Today, I’m talking with Dr. Michelle Casarella, all about pre-employment evaluations for law enforcement personnel. This is a great episode and Michelle delivers tons of useful information in this interview. So I’m excited to get to that.
Let me tell you a little bit about her and then we will jump to the interview.
Michelle got her PsyD in clinical psychology from Alliant University back in 2015. Since then, she has worked as a psychologist with the New York City Police Department or the NYPD, where she provided training and supervision to other psychologists, delivered emergency interventions, completed risk assessments, did forensic reports, provided expert witness testimony, and very similar to what she’s talking to us about, she conducted many pre-employment evaluations for NYPD personnel.[00:01:00] After going into private practice nearly a year ago, Michelle continues to consult with the NYPD on their pre-employment evaluations. She is now, like I said, in private practice where she specializes in pretty much any forensic-related evaluation. She does a lot of pre-employment evaluations. She does immigration evaluations, substance use evaluations, and continues to serve as an expert witness in many capacities.
Michelle is also a supervisor and provides supervision to other psychologists looking to offer these services. She is active in the Society for Personality Assessment and will be at that conference here in about a month presenting on some of the topics that we talk about today. So stick around. This is a great interview. I learned a lot as always. Michelle provided us with tons of great information.
Before we jump to the interview, I just want to give a [00:02:00] little shout-out/reminder about the Advanced Practice Mastermind group. I have tons of calls scheduled for people who want to get into this group. So if you have an interest in the group, this is a mastermind group specifically for folks with practices with over $75,000 in annual revenue. This is the group for folks who have the clinical part dialed in, you’ve got a successful practice but now we’re thinking about hiring, big ideas, expanding, and anything beyond that basic level of starting and building and practice.
There are six spots and thus far we have about at least three of them filled. If you want to jump in, go to thetestingpsychologist.com/advanced and schedule a call to chat with me about whether it’d be a good fit.
All right, without further ado, here is Dr. Michelle Casarella.
Hey everyone, welcome back to another episode of The Testing Psychologist podcast. I am Dr. Jeremy Sharp. Like you heard in the introduction, I am so excited to be here today with Dr. Michelle Casarella. Michelle, like you heard, is a licensed psychologist and forensic consultant to the NYPD. She’s in private practice in Westchester County in New York, about an hour north of the city.
She’s going to be talking with us today all about lots of evaluations: law enforcement evaluations, pre-employment evaluations, fitness for duty evaluations, I know she also does other evaluations too, immigration evaluations, and things like that but we’re going to focus on the law enforcement side today. This is [00:04:00] really exciting. We haven’t had this topic on the podcast before, and I’m excited to have Michelle here with us.
Dr. Michelle: I am super excited to be here, Jeremy. Thank you for having me.
Dr. Sharp: Of course. I have to ask. How’s the weather in New York today?
Dr. Michelle: Oh, the weather is freezing. Well, I guess, I don’t know, compared to somewhere like Wisconsin or somewhere else, it’s not that bad, but it’s about 25°F and chilly. So I am totally looking forward to the summer.
Dr. Sharp: Oh my gosh. I don’t think you’re alone. It seems like it’s particularly brutal.
Dr. Michelle: It feels like a very long winter. I don’t know about that groundhog and his shadow, but it’s not happening.
Dr. Sharp: Right. Yeah, you’re not alone. Oh my gosh. I’m just counting the days.
Dr. Michelle: Yes.
Dr. Sharp: Thanks so much for coming on and talking with us today. I’d love to jump right into it because I’m just honestly personally curious about a lot of these evaluations. They’re not something that we really do in our practice [00:05:00] and I don’t have a ton of personal experience with them, and I know that other folks are probably similar. I wonder if we could talk a little about yourself and your training and what you’re doing day to day and we’ll just take it from there.
Dr. Michelle: Yeah, absolutely. I got my doctorate degree in clinical psychology from the California School of Professional Psychology, and I graduated in May 2015. That training program emphasized assessment, which is something that I’ve expressed to you before is something I’m really passionate about. It’s a specialty of psychologists. A lot of clinicians with all different backgrounds can do therapy, they can do counseling but only a psychologist can do testing. So I really appreciated that the training program emphasized assessment.
I fell in love with my assessment classes. I also had a professor there, shout-out to Matthew Baity. [00:06:00] Dr. Baity really honed in on that part of me that loved assessment and he was a mentor to me. Sometimes I’ll have students or people who are interested in psychology and they’ll ask me for advice about things, and one of the things I always mention is that I believe having a mentor is invaluable. And so he was my mentor. He took me to conferences and helped me to get practicum sites and externships that had at least some degree of testing or assessment in there. And so I was super grateful for that.
And so then I went on to do my internship. My internship was a hybrid of a community mental health center and a forensic hospital. That was super unique and interesting because I got to do a lot of evaluations for people who might not be competent to stand trial or had been found not guilty by reason [00:07:00] of insanity and then they were placed under a psychiatric commitment.
I went on to do that and then my postdoc was at the New York City Police Department, at the NYPD. I stayed on at the NYPD for a while after my postdoc. Basically, what I do for them are, like you mentioned, pre-employment evaluations. And those are for different types of law enforcement personnel.
So those are for people like police officers. In New York City, they have security guards in the schools. So they’re called School Safety Agents. We also do them for the 911 operators. And then they have a whole separate squad of people who are not police officers, they’re what they call traffic agents, but basically their job, not surprisingly, is to direct traffic but also to hand out parking tickets, so you can imagine that they’re pretty hated by the majority of [00:08:00] citizens in New York.
So I do evaluations for them. And then also part of my role at the NYPD included being on call after hours and answering emergency types of phone calls.
Dr. Sharp: Got you. So you’re really steeped in the law enforcement world for quite a while.
Dr. Michelle: Yeah, exactly. I worked for the NYPD for about three years full time. And then life happened. I had a baby and my husband and I bought a house. So at that point, my commute was over an hour and a half, probably like 1 hour, 45 minutes each way. I had a newborn baby. So when my maternity leave came to an end, I took a long hard look at my life and what I wanted it to be like, it definitely didn’t include that commute because as everybody [00:09:00] in New York knows, if you are commuting by subway at some point during your commute, you’re encountered by urine, whether that’s the smell of urine or the sight of it or something, so it was not super appealing.
