Articles: Stress for psychologists piles up during pandemic &
Minority IQ scores boosted to enable execution 
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Stress for psychologists piles up during pandemic

By Kathy Lynn Gray Associate Editor 

October 18, 2020

Rebbeca Lahann, Psy.D., a Phoenix, area psychologist 

who uses many ways to reduce her stress including yoga

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Lahann, a psychologist since 2011 and president of the Arizona Psychological Association, said the pandemic has been especially hard on patients who Lahann, a psychologist since 2011 and president of the Arizona Psychological Association, said the pandemic has been especially hard on patients who have anxiety or believe that the world outside their home is unsafe.

“It’s harder to challenge irrational beliefs when our sense of personal safety is really being challenged and you’re sheltering in place,” she said. She’s also found that her counseling sessions, which used to vary significantly from patient to patient, tend to all revolve around the issues the pandemic has magnified. And that’s stressful for her and other practitioners.

“Initially we all had the fear and panic about the technology for tele-health,” Lahann said. “That’s normalized, but now there’s other anxiety: How do I provide quality service and keep myself safe? How do I avoid burnout and vicarious trauma?”

What started as a marathon with an anticipated end in sight after a few months now seems never ending.

Kimberly Kinsler, Psy.D., sees about 20 patients a week and has nine clinicians working under her in Tampa.

“It’s very stressful for my clinicians,” said Kinsler, a psychologist for 13 years. They’re working from home and miss their interactions with colleagues, she said. “Plus, hearing other people’s concerns every day all day can become overwhelming,” Kinsler said. She’s encouraged the other clinicians to take at least an hour lunch break and additional time off during the day, as well as scheduling entire days off to relax and unwind during the week. One clinician already has had to take an extended leave as the result of losing a loved one in addition to the stress of hearing about racial and pandemic issues in the news, isolation and burnout.

Although Kinsler expected patient visits to fall as a result of the pandemic, her practice, Kinsler Psychology, has seen an uptick. During one week in early September, the practice gained 25 new patients. She said some insurance companies waived co-pays and deductibles, which has improved patient access to mental health care.

Kinsler tries to reduce her own stress by being in-the-moment, drawing on her spirituality, increasing her exercise and maintaining contact with close friends through phone calls and lunch dates. She urges her patients to focus on today and not be anxious about tomorrow and to remember that the pandemic is a temporary problem, not a permanent one.

Ofer Zur, Ph.D., founder of the Zur Institute, has written extensively about

psychotherapist burnout at Zur institute.com. He concludes that an important

way to avoid burnout is to create a balance between “work, intimate

relationships, parenthood, community and friends and solitude.”

Clinical psychologist Mary M. Lewis, Ph.D., of Columbus, Ohio, admits that she’s under an extraordinary amount of stress from the pandemic. Her clients all are in long-term care facilities, so she’s pivoted to telehealth for all but a few. She’s also an associate professor

at a community college, so she’s had to navigate online scheduling and online classes. And she has two elementary-age children whose classes are either all online or a mixture of online and in school each week.

“A lot of my stress is worrying about my clients and my students, about my potential exposure to COVID and to possibly transmitting it to a client,” she said. As the pandemic stretched on, she learned she needed to check in with her own therapist, replace trips to the gym with walking and learn a new skill: How to play the guitar.

“Psychologists are terrible at slowing down and really relaxing and taking time to not work,” said Lewis, a psychologist for 16 years. “But we need to prioritize self-care; that’s key. Reach out to colleagues. Use the same techniques we teach our clients. Practicing what we preach is really key here. And check yourself, asking, ‘What have I done today to self-care?’ ”

Rita Rivera of Plantation. Fla., who is in her third year of a clinical psychology doctorate program at Albizu University, said she relies on meditation and prayer to minimize her stress during the pandemic. She said many of her clients have doubled up on their therapy sessions.

“I see a level of frustration rising every week,” she said. “People were thinking the pandemic would be over soon and they get upset to see that isn’t happening and they can’t go back to normal".

