Dr. Sharp: Hello, everyone. Welcome to The Testing Psychologist podcast, the podcast where we talk all about the business and practice of psychological and neuropsychological assessment. I’m your host, Dr. Jeremy Sharp, licensed psychologist, group practice owner, and private practice coach.
All right y’all, welcome back to The Testing Psychologist podcast. Today, my guest is Georgia King. Georgia is one of the leading therapists providing evaluations for immigration legal cases in the US. Over the past decade, she’s provided mental health assessments for hundreds of immigrants from around the world. In 2017, she founded the immigration evaluation training center through which she has taught hundreds of therapists how to provide highly effective immigration evaluations and to create thriving practices.
Georgia regularly appears in court as an expert witness and has been a guest speaker at Georgetown Law School and the Smith College School for Social Work. In addition to teaching therapists through her training program, she currently maintains a private practice in Los Angeles providing individual therapy and immigration evaluations.
So, this is a really fun interview, a really informative interview. Georgia was a very easy guest to talk with, super knowledgeable. We dive into a lot of aspects of immigration evaluations, but we really spend the most time on the business side of things more than anything. So we talk about getting referrals, how to reach out to referral sources, what to say, how to structure your evaluation, how much to charge, all sorts of things. So, if you are thinking about introducing immigration evaluations to your practice, this is a fantastic resource. And as you heard, Georgia does a lot of training around this topic as well if you’d like to dive deeper.
If you’re a beginner practice owner trying to launch a testing practice, I would love to have you consider The Testing [00:02:00] Psychologist Beginner Practice Mastermind group. It’s a group coaching and accountability offering where you join a group of other psychologists and we just help you as you launch your practice. I lead the groups or moderate the groups. They are really fantastic. It’s so cool to see the connections between members and see people hold one another accountable and level up in their practices. If that sounds interesting, you can get more information at thetestingpsychologist.com/beginner and schedule a pre-group call.
All right, let’s get to my interview with Georgia King.
Georgia, welcome to the podcast.
Georgia: Hi Jeremy. It’s great to see you again.
Dr. Sharp: Yeah, you too. I’ve been looking forward to talking with you for a long time now. This is a topic that we visited pretty early in the podcast. And I think the state of affairs has probably shifted quite a bit. I know that you’ve been doing this work for a long time, so I’m really looking forward to everything that you’re going to share with us regarding immigration evaluations. So, thanks for being here.
Georgia: Thank you so much. I’m so glad to be here.
Dr. Sharp: Well, I’ll start off with my standard question here which is, of all the things that you could spend time on in this world, why dedicate your time and energy to immigration evaluations?
Georgia: That’s such a great question. I fell into this work totally by accident. I could’ve really gone my whole career and never even known that this work existed. And that scares me because it really has turned out to be some of the most meaningful and rewarding work that I’ve ever done personally or professionally.
So, I’m just on fire for the work in general. And then by extension, getting the word out to as many therapists as possible because I had no idea this existed. I just happened to have a lawyer ask me for an evaluation for an immigration case. And if that hadn’t happened, I could have just gone my whole career, and it would have been a good career, I had a good private practice going. I was enjoying it.
But this work, it’s life-changing for me, and then I see it for the clients. It’s life-saving and life-changing work. I had no idea that I could do anything like this, make this kind of impact from my living room. I would’ve thought I’d have to travel abroad or join the Peace Corps or something, which I was not in a place to do any of those things. So to be able to have this kind of impact just means the world to me. And I want as many therapists to know about it as possible.
Dr. Sharp: I love that. That is one thing about this work that is maybe the most important thing is that it’s immediately impactful. It’s happening right there. This is a huge part of these folks’ lives and you play a really big role in helping them. So I can totally see that.
I’m curious, when you say that you fell into this and you got that first request for that evaluation, what did you say to yourself and how did you decide to just go for it? And then how did you decide to continue even after that because some of us do one-off things here and there, but it doesn’t necessarily stick? Can you think back to that experience?