Besides that, I had a baby, and time just all of a sudden became so much more valuable. I took a long hard look at what I wanted my life to be like. I started looking for jobs and there was just really nothing that I found appealing or that would be worthwhile in terms of what I would be taking home and what I’d have to pay for childcare. And so I decided to open a private practice.
And so in the summer of 2018, I opened a private practice. My day-to-day stuff is doing mostly forensic evaluations. I’m doing a lot of immigration evaluations. I’m doing [00:10:00] some law enforcement evaluations. I’m also still working per diem for the NYPD doing evaluations, the same types of evaluations for them as well. I’m also doing some supervision for psychologists who want to get more into the law enforcement evaluation fields and some personality testing and competency evaluations.
Dr. Sharp: Got you. So you have your hands on a few different things right now in practice.
Dr. Michelle: Right. If you’re doing this type of work, forensic work, or this contract-based work, I think that that’s the way to make sure that you have your practice full.
Dr. Sharp: Sure. We’ve talked about immigration evaluations before, and there’s a lot of discussion around that in the Facebook group. So, I know there’s a big need for that. We can certainly talk more about that but we’re really trying to zero in on more of the law enforcement [00:11:00] evaluations and forensic evaluations.
Dr. Michelle: Absolutely.
Dr. Sharp: I’m curious how you got interested in that niche within the field of evaluation in particular. Why law enforcement?
Dr. Michelle: When I graduated, I was looking for a postdoc and I was not willing to travel anywhere too far. At that point, I wasn’t living as far as where I’m living right now in the suburbs.
I had always been interested in this job at the NYPD, first and foremost, because I had always been interested in assessment. And like I said before, that was something I had a background in training and actually somebody who I did an externship with, so when I was on externship, they were on internship, he had gone over to the NYPD. I had reached out to him and said I’m interested in this job, can you [00:12:00] hook me up and he did and the rest of history.
But like I said, I was super interested in assessment. There were not that many postdocs offered an assessment. And I really wanted to be able to get that experience. I also liked the idea of working with police officers or within a police department. I have a very direct and straightforward personality. I like working with regular people and I don’t know anybody who’s more of a regular guy than the cop. So that idea always appealed to me.
Dr. Sharp: Sure. That totally makes sense. I’m just thinking back, I interviewed Dr. Brenna Tindall here. It was almost a year ago, probably at this point, and she’s very similar. I said on the podcast, you have a certain personality that I don’t know that other people have. She is very much in that law enforcement realm and the [00:13:00] criminal evaluations and maybe there’s something to be said for that type of personality.
Dr. Michelle: I definitely think so. I remember listening to that podcast and thinking, oh, she sounds like me. This is something I would say or how I would react. So, for sure. I think you need some degree of that kind of personality to do forensic type of work in general.
Dr. Sharp: Got you. I guess I was assuming maybe wrongly that maybe there are family members in the law enforcement or military or something like that, I don’t know, like some personal connection but no, it’s just being drawn to that.
Dr. Michelle: Yeah. Like I said, I think it’s first and foremost, the assessment piece. And then there was a limited number of opportunities that I have in terms of assessment because the position was only for assessment. There was no therapy. And that’s something that you have to want that to have to say, okay, I’m not going to do any kind of therapy.
Dr. Sharp: Yeah, it’s such a good point. I feel like that’s hard for a lot of us to give up because you’re a [00:14:00] psychologist, you do therapy. That’s what we do. So to know that so early in your career that, hey, this is just not my deal. It’s pretty rare.
Wow. Gosh, where do we start with this? Could you talk about terminology a little bit because even as we get started, I’m like, I’m not even sure what to call these and how to ask these questions? What are the different types of evaluations that you’re doing and what’s the right terminology to use here?
Dr. Michelle: So the majority of the work that I do for the NYPD are what’s called pre-employment evaluations or pre-employment assessments. But if you can categorize it by you’re assessing a person before they get on the job and after they get on the job. So before they get on the job, it’s a pre-employment evaluation and then after, it would be along the lines of a fitness for duty evaluation.[00:15:00] On the pre-employment side, a candidate comes in for their evaluation, and the final determination is that they’re either suitable or not suitable, or what we say qualified, not qualified for whatever position they’re applying for. And then in certain jurisdictions, definitely in New York City, there is an appeals process if you are what we say proposed to be not qualified or disqualified.
And so there would be a separate evaluation that somebody would have to go through if they were appealing that and saying, okay, look, I do think I am qualified. I want another go at the evaluation. So those are separate types of evaluations.
Dr. Sharp: Okay. Got you. So we got pre-employment and fitness for duty. Are there any others that…?
Dr. Michelle: No, and then just those others, we would just refer them as an appeal evaluation or an appeal interview [00:16:00] for the people that are seeking to overturn their disqualification.
Dr. Sharp: Okay. Got you.
Dr. Michelle: And then in terms of lingo, then there’s a whole cop lingo that I won’t even get into that because that’s a whole another thing. But even just me saying like on the job, that’s something that is very police department type of lingo. So that’s just something that get used to as you get more into the culture.
Dr. Sharp: I was jumping around or maybe just jumping right into it right off the bat, but did you find that it was hard to break into that culture? I would imagine there’s a certain amount of maybe suspicion or guardedness from an outside evaluator in this process.
Dr. Michelle: I think in general, any type of forensic evaluation you’re doing, there always is this degree of, there’s a malingering and the suspicion that’s always [00:17:00] happening or a theme throughout the evaluation. I think what’s different with the pre-employment evaluation which is the majority of the work that I was and have been doing for the NYPD, for those evaluations, somebody is seeking a job. And so they’re, for the most part, going to try to present to be on their “best behavior.”
And so they have to wait for the appointment. They’re certainly not going to give you attitude or be annoyed for it, or at least they shouldn’t if they want a job. So that’s very different than the fitness for duty part that’s taken care of by a whole another section of psychologists. The way that the NYPD has it set up is that there’s a whole section of psychologists that do the pre-employment and then there’s a whole section of psychologists that do the fitness for duty.
And so with the fitness for duty, it’s a different setup and a different feeling because, at that point, they’re already on the [00:18:00] job. For the most part, they have job security. They know that telling you certain things might hinder that. As well, they also realize that at the end of the day, that they are not your clients, that the police department is your client.
