Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Malingering (Faking) Mental Illness

I recently had a phone conversation with a defense attorney where I had to explain that her client lied to me in my evaluation of him. If I were to testify in his case right now, I would have to say the defendant was malingering mental illness (the DSM-IV-TR definition of malingering is as follows: "Intentionally pretend[ing] to have symptoms of mental or physical illness to achieve financial or other gain or to avoid criminal conviction or unwanted duty. [Individuals] may also malinger to facilitate escape from captivity or incarceration" [quoted directly from the DSM-IV-TR, published by the American Psychiatric Association]).

Testing for malingering is an important aspect of forensic assessment. There is often a huge incentive for a defendant to come across as more mentally ill than he/she actually is. A defendant can potentially receive a shorter sentence or be found not guilty by reason of insanity, for example. Thus, it is crucial for forensic psychologists and psychiatrists to consider the possibility of malingering in just about every evaluation they conduct.

In fact, I am about to leave my office and drive to the Arapahoe County Jail, where I will conduct an evaluation specifically to determine whether or not a defendant is malingering mental illness in order to appear incompetent to proceed with his trial.

Thanks for reading-- Max Wachtel, Ph.D.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Fire Alarm at the Jail

I was at the Denver County Jail yesterday, and the fire alarm sounded right after I checked in to evaluate an inmate. I had just given the deputy my driver's license, cell phone and car keys, and then I was immediately escorted out of the building.

I had no idea if there was an actual fire or how long it would take for me to get my id and car keys back. And, there was no way for me to call anyone to let them know it might be hours before I could leave.

Fortunately, it was a false alarm and we were back in the building after about five minutes.

Thanks for reading-- Max Wachtel, Ph.D.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Fired Because of Facebook?

A Connecticut woman was fired in late 2009 because she posted a disparaging comment about her boss on Facebook. She then traded comments with several fellow employees about her initial post. Her employer then fired her.

The National Labor Relations Board is now suing her employer, arguing that Federal law has held for some time that employees must be protected from reprisal after talking about the workplace on their own time. The woman who was fired was not at work when she posted her comments, and she was using her personal computer.

I suppose the argument for firing her might be that a a few coworkers complaining about their boss at a restaurant is different than creating a permanent, electronic record of such complaints that is accessible to thousands (possibly hundreds of thousands) of people.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out in court.

Thanks for reading-- Max Wachtel, Ph.D.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

New Office Lease

Next week, I will sign a new three-year lease on my current office space. It is hard to believe I have been in the same building for six years already.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Expert Witness Testimony Training

I just attended a great training this morning on expert witness testimony, which included practical examples of what to say/what not to say, and an extensive review of the Colorado rules of evidence and procedure. Some of what I learned was a good review, and some was brand new. It was a great way to spend a Friday morning!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Exciting New Position at the University of Denver

I am excited to announce that I have just accepted a one-year appointment as a faculty lecturer in the Counseling Psychology Program at the University of Denver. I have been teaching for DU since 2001, and for the next year, I will be teaching more classes and taking on some responsibilities of the training director.

I will continue with my private forensic practice as well, which means I am going to be a lot busier over the next school year.

Thanks for reading-- Max Wachtel, Ph.D.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Recent Court Decisions

I have testified three times since I last posted. I testified for the prosecution in two Not Guilty By Reason of Insanity (NGRI) cases. In Colorado, psychologists cannot perform sanity evaluations, but I evaluated the defendants for other reasons and was called to testify in those cases. In both cases, I argued that the defendants were malingering (pretending to have a mental illness in order to avoid criminal prosecution). In the first case, the jury found the defendant NGRI anyway. In the second case, the trial ended in a hung jury.

My third testimony was for the defense in a contested competency hearing. I opined that the defendant was incompetent, and the opposing counsel's psychologist thought he was competent. In that case, the judge ruled that the defendant was incompetent, citing the reasons I outlined in my testimony.

You win some, you lose some, I suppose.

Thanks for reading-- Max Wachtel, Ph.D.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

My Waiting Room Magazine Selection

About two years ago, I started receiving a lot of magazines for my waiting room that I never ordered. At first, I thought I would get two or three promotional issues and then be asked to subscribe. That never happened. I never paid for the magazines, and they never stopped coming to my office. Here is a list of my waiting room offerings (the titles with asterisks are the ones I ordered and pay for):

American Cowboy
Car And Driver
Natural Solutions
*Real Simple
AARP, The Magazine
*The New Yorker
Architectural Digest
National Geographic
The Sporting News
Boy's Life
Men's Health
Road and Track

Thanks to some unknown benefactor, I am willing to bet that I am the psychologist in Denver with the most spectacular array of pre-therapy and pre-assessment reading materials. Nationally, I would put my waiting room magazine selection in the top ten!

Thanks for reading-- Max Wachtel, Ph.D.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Reality Stars Willing to Kill?

Here is a link to a Washington Post article about a French documentary that convinced a number of people they were on a game show. These people then administered what they thought were potentially lethal electrical shocks to "contestants." Of course, the whole thing was a sham, but it highlights what Milgrim discovered in the 1960's: people are willing to engage in some pretty extreme behaviors. And, we already know people will do amazingly stupid things in order to get onto a reality show.

Reality Show Contestants Willing To Kill

Here is a link to some video: Willing To Kill Video

Thanks for reading-- Max Wachtel, Ph.D.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

I Am Spending The Night In Jail

In Mid-April, 2010, the new Denver County Jail will open for business. It is part of the larger justice center that is one block to the west of the City and County Building.

A small group of individuals has been given the opportunity to spend the night in the jail prior to its opening. So, on April 10 around 4:30 P.M., I will get booked in and spend the night in one of the minimum security wings. I believe they will feed me dinner, let me tour the facility, turn the lights off at midnight and offer to provide me with a free jailhouse tattoo (I am not certain about that last one...). With good behavior, I will be released the next morning around 7:00 A.M.

Although a little on the artificial side, I think it will be good to approximate the experience a large majority of my clients have had.

Thanks for reading-- Max Wachtel, Ph.D.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Man Tries To Open Airplain Door While In Flight

Here is a link to a story about the man who tried to open an airplane door mid-flight last week:

Plane Makes Emergency Landing At DIA After Disturbance

The man was released from custody for a medical evaluation. I would love to be able to meet with him and see what was going on.

Thanks for reading-- Max Wachtel, Ph.D.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Innocent Until Proven Guilty?

I had a defendant tell me something interesting today: "In this country, you aren't innocent until proven guilty. You are guilty until proven wealthy."

On a somewhat related note, I have always been bothered by the phrase "innocent until proven guilty." To me, the word "until" makes it sound like a defendant is definitely going to be proven guilty. He/she should only be considered innocent until he/she is proven guilty.

It seems that a more appropriate phrase would be "innocent unless proven guilty."

Thanks for reading-- Max Wachtel, Ph.D.

Back to Jail

I spent yesterday morning in the Denver County Jail, and I am going to be in the Arapahoe County Jail this morning. Such is the life of a forensic psychologist!

Thanks for reading-- Max Wachtel, Ph.D.

Monday, January 4, 2010

2009 Year End Numbers

The official numbers are in:

In 2009, I conducted/supervised 203 evaluations for legal disability, 23 competency evaluations, and 63 court-ordered mental health evaluations for Denver Metro courts.

It was a great, busy 2009, and I am looking forward to another great year!

Thanks for reading-- Max Wachtel, Ph.D.


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