Georgia: Yeah, absolutely. I was in private practice. I ended up specializing in teenagers for some reason. I like how they’re so grumpy and they hate you, and then hopefully at some point they start speaking to you and that’s thrilling. So, I loved it. I’d always wanted a private practice. I enjoyed my clients. And then I happened to move into a new office. It was across the hall from these immigration lawyers and one day one of these lawyers asked me for an assessment for one of their cases. I immediately said, no. I was really not interested. I’m very skeptical. My life was challenging enough. I wasn’t really looking for new frontiers of challenge.
I think, honestly, looking back, I was nervous and skeptical. I’d never heard of this. I felt like I probably would have heard about this in grad school if this was a thing. I’ve talked to a lot of therapists, probably I would have heard about this. Thankfully, this lawyer, God bless, was really persistent. He kept, I think you might really like this. These cases are really meaningful. I got to know him. He was super passionate. It took a few months to wear me down before I agreed to like, okay, let me do a little research, find out what you’re even talking about.
I was able to find a little bit of training. It was hard to find much. This is about 10 years ago, in 2012. But once I did make that decision to jump in, because I do like a challenge, even though I was saying I wasn’t looking for a challenge, I do like a challenge. Once I started hearing back that the cases were successful, that was what hooked me. Absolutely, that was what hooked me.
Dr. Sharp: I would think that almost immediate gratification goes a long way. We don’t get that a lot with the evaluations that we’re doing.
Georgia: No. That’s something I think about. As a therapist, I get to see progress, little bits and pieces over time. It’s very slow most times, whereas this, you meet with the client a couple of times, usually, months and months go by, but then you’ll hear back the case was successful. And that’s it. You were part of making that happen.
Dr. Sharp: Yeah, that’s amazing. Well, we’re going to talk all about it and how to make these things happen and build a practice like this. So let’s lay some groundwork. Talk me through the different types of immigration evals. I know that that’s an umbrella term and there might be some specific approaches or types within that, right?
Georgia: Sure. Just to start with the most basic terms here, when you hear the term immigration evaluation, we’re really just talking about a mental health assessment provided for an immigration case. And these cases can look different ways. I’ll describe briefly the two cases, the two kinds that I work on the most frequently.
The first would be an asylum case. And just to walk folks through what the evaluation does, I meet with an asylum seeker. This is someone who’s been through persecution in their home country, but they most often don’t have any physical scars to help prove their case. They most often just have their story of what they’ve been through. Now, as a therapist, we can come in and we can document the invisible scars of PTSD, depression, anxiety, and this helps provide evidence for their case.
So fundamentally, we’re providing evidence for the case for this immigrant. I’ve had so many lawyers over the years say that the evaluation was fundamental to winning the case. It was the only evidence that the person had. So often our assessment is the deal-breaker in the whole thing.
I’ve worked with folks from all over the world who’ve needed asylum. One of my early cases was with a trans gentleman from El Salvador. I’ve worked with someone fleeing political persecution from Iran. I’ve worked with several folks from Iran, folks from Sierra Leone, India, all over. So that’s the first kind of major case that I work on.
Dr. Sharp: Can I ask a really dumb question?
Georgia: Please. I love all kinds of questions. All of them.
Dr. Sharp: Thank you. So why is there a case in the first place? When you’re referencing a case, what is happening? Is the individual being threatened with deportation or something different?
Georgia: Something like that. When someone flees their home country, they come to the US, they need to apply for asylum technically within their first year of arriving here. And people sometimes miss that deadline. Otherwise, they’re here illegally. They don’t have documentation. And they’re at that threat of deportation. So most of the folks that I work at work with are not in deportation proceedings, but they’re trying to get asylum to get on a path to citizenship.
Dr. Sharp: Okay, thanks.
Georgia: Yeah, absolutely. And I’ll just say upfront, I’m not an expert in asylum law or immigration law, I haven’t been to law school, but I do ask a ton of questions. I’ve worked with a lot of lawyers, so I’ve picked up a lot along the way.
Dr. Sharp: Great. No, thanks for diving into that. I just want to make sure that everybody knows the context for how these cases may occur to you.
Georgia: And just to say too to folks that in all the cases that I work with, the client has a lawyer. And so, we don’t really have to be experts. You can learn what you need to know in order to do the assessment and make it most effective as possible, but we don’t have to be experts either. But I’m always glad to share what I can.