I think it’s another thing that is important to be aware of and remember that you can still build rapport and you can still complete your evaluation, but again, at the end of the day, the person sitting in front of you is not your client. At times it is difficult to establish rapport but that’s why I feel like having a certain kind of personality or just being a genuine person, I think that goes a really long way, not having that typical lay down on the couch psychologist stance, blank stare thing going on.
I think being a real person and being genuine really goes a long way with these types of [00:19:00] evaluations.
Dr. Sharp: Yeah. And so for you, does that mean being a little more direct or being willing to use more informal language or get in?
Dr. Michelle: Absolutely. I’m usually direct, to begin with. That was a nice transition for me. But in general, for maybe somebody who’s not, definitely using regular language, you’re not giving them acronyms like EMDR and all that other kind of stuff. You’re just explaining things in regular words, using regular language, just being a regular person and relating to them.
Dr. Sharp: Yeah, that totally makes sense. I can see that just seems and again, I’m making a lot of assumptions here, but it seems like police officers and firemen and military, it’s like you can’t be this distant doctor kind of person. [00:20:00] Get in there and be real.
Dr. Michelle: Yeah. Just like with other populations, I think that it’s important to, if you haven’t been there or you haven’t been through what they’ve been through to not pretend that you have, because being a police officer comes with its own set of challenges and demands. I’ve never been a police officer. I don’t have any family that is either. And so to not present myself as saying like, oh, I know what you’re going through or I get what you do day to day because the truth is that you don’t.
I think that goes the same way for any other type of population. If somebody is a trauma survivor or whatever the case is, to have empathy and to support them but not to say, I understand what you’re going through if you don’t.
Dr. Sharp: Got it. Yeah, that totally makes sense but it’s tempting. I’m sure it’s tempting to build rapport. [00:21:00] Maybe let’s back up and just talk about some nuts and bolts here. Let’s start with pre-employment evaluations. Walk me through that process from getting the referral to what do you do next? Where do we go from here?
Dr. Michelle: I think maybe starting off by talking about referrals and that marketing piece will be helpful first. And then I can explain the process of doing it because, so first and foremost, for the referral part, if you’re working for a police department, you don’t need to market yourself. You don’t need to get referrals. This is just your job. And so some people might go about it in the way that I did at first which is to become an employee, a regular W2 employee, where you’re working for a major police department.
Majority of police departments do not have in-house psychologists. There’s not a need for it. There’s not a demand for it. Usually, it’s only [00:22:00] major cities so obviously New York City has one. I believe major cities like Miami and Los Angeles also have in-house psychologists for their department. But for the most part, this is contract-based work. So if you’re living outside of these areas like a smaller city or town or county, whatever the case is, you’re going to have to get contracts for this type of work.
And so when I stopped working for the NYPD full-time and started my own private practice, what I quickly realized is that contracts are given out and generally renewed. And it’s just like anything else, if a department is working with a psychologist and they like their work and they do a good job, they’re going to continue to renew those contracts. And so what I figured out was that it was so much easier to reach out to the psychologist and the companies that have the contracts rather than to try to go in and win [00:23:00] the contract myself.
Dr. Sharp: That’s interesting.
Dr. Michelle: What I found to be helpful was to find these psychologists in these companies. I basically just did it using Google. I would put in a keyword and whatever location I’m in. For me, it’s Westchester County. So I would put in keywords along the lines of psychological screening for law enforcement candidates in Westchester, New York, or police psychologists, public safety psychologists in Westchester, New York, or whatever location anybody is in.
I was able to find about a handful of psychologists who have contracts with multiple police departments. It’s like they have a monopoly with certain police departments. I was able to reach out to them and set up something with them as opposed to, here I am just [00:24:00] starting out and all of the work that goes into getting the contracts. It was so much easier to just reach out to them and be a subcontractor or a 1099 contractor for them as opposed to trying to “steal their contract”.
Dr. Sharp: That makes sense. And so did that work? Do these other psychologists have business to pass along to you?
Dr. Michelle: Yeah, they did. It’s definitely a lot less stressful in the sense of, I don’t need to go out there and market myself. I’m just saying, okay, this is the service that I provide. They send me the referral and it’s done that way.
Dr. Sharp: Okay. Got you. That’s interesting. I know this is getting into the nuts and bolts a little bit, but did you do that via email and if so, what did you say or was it a phone call to these psychologists or how did that work?
Dr. Michelle: The majority of them, I sent an email first to introduce [00:25:00] myself, and then a lot of them didn’t answer right away. And so I then waited two weeks and sent another email and then some of them would say, oh, sorry, we’re busy. In my head I’m like, I really want to be busy. So this is great. Some of them didn’t respond at all. And then some of them did. And then followed up with a phone call. Sometimes my CV. Spoke to them and did it in that sense.
I kept the email very brief because like I would imagine and like they actually said to me, they’re super busy and so they don’t have time to read a whole big paragraph about your experience and what you do and all this kind of stuff and how interested you are. It’s just getting to the point. So I literally just introduced myself, said I’m a licensed psychologist. I have experience with law enforcement evaluations. Are you interested in talking about some kind of contract work? And that was [00:26:00] pretty much it.
Some of them I did call because they’re, either the email address, it bounced back, or whatever the case was but I definitely started out with email first. It definitely felt safer and more comfortable for me. And then also just being more convenient in general, I think for everybody.
Dr. Sharp: Yes. That makes sense. And then that worked. That’s great.
Dr. Michelle: Yeah. So that works. And then another way to get referrals into marketing is definitely to be a part of your Facebook Community. I was actually speaking with Dr. Baron Crespo. He had posted some information asking people to send their CVS and a copy of their license for some pre-employment evaluations for the FBI that he’s navigating all of that. I spoke with him and he said that he’d [00:27:00] be happy to have me. Let that be known on the podcast as well that that’s something else. People can email him if they want some more information. I can give you that email address. You could put that in the show notes, I assume, as well as mine, if people have questions about this process and all of that.
Dr. Sharp: Sure. So you made contact with him through our Facebook group?
Dr. Michelle: Yeah. He is part of the Testing Psychologist Community, just like I am. He actually posted maybe about a week or two ago. He had actually posted that he has some contract or communication with the FBI doing pre-employment evaluations and they’re looking for people basically in certain cities all across the country. And then I just messaged him and we were speaking and he was happy to have that be known for the community.
