Archive for the ‘Tests’ Category

How to Pass Your Pre-Employment Psych Screening

(without driving yourself nuts)

Laurence Miller, PhD

 Many prospective LEOs ask me if there’s any special “advice” I can offer about how to pass their agency’s pre-employment psychological evaluation.  So I’m going to offer some straightforward recommendations for giving the most positive and accurate representation of your abilities and personality during the exam.  And I’m not going to teach you any sneaky tricks or violate any trade secrets to do it. 

Why do a psych screening?

 Law enforcement is a high-stress, people-intensive profession.  Before a department invests the time and resources in hiring, training, and fielding an officer, it wants to be reasonably sure that officer will be able to perform his or her job, will not pose a risk or danger to the public, and won’t create a liability for the department.   

What are you guys looking for?

The purpose of most pre-employment psych evals is not to certify you as a paragon of mental health – otherwise there wouldn’t be very many working police officers (or psychologists, for that matter).  Rather, the psych screening is designed to rule-out significant mental health disturbances, personality disorders, or dysfunctional behavioral traits that would be incompatible with the role of a police officer. This point is important because, as I’ll emphasize below, the most common mistake police applicants make is trying to be too perfect and thereby leading the evaluator to suspect you’re not being truthful.  So remember, we just want to know you’re basically normal, not perfect.  

 What does the exam consist of?

The exact content and procedures of pre-employment screenings may vary widely from agency to agency, but typically consist of two main components: a clinical interview and one or more standardized (usually paper-and-pencil) psychological tests.  During the interview, the psychologist will ask you a range of questions about your background, work history, current lifestyle, any symptoms or problems you may be experiencing, and what your expectations are about the job.  A properly conducted psychological interview should not feel like an adversarial interrogation, and the aim is not to trick or trap you.  Correspondingly, the less defensive and more honest you are, the more favorable impression you’ll make.   

The number of psychological tests employed may range from few to many, but typically, between two and four well-standardized measures will be administered.  In fact, you’ll probably spend most of your psych eval time hunched over a table with a number-2 pencil in your hand, blackening in little boxes and circles on multiple pages (increasingly, this is done by computer).  Do your best on each test; this data is important.  The evaluator will put the results of these tests together with his or her impressions from the clinical interview to determine your overall psychological fitness for the job.

How should I act at the interview?  How should I answer the examiner’s questions?

First, don’t assume the worst.  The psychologist is not your enemy.  For that matter, he or she is not your friend, either.  This professional’s only job should to objectively evaluate your mental status and relate it to the specific referral requirements of your job description as a police officer.  

Second, come prepared.  Show up on time.  Bring any records or other materials that were requested.  Other commonsense recommendations include bringing reading glasses and having a good breakfast or lunch prior to a morning or afternoon exam.  Accordingly, the examiner should make sure that he or she is ready at the appointed time and is prepared to conduct the evaluation.

Third, don’t be afraid to ask questions.  If something is unclear about what the examiner asks or a test that’s being given, let them know.  A reasonable examiner won’t object to reasonable questions.   Bear in mind, however, that they may not be able to answer many of the questions – e.g. “What does that test result mean?” – at the time of the evaluation.  That’s because the answer would compromise the validity of the test or because the actual results of the exam are supposed to be transmitted directly to the hiring agency.  If the examiner can’t answer a particular question, they’ll tell you so, but there should be no harm in asking.

Fourth, be honest and do your best.  The entire validity of the evaluation hinges on the accuracy of the information obtained.  To put it plainly, if I think you’re trying to bullshit me, how do you think that’s going to look on my report?  Remember the point I made earlier: normal, healthy people can accept not being perfect, but if you unrealistically try to oversell yourself, it will probably backfire.  Just tell it like it is.  This goes for both the interview and the written tests.

Finally, expect to be treated courteously, and behave accordingly.  Even though the examiner may have to ask you some personal or pointed questions, you should never be made to feel unnecessarily demeaned or treated like a criminal suspect.  Likewise, you’ll be expected to behave with reasonable respect and decorum.  Both examiner and examinee should keep in mind that they are both professionals who are here to do a job.

How are the results determined?

Usually, the examiner will weigh three things: the clinical interview impressions, the psychometric test results, and his or her review of the officer applicant’s past medical, employment, and other records.  These factors are then placed into a rough sort of formula that yields one of several determinations, often expressed in terms of “risk.”  That is, this applicant fits a low-risk, medium-risk, or high-risk officer candidate profile in terms of projected future performance as a police officer for this agency.  The report is then sent to the agency hiring committee for them to consider all of your other application materials (background check, medical exam, etc.), and at some point, they will let you know the good or bad news.