Dr. Sharp: Great, thanks. Are you going to dive into the second type of case?
Georgia: Yeah, the second kind of case that I work on really frequently, it’s something called an extreme hardship waiver. Folks may or may not have ever heard of this. At the most basic level, I’m meeting with someone who was actually a US citizen who most often, the cases can look different ways, but most often what it means is I’m meeting with the US citizen who’s married to an undocumented immigrant and they’re trying to keep their family together.
So this means that my clients look in all kinds of ways. I may work with a gay young person from El Salvador, and then the next day I may meet with some white gentlemen from Kansas who’s married to someone who is undocumented. The clients who need these evaluations really have a… there’s a big spectrum in terms of educational background, economics, culture, all of the above.
Dr. Sharp: Sure. I think at least for myself, I’ve erroneously assumed, when I hear immigration evals, it’s a lot of primarily like Latin X individuals or central American folks or something like that, super close, but it sounds like you work with a wide variety of individuals from around the world really it could be.
Georgia: Exactly. And I’m glad you brought that up because I think that there really is only a narrow slice of folks who are portrayed in the media. One of the things that I love about immigration evaluations is that you can work with such a wide variety of individuals and you can find this really meaningful, powerful balance between pro bono work and full fee work. So you can work with folks who fled with just the clothes on their backs, basically. And then you can work with folks who are all over the world.
I routinely work with folks who have advanced degrees and professional careers and can easily pay a full fee all in one session. So you really see, and I’m glad to be able to speak to this because those aren’t folks that you see in the media, you don’t see those sorts of images as much. So, that was something that surprised me and that I’m always glad to talk about.
Dr. Sharp: Sure. That might be a nice segue to flow into the business side of things. I know that this is a big focus of yours. We’ll talk about the clinical side as well, but I do want to really focus on business and how we might actually get some of these evals into our practices.
Where would you like to start? I could start any number of places, but I’m curious for you where you think it’s important to start on the business side?
Georgia: Sure. The thing that I tend to focus on first is just my experience doing the work. My referrals, 99% of the time they’re coming from immigration lawyers. So part of how this works as a business model is, you only need a few lawyers who like your work to really have as many referrals as you want to be working on.
This is where I find it very different than when I was only meeting with teenagers doing one-on-one therapy work in private practice where I was always kind of like, well, where’s my next referral coming from? Maybe here and there I’d have a psychiatrist or a school that would refer to me, but it felt like I was always pounding the pavement in a way. That’s not the case with this. You really just need a few lawyers who like your work for them to send you as many referrals as you want. And so, you might do one a month or I know therapists who do several each month. You really get to call the shots.
This works in terms of a business model as well because the clients that are coming to you by definition have access to some means. They have the ability to hire an immigration lawyer, for instance. So it self-selects folks who have some resources or have family members who have resources. And then this is relevant as far as how you can balance this in your private practice.
Dr. Sharp: Yeah, of course. I’m glad you addressed that. That is a misconception I think that I’ve certainly heard and felt a little bit that, is there money to be made in this variety of practice for better, for worse? I mean, we have to make money in our practices. So that’s a consideration
Georgia: I’m with you. And this can be one of these topics that we dance around, or it can be, did we talk about it or not? I think most of us are drawn to the work. We have a good heart and you want to make an impact. And there are just the realities of student loans and making a living and you’re making ends meet. And that’s something that I have found this avenue with private practice work, it just opens up new levels of financial stability, financial freedom.
In my training center, as I get to support folks who are just starting out, I get to see them leaving jobs that are less than ideal or reorienting their private practice so that they can have more flexibility and do work that’s meaningful, but also allows them to make a good living for themselves and for their families.
Dr. Sharp: Yeah, that’s great. Best of both worlds.
Dr. Sharp: Well, let’s talk about the referral. So it sounds like you were lucky or fortunate or something in the beginning when you got approached by this immigration attorney. Where did it go from there? And or, you have a choice here, how would someone connect with these attorneys if they weren’t approached?
Georgia: Sure. Yes, I feel very fortunate. I don’t know how life unfolds as it does, but I feel very grateful that I ended up across the hall from these lawyers. I just jumped in with my first case and then just started doing more and more cases with them. At that point, I was in the DC, Maryland area.