So I think that another part of the referral and marketing piece is to be [00:28:00] active in Facebook groups and other types of social media communications or in things like your local or state psychological association. Sometimes there’s a lot of information that you can get from them that you might not be aware of.
Dr. Sharp: Sure. That’s great. Would you say that most of your referrals at this point are coming from this subcontract from the police psychologists you connected?
Dr. Michelle: Right. I just recently connected with Dr. Crespo. That’s something that’s really new. Oh, another kind of referral source, and this is along the same lines of reaching out to people is going to workshops and conferences and things. And so I had actually met a psychologist who works for the FAA, the Federal Aviation Administration. His name is Dr. Chris Front.
He does a workshop at the Society for [00:29:00] Personality Assessment Conference, which is coming up in March that I’m actually going to be doing a workshop there as well. But he does a workshop there for people who are interested in becoming contractors to evaluate air traffic controllers. So that’s another public safety position.
Dr. Sharp: Right. Yeah, I know that comes up here and there in the Facebook group. That’s great. Now let’s just say you’ve gotten these referrals, you’ve connected with maybe other psychologists in some form or fashion. Then what happens? Who calls you? Is it the police officer? Is it the department? What happens next?
Dr. Michelle: Once you get the referral, it depends on the agency. Most agencies will well, and when I say agency, I’m referring to the contractor. The person who has actually gotten the contract and then they’re subcontracting it out to me. [00:30:00] Usually they have some administrative staff that will schedule the evaluation. And so typically I’ll say to them, okay, this is the dates and times that I have available. The admin person over there will then take that and schedule accordingly.
I usually try to have that be the one day that I batch that where that one day is, I’m only doing that so that I don’t have to say them, okay, I’m available Tuesday at 5 o’clock but then I’m available Monday at 1:00 o’clock, just saying, okay, I’m available all day, Monday. Send who you’d like to send. That’s the way that I’ve been doing it. Obviously, if you work for a police department as a W-2 employee, they’re just scheduling that for you. I don’t know if perhaps there are other agencies who you have to do that admin part of that as well.[00:31:00] Dr. Sharp: Sure. Well, I want to highlight that idea of batching. We talk about that a lot and just to say, that works here too. Try to batch your days and set your schedule according to what works for you.
Dr. Michelle: Absolutely. I think it makes it easier just for schedule-wise and then also for the whole shifting set piece where you’re not doing one thing and then your brain is scrambled, okay, I have to do this completely different task as well.
Dr. Sharp: Right. Yeah, that totally makes sense. Okay. So the officer themselves, they are not contacting you as is what I’m hearing. It’s mainly the agency that’s setting it up for them.
Dr. Michelle: Right. That’s been my experience.
Dr. Sharp: Okay. Got you. So then is it interview time or is there an interview or what happens?
Dr. Michelle: Yeah, that’s something super important is to have a face-to-face interview. Part of the evaluation you’re administering the actual battery, the [00:32:00] actual tests, and then you’re doing a pretty extensive clinical interview. In terms of the battery, is that okay to go into that part?
Dr. Sharp: Yeah. Let’s dive into the assessment process. Interview, battery, what’s it look like?
Dr. Michelle: Okay. In terms of the battery, there are some agencies or psychologists, if you’re contracting for them, they will set the battery and they will say, we want you to use this test and we’re going to supply you with all of the costs that are associated with that. And then others, that’s going to be something that you have to eat. You’ll have to budget for that in terms of when you negotiate with them for what kind of contract you’re going to be negotiating with them.
What I have done is typically [00:33:00] what I was trained under, which is to use some type of self-report personality/risk measure. It’s best to use a measure that has police or public safety norms, just like if you’re working with any other population, you’d want to use norms based on that population. So the MMPI-2-RF is something that is the gold standard.
The MMPI-2-RF has law enforcement norms. So that’s super important. And so they’re taking that. Another inventory specific for public safety or police evaluations is called the CPI, the California Psychological Inventory. The MMPI has more of that personality piece. And the CPI, it also has personality features, but it’s more of a risk measure because at the end of the [00:34:00] day, these evaluations are essentially risk assessments. You’re basically answering the question, is this person too risky to be a police officer or is this person too risky to be an air traffic controller or whatever the title is?
So the CPI really goes through that pretty well. And like I said, it has the norms for police officers and public safety service positions. It literally gives you a risk rating; high, medium or low risk. It’s going to literally tell you if there’s somebody who’s poorly suited for this position, if they are likely to be involuntary separated from the position, and their level of risk overall. So those are generally the measures.
Dr. Sharp: Do you give both of those?
Dr. Michelle: Yes.
Dr. Sharp: Okay. This is where [00:35:00] I’m at risk of asking some ridiculous, silly questions, but I do not do the MMPI-2-RF ever really. Are there other considerations for a personality measure in this situation or is that the main choice?
Dr. Michelle: Yeah, I think you can use any self-report personality measure that has some law enforcement norms. The MMPI-2-RF is just the gold standard in terms of the norms. I’m not aware if another self-report measure has the law enforcement norms. And so that’s what I’ve defaulted to because that’s what I was trained under. And it has the norms.
Dr. Sharp: Got you. That makes sense. The MMPI doesn’t give that risk rating necessarily. That’s the CPI territory.
Dr. Michelle: Right. The CPI does that. I look at the MMPI as the personality piece. That’s equally as important but then the CPI is more of that risk piece and [00:36:00] specifically your risk related to or the candidates risk related to law enforcement type of work. It is a very specific and unique type of work, especially when you’re working in a major city like New York.
Dr. Sharp: Yeah, of course. So are you doing the personality measures after the interview or before?
Dr. Michelle: The way that I was trained and that I have it set up is that the assessment is done first, and then I’m reviewing the assessment results before I do the interview so I can get a sense of what the testing is saying and what I want to hone in on at the actual interview.
Dr. Sharp: That makes sense to me. We for a little while had a contract, that’s totally different but sort of similar, we had a contract with a local church to evaluate their potential missionaries, I guess, for lack of a better word, in terms of their [00:37:00] ability to go live overseas and stress and things like that. Anyway, that’s the way that we ended up doing it. It was doing the personality measures first so that then you could circle back during the interview and clarify some of those questions because some of those questions are ambiguous and you got to dig in and see what people actually meant or how they interpreted them.
