Forensic Psychology at Society for Personality Assessment

Forensic Interest Group Newsletter: May 19, 2018
Marvin W. Acklin, PhD, ABAP, ABPP

Why is forensic psychological assessment important to SPA? Or why is SPA important to forensic psychological assessment?

There have been substantial changes in the landscape of personality assessment in the past 30 years. Aside from the general decline of assessment services through the health care system, there have been cultural changes in the judiciary. Where previously it was an uphill battle to get courts to accept expert testimony, (and yes there are serious problems in the quality of psychological science and forensic science), increasingly courts are reliant upon psychological evaluations for a wide variety of tasks (risk assessments of all types, family court roles, criminal and civil forensic psychology, operational psychology, personnel selection, security clearance evaluations, etc.). It is the role of SPA to step up and lead the way on the this trend, to articulate a disciplinary and methodological foundation, train competent practitioners, promulgate and publish forensic personality assessment research, and to support graduate students and early career psychologists in acquiring the skills, motivation, and mindset to make a significant professional impact and public good. SPA and JPA have distinct positions in contrast to other societies and publications, such as the American Psychology-Law Society (APA Div. 41), Behavioral Sciences and the Law, and Law and Human Behavior.

Recognizing this trend, we did a SPA symposium a few years ago in Chicago (Acklin 2009), attempting to locate personality assessment in forensic psychology. This effort attempted to establish personality assessment as forensic personology and personality assessment. I followed this initial effort with a study of psychopathy using Wiggin’s Paradigms of Personality Assessment (Acklin, 2017, submitted for publication), demonstrating the triumph of the nomothetic in forensic personality assessment. My recent piece in Archives of Assessment Psychology (2018) articulates the human science foundations of personality assessment in continental hermeneutics and American pragmatism, establishing the foundation for a philosophy of personality located outside but in tension with natural/empirical models. While these accommodations are not without tensions, given the positivism that predominates in the American psychology and legal system, there is always a need to humanize the legal system and to maintain the preeminent position of the person. Otherwise forensic psychology merely becomes a branch of sociology, i.e., criminology.

Recommendations: I would suggest that a special section editor on forensic personality assessment be appointed to the journal. There should a regular call for papers and a special section in JPA on forensic psychological assessment. Stronger links to the American Academy of Assessment Psychology are needed, especially the online journal. It is hoped that initiatives discussed at the recent SPA meeting in Washington, DC, will be vigorously pursued by the SPA Board, including a revamping of the society’s internet presence, a workable structure to coordinate and communicate, and to provide web-based education. The connection to MHS is quite fortuitous. I am sure that other vendors would be happy to contribute.

SPA’s effort needs to be multi-modal, focused on the human and natural science foundations of assessment, practical applications in the form of continuing education, methods of communicating, and establishing ethical and practical foundations for practice. This is an emerging vector in the society, tapping into emerging visions, the next generation, and our colleagues overseas.

Acklin, M.W. (2009). Locating Forensic Personality Assessment. Symposium: Society for Personality Assessment, Chicago, Il, March 6, 2009.

Acklin, M.W. (2017). Triumph of the Nomothetic: Paradigms of Personality Assessment and Forensic Psychology . Manuscript submitted for publication.

Acklin, M.W. (2018). Oneself as another: Hermeneutics and Personality Assessment. Archives of Assessment Psychology, 8, 1, 37-56.


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