When I moved to Los Angeles, which is where I am now, I picked up from scratch a little bit as far as lawyers. I tried a few different methods to contact them. I tried sending out hard copies of flyers and sample assessments. I didn’t hear much back. I’ve found it most successful to use email to just send out emails to lawyers.
There are a couple of good sites. There’s a site called Avvo that has different reviews for lawyers. You can find some in your area. If anyone who’s listening is interested in this, you can always go to a site like Avvo to just get a sense of how many lawyers are in your state. These assessments are needed all across the country. Lawyers in every state all across the country are looking for therapists to provide these evaluations. You can get a sense of a little bit of what the need might be in your area.
Dr. Sharp: Great. And just getting really detailed here. What do you say in that email that you send to the attorneys?
Georgia: I’ve tried different methods over time. What I do at this point is I give them a little bit of a shorthand synopsis of the kinds of things that I cover in the cases that I work on. And so, just to encourage your listeners, if you’re interested in moving forward with this, whether you train with me or with someone else, train with somebody for many different reasons, but it’s going to give you a really good foundation to do the assessments. It’s also going to give you an edge when it comes to marketing to lawyers because once you do a training, you have the insights scoop about how the cases work. And you can let the lawyer know that in your email.
So for instance, I mentioned a minute ago, there’s a one-year filing deadline for asylum cases. That’s a random detail that just a general therapist off the street probably doesn’t know about. But it’s something that it’s so important that you know about if you do these assessments, because if someone missed that one-year filing deadline, then we can talk about any psychological reasons that may have contributed to them missing that deadline.
That’s just one tiny example. So when you do a training, you’ll know things like that, and then you can mention it in your email. It sets you apart from therapists who might be trying to do this work who haven’t done training. You can let lawyers know that you know the inside scoop. You can tailor your assessments to the case. It’s going to make the assessment that much more powerful and make their jobs even easier.
Dr. Sharp: I like that. Yeah, there’s gotta be some special knowledge, I guess, almost like a secret code or something that you can share with these attorneys to let them know that you do know what you’re talking about.
Georgia: Yeah, exactly. And that’s something I want to emphasize too to therapists listening. You have the skillset. You know how to conduct assessments for mental health symptoms. All you need is some training and guidance to tailor those skills to the needs of immigration cases. I always want to stress that to folks. I think that people end up being surprised by how accessible the work is, how easy it is. You’re sitting on this skill set. You have the superpower and you just need a little guidance in what the framework is for this particular niche. That’s it.
Dr. Sharp: Yeah. I know this is a little bit out of order, but I think it’s a nice place maybe to interject a little bit of clinical information. So when you say we already have the skillset, can you talk a bit just about what goes into these evaluations that we’re even doing that is easy to jump into?
Georgia: Absolutely. One of the things I really like about this niche work is that you are your own boss and you can conduct the assessment the way that you want to do it. There are no official guidelines or regulations for these. There’s no overseeing board or committee to look at what goes into an evaluation or not.
Sometimes that makes me a little crazy because it means there’s not much in the way of quality control and anyone can submit anything. Any therapist can submit something and call it. So I’m sure you run into this too in all kinds of different contexts. That side of it, sometimes it makes me a little crazy, but on the other side, it means that you can use whatever tests or self-assessment scales you prefer. The only guidance is that therapists conduct the assessment and keep with their training and experience. So masters-level therapists can do these as well as certainly, as those who have doctorate degrees. You can conduct it the way that you want.
In the training that I offer, I share with folks the self-assessment scales that I use that I’ve found the most useful over time. Generally, therapists are going to do clinical interviewing as far as getting the history and learning about symptoms, and then it’s up to the therapist or psychologist, what they want to do beyond that.
Dr. Sharp: Got you. I’ve spoken with a few folks over the years who do immigration evaluations when I’m in my consulting and whatnot, and it seems like there is a variety. I mean, there’s always that general framework of interview, assessment, report, but within that, there’s a fair amount of variety is in terms of which measures people pick or how they’re doing. Well, we can get into all sorts of data, you know, are they doing any cognitive testing or not? Or is it just PR anyway. There’s, there’s a lot of flexibility, I suppose.