Dr. Michelle: Exactly. That’s also an important piece in terms of the cultural and linguistic standpoint, because some of the critical items that will pop up when you hone in on the MMPI are, some of the terminology is either out of date or if somebody who is from a different cultural or linguistic background, they might have meant something else. And so we always would like to, okay, when you answered this question, what did you mean by that? And that’s always helpful.
Dr. Sharp: Right. Are there any concerns about the reading level of the MMPI? Do folks have to be above [00:38:00] a certain reading level or?
Dr. Michelle: I’m not exactly sure, but I believe it’s a 4th-grade reading level. For the most part, that’s not generally an issue. I think the bigger issue that comes up is the terminology that’s used. If you are somebody who speaks English as a second language or you’re from a different cultural background, you may have interpreted in a different kind of way. So it’s important and helpful to just clarify some of those critical items sometimes.
Dr. Sharp: Yeah. I know just from talking with you that that’s a subspecialty of yours as well. You also conduct evaluations in Spanish, right?
Dr. Michelle: Right.
Dr. Sharp: I appreciate you mentioning that and just know that that’s an important piece.
Dr. Michelle: Absolutely. Yeah.
Dr. Sharp: Cool. So you’ve got your personality measure, you review it while they’re still there, and then you do the interviews, it’s all on the same day?
Dr. Michelle: It definitely depends on how many interviews you have; how many people are coming. Some [00:39:00] agencies will set it up where they’ll do a group administration of the testing. So there’s a bunch of people in a room and they’re handing out the protocols and the booklets. 20, 30, 40, whatever amount of people are sitting in a room, all the candidates taking the test at once, and then they’re getting scored and then sent to us or to the psychologist in a packet with the results in it. That’s again, the idea of batch testing. They’re doing that in one day and they’re coming back for an interview on another day.
Dr. Sharp: Okay. Got you.
Dr. Michelle: The interview is probably the most important piece of the whole evaluation. Obviously, it’s really important to have a face-to-face interview. This is not the kind of thing you can do remotely or through any other [00:40:00] medium other than actually face-to-face. Part of that is because you want to get a sense of their interactional style. In addition to asking them questions, you want to see how are they in the room. What is your sense of them? Obviously, you’re not going to make a decision just based on that but as a psychologist, it helps to put everything together.
Dr. Sharp: That makes sense. Before we totally dive into that, that feels super important, could you backtrack a little bit and just talk about maybe what scales or aspects of the MMPI you might pay attention to as you’re…
Dr. Michelle: In this kind of population, impression management, malingering, whatever you want to call it, that’s always going to be an issue. People are trying to get a job and they want to look good. So you’re always looking at their “L” scale. Some psychologists or some [00:41:00] agencies have a cutoff where they’ll say, okay, this is just too elevated and it’s an invalid protocol.
I definitely see that point. I also tend to look at it as there’s still some value of it. Of course, if it’s ridiculously high, then it’s going to be invalid. But there’s still going to be stuff that you can glean out of the report and the evaluation, in general, but you’re always going to expect that “L” to be elevated. It’s always going to be clinically elevated. It is what it is. This is just the type of population that you’re dealing with. So definitely looking at the “L” but taking into consideration that it will for sure be higher than you expect or want it to be.
The second validity scale that I’m looking at is the K scale. I’m always interested if that K is pretty low. Somebody who has [00:42:00] a pretty low K scale, like a 55 or something around that point, you’re really looking at their psychological resources and their stress tolerance ability, because that is something that is crucial to the type of work that they would be doing.
And so if stress tolerance is an issue, so that’s something where I’m getting the testing packet, I’m looking at it, for example, I’m seeing a low K scale around like a 55, that kind of range, now I’m saying to myself, okay, I’m going to be looking in the interview for stress tolerance, either evidence of good stress tolerance or evidence of poor stress tolerance, whatever way it ends up going that helps me to direct my questions and skip over things that might not be necessary and honing on things that are necessary because another part of these evaluations is you’re under a time constraint.[00:43:00] This isn’t like a private pay free for all. You can just do a bunch of tests. You have to get to the point. That helps me zone in on that. And then in terms of the clinical scales, all the clinical scales are important. For this type of work, I think elevations on 3 and 4, which are cynicism and antisocial behavior, antisocial personality, whatever the terminology is, that’s super important because you don’t want somebody who has the authority and independence that a police officer does to score super high on that antisocial piece or that cynicism piece. Maybe they’ve been on the job for 20 years and they can be cynical but you don’t want them going in with that type of disposition.
Dr. Sharp: Sure. Do you give any specific malingering measure like the TOMM or [00:44:00] the MSVT or anything?
Dr. Michelle: I don’t and that wasn’t the way that I was trained. The malingering measure that I use, it’s not even a measure, it’s just myself is just how they relate in the room. A lot of times, you’ll get some information from the department as to their background or question that they’ve answered to their background investigator and you can compare those two and you can point out discrepancies.
Usually, when people are telling the truth, their narrative will mostly make sense, and they can have a fairly consistent narrative. It’s when they don’t that that’s when it comes up as an issue. That’s a good point to give a malingering measure but I wasn’t trained like that. And it seems like another thing to have to add when there’s such a time constraint as well.
Dr. Sharp: [00:45:00] Got you. Sure. That makes sense. Well, maybe that’s a nice segue to that interview portion. And like you were saying, how someone is behaving in the room or relating. I guess there’s the actual content piece. What are you asking and what information are you gathering? But then, how are you gauging the relationship as well?
Dr. Michelle: Exactly. And that all comes together to, just like any other evaluation, you’re not making a decision or giving a diagnosis or anything like that based on one elevated clinical scale or based on the MMPI-2-RF by itself. You’re taking the testing, you’re taking the interview, like you said, the content piece, and then the whole process interactional style piece. And then you’re coming out with a final determination.
That’s actually one thing that I want to point out is that with these evaluations, you’re not giving somebody a diagnosis. That’s not the purpose of it. The purpose is to answer the question, [00:46:00] are they or are they not suitable for the position that they’re applying for?
Dr. Sharp: Got you. Sure. That’s an important distinction for a lot of us.
Dr. Michelle: Right, because that’s something that you’re doing in other types of testing is for the most part, a diagnosis is coming out of it, or at least an explanation of what’s going on here. That’s really not what you’re looking to do.
