by Jack Singer, Ph.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
Much of the world is riveted on the Jodi Arias murder trial, where a “hired gun” psychologist just testified that she has symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), allegedly “caused” by her brutal murder of Travis Alexander, and this PTSD is allegedly responsible for selective amnesia regarding the specifics of the murder, itself. Dr. Richard Samuels, a clinical and forensic psychologist, pointed to all sorts of “traumatic” events that could cause amnesia, including the trauma of murdering someone. To extrapolate from his testimony then, any killer could claim amnesia regarding the murder they committed, because of the apparent PTSD.
As the defense unfolds in the Arias case, there are many absurdities, and one of the most egregious is Dr Samuels himself, drawing such ridiculous conclusions, based on only 12 visits with Ms. Arias over four years, plus the results of administering only two, marginal psychological tests. This hardly fits the professional standard in forensic psychology of a complete psychological evaluation, especially with Ms. Arias’ history, which includes lying and changing her story numerous times with the authorities.
A complete and objective psychological evaluation of a defendant would include a whole battery of psychological tests, interviews with relatives and friends of the defendant, reading all documents written by the defendant, and watching video tapes of police interviews, etc. by the defendant. Then, when all the data is put together, an objective, reliable series of conclusions can be drawn.
When the evaluation takes place over such a long time as four years, repeating the psychological tests is mandatory in order to determine the test-retest reliability of the results.
Dr. Samuels’ evaluation falls dramatically short of the standard. First, he only visited with her over 12 sessions in four years (during which her story changed multiple times). Second, he only administered two psychological tests and these were administered while she was still lying about her involvement, thus invalidating any conclusions he could draw from those results. Under cross-examination, Dr. Samuels admitted that he should have repeated the tests once he realized she was lying during the same time frame in which he was gathering the data.
The most frequently administered psychological examination in criminal cases is the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI), which not only would have determined whether Ms. Arias had a mental or emotional issue (including PTSD or a personality disorder, for example), but the MMPI also includes three lie scales, which would definitely tell if she was lying, confabulating or fabricating her responses.
A complete battery would also include projective tests, which cannot be faked and which would help uncover the true dynamics of Ms. Arias’ character or emotional issues. None of these tests were administered.
Another disturbing issue is Dr. Samuels’ admission that he ordered a self-help book for Ms. Arias while he was in the middle of the evaluation process. He claimed he did that because she was talking about suicide and he wanted to help her. The rules for psychological evaluators clearly differentiate evaluations from conducting any sort of therapy. Combining the two or blurring the lines represents a major conflict of interest and shows a disregard for the boundaries involved in clinical evaluations. This error is similar to a violation that Dr. Samuels was already fined for by the New Jersey Board of Psychological Examiners, in a case in 2000. What he should have done when he sensed that she was suicidal is told the authorities and insisted that she get a treating psychologist or psychiatrist, thus removing himself completely from that role.
Clearly, Dr. Samuels could not remain completely objective during his evaluation, if he was concerned enough with her mental health to give her a gift of a self-help book. He claims he was not doing therapy; but, in Clinical Psychology, providing reading material to help a client is definitely a form of therapy and is referred to as “Bibliotherapy.”
Because of the inappropriateness of his testing, thus invalidating his conclusions, plus the blurring of his objectivity by crossing the line between evaluating and treating, all of his testimony should be disallowed.
Dr. Samuels certainly smells like a typical “hired gun,” who used unacceptable methodology and data to draw inappropriate conclusions, which were rendered to fit the defense’s theories and claims.
It is certainly a shame that in such a high profile case that the honorable professions of clinical and forensic psychology are represented in such a sad fashion.
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About the Author:
Dr. Jack Singer is a professional speaker, trainer and psychologist. He has been speaking for and training Fortune 1000 companies, associations, CEO’s and elite athletes for 34 years. Among the association conventions which Dr. Jack has keynoted are those which serve financial planners.
Dr. Jack is a frequent guest on CNN, MSNBC, FOX SPORTS and countless radio talk shows across the U.S. and Canada. He is the author of “The Teacher’s Ultimate Stress Mastery Guide,” and several series of hypnotic audio programs, some specifically for athletes and some for anyone wanting to raise their self-confidence and esteem.
In his speaking presentations, Dr Jack teaches sales and financial services professionals the exact same skills he teaches to elite and world champion athletes to Develop & Maintain the Mindset of a Champion!