Georgia Yes. Absolutely.
Dr. Sharp: Nice. Anything else on the clinical side that is worth mentioning before we jump back to the business component?
Georgia: This is just a slight departure from the clinical part of it, but it’s related, a common question that I get from therapists who are learning about this work is the question, do I have to go to court? And so that’s something I wanted to just mention while I’m thinking of it because the answer is no, you do not have to go to court.
My work primarily is meeting with the client a couple of times during the write-up. That’s the focus. Most of the cases that I work on don’t even have a court component. I mentioned the extreme hardship waivers. There’s no court component. Those are just filed administratively. That court component does not exist. For asylum cases, there is a court component, but you’re never mandated. There’s no subpoena process. A therapist never has to do the court thing.
So if anyone’s listening and they know that they don’t have the time or bandwidth or desire to do court, that’s fine. You don’t have to. I’ve worked on over a hundred cases over the years and I’ve been to court just a handful of times. It’s just a small part of what I’ve done.
I definitely support therapists who want to do court. You can go as an expert witness. It’s really powerful work. I love slash/ hate it but love it enough that I do it. It’s a stretch a little bit. I’m kind of shy. But it’s amazingly powerful. That being said, if my life doesn’t ever have the time for it, I just let a client know up front that I don’t have the ability to do that. And that’s fine. Most times they’ll work with you anyway. If they have any hesitation, they can always work with a different therapist who can go to court, but just to encourage folks, if that’s not your cup of tea, that’s fine. You don’t have to do that.
Dr. Sharp: That is good to know. I don’t know that I would’ve even asked that question. So I’m glad that you specified.
And just in case people are super interested in being a good forensic therapist or go to court kind of therapists, I did an interview with Nicole Stoller Peterson a few months ago, back in the catalog. We’ll link to that in show notes, just in case, but good to know that that is not a huge component of these immigration evaluations.
Jumping back to the business side of things, we’re talking about networking and it seems like you’re really focusing your efforts on these attorneys. Is that fair? Are you trying to get referrals from anywhere else or is it really attorneys more than anything?
Georgia: It’s been so interesting for me to witness other therapists and how they go about this. I’d say a lot that I know really focus networking efforts on attorneys. And for myself, I don’t really want to work with a client who doesn’t have either an attorney or at least has consulted with legal services.
Generally speaking, I don’t want to go out on any ledges. I’m not trained in law. I want to be sure that the client has a good case and I want to be sure that I’m providing what they need. For myself, I’m always careful to make sure that the client also has an attorney.
So for me, this model works really well, but I do know therapists who focus in the opposite way and focus directly on marketing to immigrants. I’ve seen that look really successful as well. I’ve also recently talked to therapists who, and this is exciting to me, they’ll connect with a nonprofit who offers that offers low fee or pro bono legal services and provide evals for that nonprofit and the funding comes through the nonprofit. So that’s a really exciting model.
If anyone’s listening and wants to look into that, I’ve heard, especially good things about cities that have been designated as sanctuary cities. There tends to be more funding. Yeah, that makes sense. I know someone who connected with a nonprofit, made an arrangement to do 10 evaluations for them over the coming year at a 10% reduction in fee or something like that. So there are some really cool models of how to structure this. You can approach it from a few different ways.
Dr. Sharp: Nice. Well, it’s like you’re reading my mind with these questions. I was going to ask next how do you set this up in terms of finances and billing? So anything that you’d be willing to share in that regard would be great, especially I’m curious, does insurance ever cover these, or is it all private pay or through a contract? So maybe we start there and see where that takes us.
Georgia: Sure. Those are great questions. Generally speaking, it’s going to be private pay. The client pays you directly. It’s always better to keep money separate. So they’ll pay their lawyers separately, then they’ll pay you separately. Very occasionally I’ll hear of someone being able to get a little bit of reimbursement from insurance, but it’s very rare that I’ve heard of.
And then therapist’s charge, there’s a range as far as what they might charge for an assessment. Most that I hear over in around the $1000 range for evaluation, maybe between $800 and $1100, something like that. And again, I’ll have some clients where they can pay that easily upfront. I had a recent client who is from India. She has an MBA. I work with all kinds of folks. And then I’d say more of the folks that I work with find it manageable with a payment plan. So I’ll do three payments over time, take credit cards, stuff like that. So those are ways to make it accessible.