Dr. Sharp: Yeah. Sure. How long are those interviews, typically?
Dr. Michelle: Typically, I would say about an hour.
Dr. Sharp: Yeah. And do you ever interview collateral family members or siblings? I don’t know.
Dr. Michelle: No to family members or siblings but there is collateral contact in two other types of ways. The first is through their background investigator. Just a little context of what that means, when you get hired by a police department, you have to go through different types of [00:47:00] evaluations. The psychological one is one part of it but then you’re going through other parts of it. You have to pass a medical exam. You have to pass a physical fitness exam.
Then you also have to pass a background investigation, which is basically somebody doing just that, they’re looking into your background, have you been arrested before? Have family members arrested you? Do you live with people who are felons? All sorts of information about your background. They also look into your social media use, the types of things that you’re posting, and only if it’s some kind of concern to them, not you’re just like cats or something. I don’t know.
Dr. Sharp: I don’t know, that says a lot about somebody’s personality.
Dr. Michelle: Yeah, that’s the whole thing. Clearly, I’m a dog person. They’re looking all into your background. Some agencies also administer a polygraph, and some [00:48:00] agencies also, and when I say agency, I’m talking about police departments. Some police departments also administer a polygraph, and then some of them also do a scenario type of interview, like, okay, if you were in this situation and you got a call for a domestic dispute, what would you do? They give you scenarios and that sort of thing.
Dr. Sharp: Got you. Do you have access to all that information?
Dr. Michelle: You do at times. Generally, the background investigator will give you some kind of information about what they’ve gathered from their investigation and that’s always helpful to compare what they’re saying to you. So if you’re asking them about their substance use and they’re giving you these answers and then the background investigator asked them and they’re giving different answers, that’s a helpful tool to compare and contrast that.
And that’s what I was referring to as that malingering type of measure. It’s not [00:49:00] a measure but just something that is used. And then the other way that you can get collateral information is through records. What I mean by records is if you feel that it is relevant to the determination of whether they’re psychologically suitable or not, you can ask the candidate to provide you with records.
Some agencies allow for this and some agencies don’t. Now when I’m saying agencies, I’m referring to either the contractor that you’re working for or the department itself. So if it’s allowed and you feel it’s relevant, I’ve always found it useful to ask for different types of records. For example, if somebody says that they failed a polygraph exam for another police department, I would ask the candidate to provide me with those polygraph records to see what the specific issue was.
Dr. Sharp: Okay. [00:50:00] Got you. Goodness. There’s a lot to gather and synthesize it sounds like in a relatively short period of time with…
Dr. Michelle: Right. And that’s why I was saying before that the test results help to navigate the interview because you don’t have a ton of time.
Dr. Sharp: Yeah. Maybe that brings us to, how do you actually make that determination? That seems like a really big deal to be able to say, yes, someone’s qualified, or no, they’re not. Is it like a structured rubric or is it gut feeling? How is this?
Dr. Michelle: I definitely like to say that it is mostly based on literature and structure and a little bit of gut as well because that’s part of what we do as psychologists, the whole nuance piece, that we can understand [00:51:00] nuances of personality in addition to all the scientific and structured piece to it. Basically, in the interview and I have a template that I’ve created over the years that helps me determine what direction I’m going to go in and what are things I’m always asking no matter what.
When people come to me for supervision, when they’re learning this type of work, that’s something I share with them and it’s helpful to have a basis for what you’re looking for. So basically you’re doing a semi-structured clinical interview. You’re always asking certain things and then you are sometimes going into more detail in other domains. You’re always asking the candidate about their work history, their school history, and their legal history.
You’re always asking about their psychological history, trauma history or background, and their alcohol or substance use as well. [00:52:00] And then in more nuanced ways, you’re always trying to look for any kind of issues of bias, because for the most part with bias, if you’re asking somebody that question outright, they’re not going to admit to it. And so it’s helpful to do that in a more nuanced or non-confrontational type of way, I think.
Basically you’re looking for patterns and behavior like any other risk assessment. The mantra that we use is “the best indicator of future behavior is past behavior”. And so that’s how we’re approaching this type of risk assessment. You’re definitely looking for patterns and behavior. You’re putting together all of the collateral information that you’ve been able to obtain. And then you’re looking for certain personality features or ways in which they function that is either desirable as a candidate for law enforcement or not.
Dr. Sharp: [00:53:00] And can you name any of those just off the top of your head?
Dr. Michelle: Yeah, sure. Another part of these evaluations is that the people who do them, myself included, we’re so much better at saying who would not make a good candidate rather than saying who would make a good candidate. It’s always going to sound on the not good candidate side even though, maybe that sounds a little bit negative but that’s just the way that these evaluations are conducted.
Not to say that we go into it looking to disqualify somebody because you definitely don’t. It’s just that in terms of the research and the experience, it’s much easier to say who would not make a good candidate than who would say who would. I should say to identify the specific areas that would make them more desirable, let’s say.
In terms of what is not so helpful are things like [00:54:00] impulsiveness, having really low-stress tolerance levels, being very aggressive, disregarding the law in general, having issues with being honest and integrity in general, having issues with substance use and then also different types of psychological issues.
The reason I mentioned that is because one of the baseline or minimum requirements that is set forth for these evaluations, and this is something that has been established by the IACP, the International Association of the Chiefs of Police, they have set the guidelines of these types of evaluations. If anybody is interested in learning more about them, they can google that acronym IACP and pre-employment evaluations.[00:55:00] There’s a whole list and guidelines of what these evaluations, the ethics of it, what they should look like, all those different things. One of the stipulations that they have set forth is that you’d be free of any type of psychological issue that would hinder your ability to perform the duties required of you in this position. So as a police officer, if that’s going to impact your ability to respond to things like domestic violence calls or sexual assault calls or things like that.
And that’s not to say that if you’ve ever been to a therapist or if you’ve ever had some kind of trauma in your background that you get disqualified. That’s not true but it’s just so that the psychologist can evaluate that in a little bit more detail to understand what that looks like for the candidate.
Dr. Sharp: Okay. I was going to ask that, is it possible to maybe have some of those things in certain circumstances. Are there any [00:56:00] deal breakers if you run across with someone […]?
