.

Trauma can affect learning

No matter the cause of your students’ trauma, the effects can have a real impact on their academic success. Classroom problems like behavioral issues, difficulty focusing, and disengagement from social activities can prevent them from learning and succeeding in school.

Screen for trauma to help children sooner

The Trauma Symptom Checklist for Children Screening Form (TSCC-SF) and Trauma Symptom Checklist for Young Children Screening Form (TSCYC-SF) now offer online administration and scoring via PARiConnect to help you connect with your students in the classroom—or remotely—and determine if they need help.

In just 5 minutes, the TSCC-SF (for ages 8-17 years) and TSCYC-SF (for ages 3-12 years) indicate whether a child or youth is at risk for clinically significant psychological disturbance so you can determine if follow-up evaluation and treatment are needed. These important tools support the  trauma-informed care approach, and convenient scoring on PARiConnect provides the information you need in minutes.

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This fall, PAR will add a new neuropsychological assessment instrument to our lineup: the Older Adult Cognitive Screener (OACS), an all-digital informant rating scale that enables you to make quick decisions about your older clients’ (ages 55 to 90 years) mental status. The OACS is designed for early screening of dementia symptoms and will assist with follow-up determinations, including initiating or referring your clients for comprehensive diagnostic testing. Administration and scoring take only 10 minutes.

Working with authors Cecil R. Reynolds, PhD, and Erin D. Bigler, PhD, our goal as we’ve developed the OACS was to provide a rapid, cost-effective, and valid means of screening older adults for cognitive dysfunction based on the observations and knowledge of a reliable caregiver, family member, or friend (e.g., spouse or home health care worker).

Unlike on similar measures, OACS items map directly onto the six principal domains of neurocognitive function identified in the DSM-5®: executive function, complex attention, language, perceptual–motor, social cognition, and learning and memory. Activities of daily living (ADLs) are also assessed.

Related article: TICS: ASSESS FOR COGNITIVE IMPAIRMENT REMOTELY

Another significant advantage of the OACS is its digital format, which aligns well with today’s telehealth models and enables you to continue testing even when social distancing is required. Plus, because the OACS is administered through PARiConnect, data are easily exported into an electronic medical record (EMR) system.

The OACS is designed to be used in medical settings by primary care and specialty physicians and can be administered and scored appropriately by nursing staff and properly trained clerical staff. It is also useful for clinical psychologists, neuropsychologists, and others who treat older adults on a clinical basis in a variety of mental health settings, including nursing homes and community mental health centers.

The OACS will be released this fall. For more information, or to preorder, visit parinc.com/OACS.