What if I think my results are invalid?

Policies vary from agency to agency.  Some departments, usually larger ones with many applicants, give you little recourse if your application is rejected, for psychological reasons or otherwise.  Other departments, usually smaller ones with a more sparse applicant pool, may allow you to reapply after a certain time period or, more rarely, may allow you to seek your own “second opinion” from an outside psychologist.  As a general rule, when you apply for any job, LEO-related or otherwise, you should always inquire ahead of time about that organization’s hiring policies.

So while there are no guarantees in life, for your law enforcement pre-employment psych eval, present yourself positively, truthfully, and nondefensively, act with courtesy and dignity, answer oral and written questions honestly to the best of your ability, and give the examiner a taste of the professionalism you plan to bring to your law enforcement career. 

 

Site Administrator:  Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D. ABPP

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Pre-employment Psychological Screening for Cops

by Ellen Kirschman, Ph.D.

I’ve been a police psychologist for thirty years; counseling, teaching, giving workshops, and writing books, both fiction and non-fiction.  In my first book, Burying Ben, my fictional alter-ego, Dr. Dot Meyerhoff, deals with a rookie Ben Gomez who kills himself and leaves a note blaming her (not a spoiler, you find this out on page one).  She wonders how her ex-husband, who did Ben’s psych testing, ever found him suitable to be a cop. And why he didn’t uncover Ben’s many lies?  This is fiction. Or is it? (more…)

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Police Psychology | How Do We Find and Divert Violence Before It Happens?

Robert John Zagar PhD MPH and James Garbarino PhD

Homicide, suicide or mass murder, are two sides of a coin. Violence is either directed at others or at oneself. So how do we find violence?

Background checks miss violence 75% of the time. For interviews and judgment the figure is 54%, unstructured physical and psychiatric, 51%, and conventional ways combined miss 61% of violence. How can violencethis be if background checks miss 75%, interviews miss only 54%, or exams 51%?

When the current approaches are summed into an average, the combined approach is less than any one single approach. One would be better off tossing a coin than using these conventional ways. Yet 95% of the professionals persist in “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Einstein defined this as insanity.

This fixation with ineffective approaches is costly.  In the United States, work productivity losses due to violence range from $1,000,000 – $5,000,000 per victim, whether it’s homicide, suicide or mass murder. (more…)

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Police Psychology | Thoughts on Fitness for Duty Evaluations

by Elizabeth Thompson, Psy.D.

Thompson & Associates

Guest Blogger

I received a telephone call from a Deputy Chief recently regarding the attempted suicide of an Officer that I had evaluated for Fitness for Duty over a year ago. The Officer had severe PTSD and could never return to work in spite of various interventions. I remember having talked to the Officer when I re-evaluated him after three months of therapy and discussing other options besides police work. He seemed open to the idea of change and realized that his PTSD would make it impossible for him to work as a police Officer. Now, a year later he tried to kill himself. It seems that he was never able to define himself as anything other than a police Officer and couldn’t see a life outside of the Department.

When we do Fitness for Duty Evaluations we make it clear that our client is the Department that hired us and yet we also have an obligation to the Officer whose life and livelihood is in our hands. This creates a dual relationship in spite of our making clear that the Department is our client. After all, we have created a relationship with the Officer because we are assessing that Officer for psychological fitness. In that process, we learn a great deal about the Officer which, in a sense, creates a relationship and perhaps some obligation. (more…)

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POLICE PSYCHOLOGY | FIT TO BE A COP?  HOW MUCH PSYCH TESTING IS ENOUGH?

Laurence Miller, PhD

BALTIMORE (Associated Press) — “A psychological firm paid to evaluate troubled Baltimore police, including a lieutenant charged in the killing of Freddie Gray, is under investigation by the city and has been put on probation by the state police for cutting corners in its mental health screenings of officers. An investigation showed that the company’s psychologists were completing evaluations of officers’ mental stability in 15 minutes instead of the 45 minutes required by the state contract. Experts say 15 minutes is far too short to adequately conduct psychological assessments, either for police applicants or officers seeking to return to active duty.” (http://www.aol.com/article/2015/08/06/psych-firm-that-screens-baltimore-cops-under-review/21219038/?icid=maing-grid7%7Chtmlws-main-bb%7Cdl2%7Csec1_lnk3%26pLid%3D-297775251.)