As a student, Rivera has had the additional stress of having some of her required client interactions, such as assessments at hospitals, temporarily eliminated because of pandemic restrictions.

“I’m a little nervous about that, but I’m not alone. I’m confident accommodations will be made,” she said.

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Minority IQ scores boosted to enable execution

By David L. Shapiro, Ph.D.

October 15, 2020

Within the past several years, there has been a growing usage in capital sentencing hearings of so called “ethnic adjustment” of IQ scores.

 

In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a case called Atkins v. Virginia that execution of the “mentally retarded” (now called an intellectual disability) was a violation of the 8th Amendment to the Constitution because it amounted to cruel and unusual punishment.

However, the court left it up to individual states to determine the parameters of “retardation.” This led to a great deal of variability among states regarding levels of intellectual functioning as well as impairments in adaptive functioning.

These two, of course, were the criteria for “mental retardation,” along with onset before age 18, according to the DSM IV that was being used at that time.

The court reviewed two cases, Hall v. Florida (2013) and Moore v. Texas ( 2016). In Hall, the court recognized the APA brief regarding the need to consider the standard error of measurement in calculating IQ scores; Hall had been tested and had a full-scale IQ of 71, one point above the “cutoff” for mental retardation and was therefore sentenced to death. The state argued that if standard error of measurement was so important, it would have been included in the law passed by legislators.

In Moore, the court indicated that measures of adaptive functioning had to be based on scientific data, not folk myths. (Texas had based its determination of impairment in adaptive functioning on being similar to the character Lennie in Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men.)

However, the Supreme Court has not yet taken up a very disturbing trend in capital sentencing. A number of psychologists across the country, reasoning that ethnic minority groups generally score lower on standardized intelligence tests than non-minorities, “correct” these IQ scores upward by arbitrarily adding IQ points based on their “clinical judgment,” making more people “eligible “for the death penalty.

There are currently eight state courts and one federal appellate court that have utilized such ethnic adjustments in sentencing hearings. The important issue is that there is no science, no empirical studies, behind these ethnic adjustments.

Nevertheless, it is presented in court as having a scientific basis. One psychologist who performed such ethnic adjustments has been disciplined by his state board of psychology and one court has questioned the validity of these upward adjustments, but there seems to

be very limited professional writing about the inappropriateness of such adjustments.

There have been two law review articles about this, but, as of yet, no critiques

in psychological journals. These “adjustments” pose several ethical issues.

First, they clearly violate the ethical standard that we base our work

on established scientific and professional research.

It also raises questions about competence. Competence is defined in the Ethics Code as having sufficient training, experience and supervision in areas in which we practice. There can be no competence in an area that does not exist and has no established training.

Such work also certainly violates the standard dealing with “taking reasonable steps to avoid harm.” Not only does it not represent an attempt to avoid harm, but it could also be seen as enhancing efforts to harm individuals by using testimony that is not based on any science to justify putting people to death.

A review of these cases from the jurisdictions mentioned above, reveals “adjustments” upward ranging between 5 and 18 points. This practice also represents violations of several of the standards dealing with assessment. We are urged, as psychologists, to use 

psychological testing only in a manner for which it was validated and only in a manner consistent with the established scoring and interpretations in professional manuals.

Not only is this not found in any professional manuals, such an adjustment is discouraged. Ethnic issues are discussed only in the context of helping to understand test results.

Considering the fact that this technique is in direct contrast to our code of ethics, it is remarkable that, with the exception of the one instance in which a psychologist was disciplined, there has not been any widespread recognition of these issues from either licensing boards or ethics committees.

Just recently, however, the California legislature passed a bill that prohibits the use of ethnically adjusted IQ scores in capital sentencing. Maybe this will be the start of a new trend that recognizes how unethical this practice is. At press time, the bill has not been signed

by the governor.

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David L. Shapiro, Ph.D., is a forensic psychologist based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., but serving clients nationwide. He is highly recognized as an authority and consultant on issues of malpractice, standards of care and ethics.

His email address is:psyfor@aol.com.

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