Dr. Sharp: That’s great. And I assume if you’re doing payment plans, is it a setup where it’s the first installment is due at the interview and then the last one is a month later or when the feedback is done? Actually, that’s a good question. Are you doing a feedback session or are you just writing the letter and writing up the results and sending it to the attorney?
Georgia: Yeah. Therapists do it in all kinds of ways. Myself, I always do two meetings with the client. So I’ll go to meetings with the client. I’ve at times done it in just one, but I really like having that second session. I find that it just goes a lot deeper. People can tell their stories in a deeper way. We just get at more of the heart of the material. And then after I do the write-up, I’ll send a copy to the lawyer and send the copy to the client and get their input afterward.
With payment plans, generally, someone will pay you the first payment in the first session. And then ideally, it’s nice if they can do the second payment a few weeks later before you hand over the report. That being said, I’ve also extended it out of a couple of months as well when that’s been really needed.
A question I do get from therapists sometimes is, do you have trouble getting paid basically? Honestly, I don’t run into the same issues with payments that I have at times in other areas of private practice work. Honestly, there’s so much on the line for folks. They’re really wanting you to be happy and the lawyer to be happy. They really want everybody on their team to be working for them. And so, I think there’s a different kind of motivation to just have everything in good standing.
Dr. Sharp: Yeah, that does make sense, actually. Nice. I appreciate you talking through that. Since a lot of these are private pay or all of them are private pay, it sounds like, I know you mentioned doing some contract work or the possibility of getting a contract with a nonprofit or something like that. Is there, as far as you can tell, any need for pro bono services in this area, or have you run into folks who incorporate that into their practices at all?
Georgia: Yeah, absolutely. And that’s something that is always in my mind. I see therapists balancing how to do pro bono work with folks who could never afford a full fee referral and balancing that with folks who can. I think it’s unique that in this niche of work, you have the opportunity to work with such a range of clients who have different educational and cultural backgrounds and financial backgrounds. So it really lends itself to that in a different way.
Dr. Sharp: Yeah. I think a lot of us wrestle with the private pay versus insurance or pro bono. It’s nice to talk through that and just hear different rationales for how to approach it.
I like the idea. This is a very valuable service for someone, and just like needing an attorney throughout this process is necessary, the evaluation is a necessary part of the process as well. And that we have the ability to really help and make a huge difference. So it’s okay to charge for those services.
Dr. Sharp: Let’s see. What else? I’m curious, looking back, you’ve been doing this for a while, I’m curious what you maybe would have done differently, or if we were to say mistakes that you maybe have made over the course of the 10 years that you’ve been doing this. Anything comes to mind right away?
Georgia: What comes to my head is, and this wasn’t, I don’t know if I would determine a mistake exactly. I mentioned this earlier. When I look back, I was so hesitant to launch into this work. I really very nearly just said, no, thanks. I don’t know what you’re talking about.
For me personally, I think looking back I was a bit intimidated by lawyers, I think. I was newer in my career. I didn’t run in circles that included, I don’t know, they felt very professional and intimidating. Their suits were too nice and I just denied no, it was not part of my world. And so when I look back, I can just see like, oh my gosh, I hesitated for a while with that.
As I mentioned before, I think I had this notion that if this was a real thing, I would have surely heard about it by now. Like surely this would have been something. And so, I feel like I’m now coming through all these experiences wanting to let people know this is legit amazing work. Pay attention if this is something that calls to you, take moves on it, move forward with it, because it has the potential to change your life. And then for you to do life-changing work for so many people.
I love the variety that it adds to my practice just as I am thinking of that because I love doing therapy work, doing assessments as part of that work, but with this like I mentioned earlier, an early client I had was this trans guy from El Salvador. And this was someone who had been kidnapped and assaulted by a police officer. He described just the violence towards trans people in his community. It’s just another level. Not that we have everything figured out in our country as far as trans rights and trans people are certainly killed here, but in getting to know him and his story, it was just clear that he’s able to access a level of safety and human rights in a way here that he absolutely couldn’t in El Salvador. That was the one that I was able to go to court with. So, I was there when he found out that he was granted asylum and that he can stay and live here. And that moment is just unbelievable. That’s what has me hooked. Absolutely.