Dr. Michelle: I don’t know, if you’ve been arrested for murder, maybe something like that. If you have some serious background legal issues, then I would say probably but that’s probably going to be more of a disqualification at that background investigation level as opposed to the psychological piece of it, if that makes sense.
Dr. Sharp: Yeah, for sure. That does make sense.
Dr. Michelle: But there’s no cut and dry. Okay, you’ve done this or this has happened and you are disqualified. I think there might be for some psychologists but as far as the way that I was trained, the people that I know that do this work and the way that I operate is, you’re really evaluating each individual person and their unique circumstances.
Dr. Sharp: Got you. That’s fair. Goodness, it just seems like such a [00:57:00] heavy decision.
Dr. Michelle: Yeah. Because like we were saying before about the time constraint is you’re making these important decisions and you’re doing it within a short time frame. And that’s why I think in the beginning if you’re just starting out with all of this, it’s really important to get supervision around all of this because that’s, I started doing this as a postdoc and I got a ton of supervision from a supervisor at the NYPD who was fantastic. She took me under her wing and mentored me.
Part of what she did was help me to understand how you balance the needs of the agency and balance the fact that you’re a psychologist and you have ethics and you have a real person sitting in front of you.
Dr. Sharp: Yes. After you do the interview and you get the personality data and anything else you might gather, then I’m assuming you write a report.
Dr. Michelle: Right.[00:58:00]Dr. Sharp: Do you do feedback with the police officer candidate or is it all delivered to the agency?
Dr. Michelle: Yeah, there’s no feedback. I definitely don’t want to tell somebody if I’ve disqualified them. I don’t want them knowing that. There’s no direct feedback. In the end, you are making a recommendation. At the end of the day, that’s all that it is, is a recommendation to the agency about whether or not they should hire this person and then they take the responsibility of hiring them or not.
There is also that, a little bit more of a comfort I think, in the liability piece. Obviously, it’s your license and you have to make ethical decisions. But at the end of the day, they are taking your recommendation on whether or not they should hire them because they’re the ones offering the employment contract or whatever you call it.
Dr. Sharp: Right. Sure. So how long do those reports end up being?
Dr. Michelle: The reports are different based on whether it’s a qualifying report [00:59:00] or a disqualifying report because when there’s a disqualifying report, at times it can be appealed. And so you want to be able to have enough of your point across in that report so that if it was appealed, that all of your concerns were fleshed out. If it’s a qualifying report, it can be as short as a long paragraph.
If it’s a disqualifying report, it could be pages and pages, but I would say that in terms of the time constraints and all that, that you’re probably looking at around a two-page report. And so these are definitely much shorter than a typical type of report that you would think of in terms of personality assessment. Definitely, you need to be concise in these reports. You need to get to your point very quickly. It’s different in the sense of you are always tying it back to [01:00:00] the job.
So with the disqualifying report, you’re focusing on the issues or domains, categories that are risky. So you’re always tying it back to, okay, this is the issue I’m concerned about. I’m concerned about this person’s aggressiveness and here’s why being aggressive is problematic for being a police officer. You’re always tying it back to the job that they’re doing, because at the end of the day, your point is to answer the referral question essentially is, is this person suitable or not suitable? Are they too risky to be in this position?
And so you’re always referring back to, okay, I have this concern with aggressiveness, for example, and this is why being aggressive is not the best personality trait for being a police officer. And then with the qualifying report, if any concerns did come up in the interview or through [01:01:00] the evaluation process, you’re noting those concerns, and then you are talking about how you resolved it.
For example, if in the room with you, the person presents as anxious but there’s no evidence of any kind of psychological issue or them having any anxiety at work or at school, you can resolve it in a way of, it appears to be situational anxiety, that there’s no evidence of it would impact their ability to perform their duties. Something along those lines.
Dr. Sharp: Sure. Got you. All told, how much time are you spending on these evaluations from start to finish?
Dr. Michelle: Well, I don’t factor in the actual administration of the test because that’s done separately, of the personality and the risk assessment. So it differs depending on the candidate. I would say, in total, you are spending between an hour to two [01:02:00] hours on everything. Again, that’s depending on the candidate and what their issues are and all of that.
Dr. Sharp: Got you. Yeah, that’s interesting. So it’s definitely possible to do a good number of these.
Dr. Michelle: Yeah, because departments need to hire police officers at certain time periods, so it seems to be more of a feast or famine sort of thing where they might send a bunch of referrals and then it slows down depending on when they’re looking to hire people.
Dr. Sharp: Got you. Well, most police departments have classes of cadets, right? Or I guess, does this happen before they even go to the academy? That would make sense.
Dr. Michelle: They’ll have classes of people in the police academy.Right.
Dr. Sharp: Well, gosh, let’s see. I don’t know, [01:03:00] what do you feel like is some of the challenges of doing this kind of evaluation? What’s hard about it? Where do you get tripped up?
Dr. Michelle: I think in general, one hard part of this is if you are somebody who is coming from either or entirely or mostly therapy background, it’s difficult to shift into this role because you’re under time constraints. For the most part in therapy, you’re taking what your client says at face value, and here you’re really doing a little bit more digging and not necessarily just always believing the first thing that they say, that really looking for evidence to support that.
If somebody says like, I’m a great employee, but they’ve been fired from every job they’ve ever had, that’s not really good evidence to support their point. But if that was a person in therapy, you would just be supportive and trying to work through and figure out [01:04:00] what’s going on there. I think that is definitely a challenging part for people who come from that background.
Another challenging part, and for me in particular, I think is a piece about ethics. In a forensic role, there’s different things to consider, mainly that the police department or the hiring agency or the person that you’re doing the contract work for, that’s the client, not the person sitting in front of you. You still are bound to ethics and you’re still a psychologist.
And so the agency has needs where they need to hire a certain amount of people, but you are also a psychologist and you are bound to a code of ethics. And you are also somebody who has more of that need to understand a person better than just saying, okay, you’re just a number to an agency, that sort of thing. [01:05:00] I definitely think those are the two pieces that are probably the most challenging.
And then the other part is, in the beginning it was difficult to get into that swing of things of the time constraints. Okay, I need to get this done in a certain amount of time. And that’s where I think that the whole, which is something that I will never forget, my dissertation chair always said this to me that done is better than perfect. And that’s the way that I operate with these evaluations is that I’m doing a thorough assessment but it’s never going to be perfect and that just has to be good enough.