Reports from my police psychologist colleagues and communications from police officer applicants who feel like they’ve been unfairly bumped from consideration for law enforcement positions suggest that the above story is not an isolated incident. Accordingly, it’s important to appreciate the proper role of psych screenings in the law enforcement hiring process.

Why do a psych screening?

Law enforcement is a high-stress, people-intensive profession. Before a department invests the time and resources in hiring, training, and fielding an officer, it wants to be reasonably sure that officer will be able to perform his or her job, will not pose a risk or danger to the public, and won’t create a liability for the department.

What are they looking for?

Not paragons of mental health, just candidates that are reasonably stable, mature, and responsible. The law enforcement pre-employment psych screening is actually a rather course net designed to catch significant mental disturbance or personality disorder that would be incompatible with the role of a police officer. It is unlikely that an officer candidate with a severe psychotic, mood, personality, or substance abuse disorder would get through this net, but smaller psychological fish, such as erratic mood swings, narcissistic entitlement, under-the-radar alcohol misuse, or extreme prejudicial beliefs, just might wriggle through the meshwork. One common mistake of officer candidates is pretending to be too perfect and then getting bounced for dishonest exaggeration.

What does the exam consist of?

The exact content and procedure of pre-employment screenings can vary widely from agency to agency, but ideally, a competent pre-employment psych screen should contain at least two main elements: (1) a clinical interview; and (2) one or more standardized psychological tests. During the clinical interview, the psychologist asks a range of questions about the candidate’s background, work history, current lifestyle, any symptoms or problems she may be experiencing, and what his expectations are about the job.

A properly conducted law enforcement psychological interview should not feel like an interrogation; in fact, it shouldn’t be any more adversarial than other type of job

interview. The number of psychological tests employed may range from one to a dozen, but typically, between two and four well-standardized measures will be administered. In fact, the typical candidate spends more time hunched over a set of bubble tests with a number-2 pencil in his hand than he spends face-to-face with the psychologist. Another reason for answering questions honestly is that many of these tests have built-in measures for detecting inconsistency and exaggeration.

How are the results determined?

Usually, the examiner will weigh three things: (1) impressions from the clinical interview, (2) the psychometric test results, and (3) the material obtained from a review of the applicant’s past medical, employment, and other records. These factors are then placed into a kind of formula that yields one of several determinations, often expressed in terms of low, medium, or high risk of projected future performance problems on the job. The rationale for these conclusions is provided in the text of a written report that is then sent to the law enforcement agency’s hiring committee for them to consider along with all the other data they use to make the final hiring decision.

Who does these evaluations?

And that’s the crux of the problem. The quality of these assessments is only as good as the training, expertise, and experience of the evaluators. And as the title story indicates, contracts for these services are typically awarded to multi-staffed psychological “assessment centers” (which often do evals for firefighters, paramedics, and other public safety personnel as well as police departments) on a low-bid basis, who then recruit

psychological examiners to work on an independent-contract basis who, in turn, are willing to work on a high-volume, low-fee basis. So now you have the pleasure of knowing that the evaluator who’s making a determinative decision about your entire career got his or her job, not necessarily because of any special credentials or qualifications, but because he or she was the cheapest deal on the block.

Having said that, I know a number of very competent, very professional psychologists who do pre-employment screenings, and usually other types of police psychological work as well. But these are typically independent practitioners, not test-mill employees, and I guarantee they’re not doing their evals in 15 minutes – or even 45 minutes. Realistically, it’s going to take at least a couple of hours to conduct a valid pre-employment psychological screening for any high-level profession, including clinical interview, psych testing, and preparing the report.

Evaluators who cannot competently and ethically offer these services should not be doing this work, and law enforcement agencies who will not pay for valid screenings should not be hiring. The repercussions of sloppy assessments for clinicians is an erosion of trust in the field of psychology on the part of law enforcement personnel. The impact on police agencies may be felt in poorer quality of policing, increased citizen complaints, and higher liability to the department in negligent hiring and retention lawsuits, just one of which can erase the “savings” from retaining a low-bid assessment center many times over. The public expects police to be professionals; police agencies should expect no less from the psychologists who evaluate their personnel.

Laurence Miller, PhD is a clinical, forensic, and police psychologist based in Boca Raton, Florida. He can be reached at docmilphd@aol.com. This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide specific clinical or legal advice.

 

Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D.

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