Dr. Sharp: Yeah. How powerful. That’s an incredible moment and something to be a part of with your clients. My gosh, I appreciate you talking through all of this and as you’re sharing, it is very compelling to think about making such a meaningful difference in these individuals’ lives.
I do have maybe one more question before we start to wrap up. You’ve been doing this for a while and you have seen, I would imagine some ebbs and flows. And so I’m curious, you might see where I’m going with this and I’m hesitant to. It’s a can of worms, but has the demand for immigration evaluations changed with the political climate at all over the years?
Georgia: That’s an interesting question. Yeah, there have definitely been different ebbs and flows. It doesn’t always match up the way that I might imagine, depending on the administration, there have been these really good changes more recently where more folks are eligible to apply for asylum. These are specifically folks who are fleeing life-threatening domestic violence and folks who are fleeing gang violence. Those were categories that were included for asylum seekers for a long, long time. And then, with the last administration, those were curtailed for a while. And then more recently that’s been opened up again.
So that’s been a really exciting development. I’ve worked on so many cases over the years where somebody was fleeing just life-threatening domestic violence where there was no way that they could be safe in their home country and similarly, with folks fleeing gang violence. I had one early case. This young man who was really focused on school, really studious. He was also El Salvador. One day he just was riding his moped down a country lane, and he happened to see gang members loading a dead body into a car, and his whole life changed. That was it. And he was no longer free and safe to live in his community.
So there are folks who desperately need safety because of those kinds of circumstances. And it’s been really exciting to be able to work on these kinds of cases again, more recently.
Dr. Sharp: Sure, I appreciate you diving into that a little bit. I lied. I do have one more question.
Georgia: I love it. Please.
Dr. Sharp: I just keep thinking. My question is, as you described these services, and of course, the way I have heard them described from others too is that we are largely advocates for these clients. I’m curious. Does it ever shake out where you are not recommending whatever is in the client’s favor? Do you see what I’m asking?
Georgia: That’s a great question.
Dr. Sharp: How do you maintain objectivity, I suppose, is another version of this question?
Georgia: Absolutely, because there are things like malingering to look out for. It’s complex. A couple of thoughts come to my mind. One is, this word you just used, objectivity, that that’s essential. There is a way where we are advocating, but on the flip side, our job is to come in as an objective assessor in this situation. This is something I talk about a good bit in the training that I do.
I do some amount of screening of clients. There are cases that I’ve turned down from the beginning because they just didn’t add up. There were too many twists and turns and things that didn’t add up to me. So that’s something that I’ve learned over the years to kind of keep an eye out for any red flags from the beginning.
There are a number of different aspects that I’m looking for in terms of malingering. I know there are certainly a lot of different tests that different therapists might do along those lines. One thing that I’m always looking at, especially when it’s a case that focuses on trauma, I’m always looking at the level of emotional complexity, because there’s certainly. So often when it’s the…
I’ve read this interesting study recently that was talking about trends to look for in terms of malingering when it comes to trauma history. One being, if someone’s malingering, they more often are telling their story in a way where they’re the hero of it, which I think is fascinating because then you can think about all the people you’ve sat with who described their trauma history with this mix of shame and embarrassment and ambivalence. I’ve met with so many folks who…
One thing that I’m looking for in terms of authenticity is, so often when there’s the legit trauma history, they don’t want to talk about it. And it’s those levels of emotional nuance that become more and more difficult to research and fabricate when you think about someone doing this. So there’ve been 1 or 2 instances over the years where there’s been a bit of a flag for me, but by and large, it’s been overwhelming the amount of authenticity that I hear in these stories. It’s pretty unbelievable.
I think your question is really good. And certainly, in my paperwork, I have written out very clearly what my policy is, that if I do think that someone is malingering, then I give them the option of canceling the report. And in which case they would just pay for whatever time we’ve spent in the sessions. Not something I’ve had come up much, but it is something that I look out for. And I do as I mentioned before, I’ve turned down certain cases when I do the initial call with the client and it doesn’t add up.
