Articles:  Finding your inner expert & 
A guide to child custody evaluations and expert testimony {Below}

Finding your inner expert

By Sarah Dougherty, Psy.D.

October 15, 2020

Who are we as we take our first steps into the world as fully licensed psychologists? What do we know?

Our education and professional growth to this point have been step-wise, measured and predetermined. College. Graduate school. Practica and internship. Postdoctoral hours. The EPPP and state jurisprudence exams.

Corporate

Finally, each of us has been awarded our own professional license, the credential that signifies to the world our state board’s confidence in our training, knowledge, and competence to be independently practicing psychologists. At long last, we may begin.

Are we really experts at anything?

After so much time and effort, surely we know something. And we do. For many, identifying an area of expertise is fairly straightforward.

Perhaps you came into the field of psychology with a pre-existing interest or skill set you were able to hone during your training. You may have worked under a more senior psychologist or other clinician, or found a mentor who helped you carve out and

solidify your professional identity.

But perhaps, for any number of reasons, your professional path thus far has been more tortuous. Perhaps you are reading this piece because you still are exploring who you are as an ECP, wondering about your professional trajectory and sorting out what it is, exactly, you are good at.

If someone asked you, could you write on a cocktail napkin your specialty or area(s) of expertise?

Take an inventory of what you know

Finding your inner expert is a process that often begins with recognizing what you already know. What discussions pique your interest or get your attention? Which questions do you feel most confident answering?

Perhaps you have developed a set of skills organically, out of necessity, in an area you never expected or intended. During your training, did colleagues or supervisors tend to funnel certain kinds of cases to you, because they knew you would be a “fit”?

Have you developed a skill set that can be fine-tuned to address a particular challenge or need? If so, might it be developed into a plan with “legs,” and if so, would it sustain your interest enough to run with it? Finally, could it help someone?

Grow what you know

Once you have identified what you know, it is up to

you to develop your own action plan.

Volunteering in your area of interest is an excellent way to gain experience and visibility, establish collaborative relationships with fellow professionals and connect with potential mentors. Actively pursuing relevant continuing education programs and conferences, and keeping abreast of related research should be priorities. Writing an article or giving a presentation on some aspect of your area of interest can help you solidify in your own mind -- and articulate for others -- what you know. Seek out honest feedback about your work and be open to criticism, even when you may disagree. Be

appreciative when opportunities arise but strive to make your own luck.

Be confident but know the limits of your expertise

Identifying your area of expertise is only the beginning; it does not make you an expert. Keep in mind that if you are consulted for “expert” advice and your input is perceived as helpful, you have simply done your job. Conversely, careless advice can lead to conse-

quences ranging from simple embarrassment to actual harm.

Generate enthusiasm and curiosity in others about your area of expertise but maintain a healthy balance of confidence and humility. Be open to critique, correction and revision.

Do it

As psychologists, we regularly encourage our patients to develop their own personal narratives around life experiences. The hope is that in so doing, they may gain a sense of ownership, competence and agency to move forward. As early career psychologists,

we too can find ownership, competence and agency to take control of our careers.

Who is your inner expert? Get out there and deliver your message.

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Sarah Dougherty, Psy.D., is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Morristown, N.J. She specializes in grief and loss, including grief after suicide,

and working with adults around issues related to adoption and unexpected

results from DNA testing.

Dougherty holds degrees from Wesleyan, Harvard and Antioch (New Hampshire). She also is certified in Complicated Grief Therapy by the Center for Complicated Grief at Columbia University.

Her email is sarah@doughertypsyd.com

Politician Greeting Children

A guide to child custody evaluations and expert testimony

By Dennis R. Moore, M.A., NCSP

Oct 20, 2020

There are a few things every psychologist should know before becoming involved with child custody evaluations and expert testimony. Here’s a summary of some of the key points.

If you are asked by a litigant or the attorney of a litigant to do an evaluation, you should inform them that you need to receive a request from the judge

to do a custody evaluation. You would then communicate to the court your fee

and the manner in which the evaluation would be conducted. The judge would

inform the litigants that they need to pay for the evaluation. A 50 percent re-

tainer would need to be paid before the evaluation could begin and the remain-

ing 50 percent after the evaluation is completed and before the final report is submitted to the court. This eliminates litigants refusing to pay for the evaluation if the report does not support their position.

The parents must sign a document allowing the examiner to avail himself or herself of any and all information, from any source, that the examiner con-

siders pertinent and reasonable to have. The parents also must give consent for the examiner to interview anyone that he or she feels is important for them to see. The parents also must agree to sign release of information forms so that the evaluator can obtain reports from others, e.g. psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, teachers, school officials, mental hospitals, etc. And they must agree to a modification of the traditional rules of confidentiality. The evaluator must be given the freedom to reveal to one party what has been told to them by the other party so that all pertinent points can be explored withboth parties.

In testifying as an expert witness, you should have a thorough command of all the facts

of the case so that you would rarely need to look at your notes. If an attorney asks for

a “yes” or “no” response to a question, the examiner may say to the judge that the

question does not lend itself to a “yes” or “no” answer. When you do not remember

events, simply say so. If you are asked if you had done x, y, or z that are irrelevant, 

say something like “No, I did not because those things were not central factors I

needed to use in forming my professional judgments.”

You need to be dynamic. Master expert witnesses are energetic and enthused about their work and they “teach” the jury how they reached their professional conclusions. If an attorney asks a question that is not quite clear, don’t assume you should know and give an answer. You can say, “I don’t understand the question,” or “I’m sorry, I am not sure I understand what you asked: Could you ask it another way?” It is also beneficial to record videos of all interviews and evaluation sessions and to have them available for the court.

If an attorney says that you don’t have adequate experience, in years, especially if he is comparing you to another evaluator hired by the other party, you can reply “Studies have shown that it is not the amount of experience that is central to doing a good evaluation but how well trained and skilled the evaluator happens to be.” If an attorney tries to degrade your testimony by saying something like: “Your opinion is only just that, an opinion, isn’t it?” you can reply: “No, it is my best professional judgment.” 

 

Careful preparation, poise and assertiveness are the best way to deal with personal attacks.

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Dennis R. Moore, M.A., NCSP, holds a degree in psychology from La Salle University and a graduate degree in psychology from Montclair State University where he also served as a graduate assistant teaching psychology courses to undergraduates. He has been

an adjunct instructor in psychology at Montclair and taught courses in psychology as a senior adjunct assistant professor at Burlington County Community College. He recently retired after 35 years in private practice.

His email is: drmoorepsy@aol.com

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