You could spend hours and days looking into people’s background and interviewing them and all of that but at the end of the day, you have to make a decision in a relatively short period of time.
Dr. Sharp: Right. That makes sense. Yeah, I think that’d be hard. I’m just [01:06:00] wrapping my brain around that because we’re so used to the word free for all private pay evaluations, which is funny. I laughed at that because that is, a lot of us do, I guess, more comprehensive evaluations with kids or adults, and this is a different little mental exercise to pull on together quickly, which is good.
I’m curious, it sounds like you had a pretty straightforward training process with this, that you got into it early and you just stuck with it through internship and postdoc and your career. What if someone is coming to this later down the road and wants to break into this world, where would someone go for training or learning? How do you go about that?
Dr. Michelle: Right. Like if they’re basically just starting out?
Dr. Sharp: Yeah.
Dr. Michelle: I think there’s two ways to go about it. The first is that if you work for a police department as a W-2 employee, they’re going [01:07:00] to provide you with supervision and training, which is what I got from the NYPD. But if you are not, and you want to just do this as contract work, I would say just like anything else, you are getting training and supervision.
The first thing I do when I want to learn something is I just google it. So first thing you can do is google the pre-employment evaluations and get into that and familiarize yourself with that. The IACP, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, those guidelines that talk in-depth about what the evaluations should look like. You can always read articles. You can certainly go to trainings.
I am doing a workshop at the Society for Personality Assessment Conference that’s in New Orleans at the end of March. It’s March 24th, I believe. And so you can come to workshops like that and get training. I also [01:08:00] do supervision with some psychologists that are looking to branch into this. And so I help them with their template that they’re using to conduct the interviews. I’m helping them with making decisions on cases or just offering the knowledge and experience that I’ve had.
I also think that you can go to other types of training and workshops. I mentioned the one that Dr. Chris Front does for the FAA, that’s also at the Society for Personality Assessment Conference. Just like anything else, you start off with training and then you move on to supervision, and then eventually you go on to occasional consultation and then you’re doing it on your own.
Dr. Sharp: Sure. That sounds good. So you would say it is doable. Someone doesn’t have to necessarily take that very early and straightforward path, that you think it’s possible to break into this world later in a practice?
Dr. Michelle: I definitely think it’s possible. I think that the [01:09:00] thing to remember with this is that you’re not going to make your entire unless you are one of those people who have those contracts where you have a bunch of different police departments that you are doing assessments for, I don’t think it’s something that will fill up an entire practice. That’s not the way that I’ve approached it, and it just doesn’t seem sustainable. It’s more of if you’re looking for either extra contract track work, or if you do what I do, which is different slices of a big pie.
Dr. Sharp: Mm-hmm. Yeah, that makes sense. Very cool. Any other resources, books that have been super helpful? Websites that we haven’t mentioned yet. Anything else to throw out there that I can put in the show notes for folks who might be interested?
Dr. Michelle: I think definitely what I was mentioning before about Dr. Chris Front and then Dr. Baron Crespo, that definitely can be information to put in there. And then also if you want to know more about the MMPI-2- RF, [01:10:00] anything by Dr. Ben Porath, he’s the person to read about that. Also Dr. David Corey, he actually came to the NYPD a few times to do training. He’s pretty a countrywide-known police psychologist. He does a lot of trainings and things of that nature. The Society for Personality Assessment, getting information on that. Also that IACP, putting up their information and guidelines, that’s also helpful as well.
Dr. Sharp: Cool. If people want to get in touch with you to ask questions or anything, what’s the best way to do that?
Dr. Michelle: That’s definitely usually through email. My email is email@example.com. We’ll put all that spelling in the show notes, and also on my website at expertforensicpsych.com. If they want to [01:11:00] come to the workshop, they can go to the website of the Society for Personality Assessment. I believe it’s personality.org. They can check that out there.
Dr. Sharp: Okay. That sounds good. Any parting words before I let you go and we wrap up here? This has been chock-full of information.
Dr. Michelle: Yeah, I would say that I know I said a lot of things. You used a lot of terms but it’s just like anything else. I remember even when I was getting into the immigration evaluations, I listened to Cecilia who was on your podcast, and I was overwhelmed the first time that I listened to it. I would say, listen to it again, you can always reach out to me. I’m happy to answer questions that people might have or get involved in the Facebook group, and post questions there. Basically, anything new always seems overwhelming and now it just seems like second nature like anything else.
Dr. Sharp: Mm-hmm. That’s great. Well, I’m really thankful for your time. [01:12:00] It was great to chat with you. I feel like, man, as always, I’ve learned a lot and you clearly have a good handle on what you’re doing here. I just appreciate you were willing to share all of that with us.
Dr. Michelle: Yeah, absolutely. It was great.
Dr. Sharp: Cool. Alright, well hopefully our paths will cross again and I’ll put all those things in the show notes and look forward to talking to you again soon, Michelle.
Dr. Michelle: Sounds good.
Dr. Sharp: All right, y’all. Thanks again for listening to this interview with Dr. Michelle Casarella. Like I said, tons of good information. Like most of our podcasts, I’ve just been so fortunate to have some fantastic guests but I feel like Michelle really walked us through that process, and I will be taking away a lot of information from this interview, so hope you will too.
Before I let you go, one more reminder about that Advanced Practice Mastermind group. This group will be starting relatively soon. If you have any interest in jumping in, please go to thetestingpsychologist.com/advanced [01:13:00] and you can schedule a call to figure out if the group would be a good fit for you. This is basically a group coaching experience for folks with pretty advanced practices who are really looking for that next big thing in their practice; hiring, growing, expanding, buying a building, generating income with passive means. Check that out if you are interested. We’d love to have you but the spots are filling up quick.
All right, I think that’s it for this week, y’all. Have some great interviews coming up. I hope everyone is doing well. I will continue to look forward to talking to y’all in the Facebook group and elsewhere. If you’re not a member of the Facebook group, you can check that out. It’s The Testing Psychologist community on Facebook. We have about 2,500 psychologists in there now who are just throwing information around like crazy. And there’s a ton of support on both business and clinical components. So check that out if you [01:14:00] haven’t joined us yet.
All right, take care and we’ll talk to you next time. Bye-bye.