One thing that’s really great as you go along is you get to know certain lawyers, and a good lawyer is going to help with this issue tremendously because there are so many legit cases they don’t need to stretch and take cases that don’t add up or where someone doesn’t have a good case or might not be telling the truth. So that’s also a great way to minimize this kind of issue in your practice.
Dr. Sharp: I see. Yeah, that’s a good reminder. I forget that the attorney is probably more involved in those processes than we are. So you do have a colleague in a way in this.
Georgia: Yes. And I like that part of it. That’s been a real joy for me, getting to know immigration attorneys, getting to see what they do. They do this, I think amazing crisis work that they don’t have enough training and trauma to do for their own health benefits sometimes. I’ll just see them really run ragged. I’ve been surprised though, just like the different lawyers I’ve met over the years and I just value those relationships so much, those conversations and relationships.
Dr. Sharp: Oh, I’m sure. Yeah. It’s so nice to find folks in other disciplines that we can collaborate with. And it’s nice to just have support in this work that we do.
Georgia: That’s right. Absolutely.
Dr. Sharp: So as we start to wrap up, I know you have mentioned the training that you do a few times, and I would love to share that with folks. Can you say a little bit more about what this training looks like, and if people are interested, how they would reach out for that?
Georgia: Absolutely. I designed the training to offer all the support that I wished that I had had when I was starting out 10 years ago. I love it. I love being in a role now to offer support to therapists who are starting out. So I give them the templates that I’ve developed over the years. I’ve created these very detailed templates that do so much of the work for us at this point. It just walks you through the questions, makes it easy, it gives you the tools to really jump right in.
I’m a really practical person. So I designed the training to give the tools, not only the clinical tools but also, more of these marketing strategies that I’ve learned and that I keep learning. So someone can hit the ground running. They can get referrals right away and jump in.
I also over the last year, especially, I’ve done a lot to develop support for therapists as they’re going along. So I have a monthly consult Group over zoom that I do. We have a Facebook group where folks are really active. I love this because 10 years ago it was hard to find other therapists doing this. Now, it’s super easy. You can ask your questions. You’ve always got people in your corner. You don’t have to be alone with us. I love helping folks develop their confidence as they’re going along. So you can find out more information on my website. It’s just therapistimmigrationtraining.com.
Dr. Sharp: Very descriptive. Great URL choice.
Georgia: Thank you. It covers all the bases. I do live training a few times a year. And then folks can either come to those or they can start any time they want by doing a recording of a recent training that I’ve done.
Dr. Sharp: Oh, that’s great. Well, I’ll definitely put that and everything else will be mentioned in the show notes for people to check it out. I appreciate you coming on and talking through this and sharing some of the businessy side of this type of practice. I feel like people have so many questions about that and you’ve clearly crafted a model that works for you. That’s great for you to be able to share that. So, thanks. I really enjoyed our time here, Georgia.
Georgia: Thank you so much. It’s my pleasure. I love the work that you do. It’s such a pleasure to connect with you and be part of what you’re doing. And then just to speak about this work that’s so close to my heart, so thanks for the opportunity.
Dr. Sharp: Absolutely. Take care.
Georgia: You too.
Dr. Sharp: Okay. Thanks so much for listening. I really appreciate you taking the time to tune in here and check out another. I hope you liked that one. As always, you can comment on the episode webpage or in The Testing Psychologist Community when the podcast is posted there.
Like I said at the beginning, if you’d like to join a mastermind group, a group coaching experience, and you’re launching your practice, I would love to have you. You can schedule a pre-group call and get more info at thetestingpsychologist.com/beginner.
Okay. That’s it for today. I will catch you next time.
The information contained in this podcast and on The Testing Psychologist website is intended for informational and educational purposes only. Nothing in this podcast or on the website is intended to be a substitute for professional, psychological, psychiatric, or medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.
Please note that no doctor-patient relationship is formed here. And similarly, no supervisory or consultative relationship is formed between the host or guests of this podcast and listeners of this podcast. If you need the qualified advice of any mental health practitioner or medical provider, please seek one in your area. Similarly, if you need supervision on clinical matters, please find a supervisor with expertise that fits your needs.