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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.

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