Jett Stone spoke with Robert Bornstein, who this spring will become President of the Society for Personality Assessment.
This spring, Robert Bornstein will officially become the 54th President of the Society for Personality Assessment (SPA). Past presidents have included our very own Gordon F. Derner (1959) and George Stricker (1982-1984), along with other familiar names including John Exner (1974), Sidney Blatt (1984-1986) and Irving Weiner (2005-2007). SPA began back in 1938, and now at over 75 years strong, the society maintains over 1,500 international members. I spoke with Bob about his upcoming role at SPA.
JS: What is your current position at SPA?
BB: Program Chair of SPA. Essentially what that involves is evaluating the proposals and setting up the panels and placing people into time slots. It’s an amazingly complicated process.
JS: Does SPA revolve around the big conference in March? What else goes on at SPA?
BB: The centerpieces of the association are two things: the conference and the journal. The Journal Personality Assessment is actually, I think, a terrific journal although I have nothing to do with it except being on the editorial board (which a lot of people are). It is the probably the last bastion of Rorschach research in the world. Not that other journals don’t accept the periodic Rorschach paper, but it is part of the journal’s commitment and the society’s commitment. In fact the initial name of the society was the “Society for Projective Techniques.”
JS: What sort of day-to-day work are you doing now as Program Chair/President-Elect and how will that change when you are actually President of SPA?
BB: I am a member of the Board of Trustees, and we make all the decisions about the society – everything from how to spend the money and where to have meetings to deciding who gets research rewards and what sorts of initiatives the society wants to have. So, for example, one of the things that we are very active in is in interfacing with APA to promote psychological assessment at the national level. One of the negatives of managed care is that in trying to save money, as you can imagine, assessment is one of the things that they feel they can pull back from. You know, it is easier to cut assessment than to cut treatment. So SPA lobbies with managed care organizations, primarily to try and promote assessment and also to get funding and support at the federal level.
JS: It seems like you have to learn a whole new skill set of promoting psychological assessment often to people who may not know much about it. It is like a translation process.
BB: Yeah. Much of the world, including much of psychiatry, doesn’t get what psychological assessment does. So there is an educational component to it, but we are lucky that there are some people in APA who do get it. I think that the incoming president of APA – Nadine Kaslow – is sympathetic to this. We got lucky because one of the leading women at APA, Katherine Nordal, has long been an ally of psychological assessment.
JS: Being in a position where you see so many submissions I suppose you are able to stay abreast of what the personality world is thinking about well outside of Derner
BB: There are two things that are really great about it: One is that we get a lot of student research. SPA is very student-friendly society. In a typical year we might have 20-plus Derner students at the meeting in D.C. The future lies in the students. In fact, what I ran on was engaging students and putting more resources into the student portion of the society, because that is where it is going to stand or fall – based on whether people in their 20s and 30s decide to devote their time to assessment. The other nice thing about the submissions is that we have a large international presence and that is partly because Rorschach is more accepted in Northern Europe, Italy, and in Japan than it is in America.
JS: With all of the submissions that you’ve seen as Program Chair (and that you will see as President) where is personality assessment heading?
BB: I would say that there are two things. One is an increase in, and interest in, multi-method assessment and test score integration. Which is to say that people of course do their research studying individual tests – MMPI, Rorschach, PAI – but increasingly a lot of the most interesting work is on how best to integrate test results to make decisions about pathology and personality and treatment. And that’s become a real focus lately. And the other is more practical: there is a lot of energy around bringing personality assessment to bear on the diagnostic manuals – the DSM, PDM, ICD – and essentially trying to demonstrate how assessment data can contribute to refining diagnostic categories and making diagnostic decisions.
JS: I am sure there are different schools of thought within SPA. As President it will probably be a challenge to bring together opposing views. How will you, with your own research history and opinions, make decisions?
BB: Well, I think that is one of the reasons I ended up getting elected. Although people are aware of my bias – I am not a trait person – I think that I am seen as someone who can interact congenially with people who have different viewpoints. For example, Tom Widiger and I could not be more different in our attitudes about personality assessment, and yet over the years he has been a great mentor to me, given me lots of opportunities, and invited me to do chapters and journal articles for things he has edited. So one can disagree but do so respectfully and we do that.
The other thing I had forgotten is that a big initiative these days is to try and help inform people who teach assessment classes about the virtues of integrative and multi-method assessment. They have surveyed people who teach doctoral level assessment classes as to what they are doing these days, and what the shifts have been in the last ten years and SPA is trying to provide them with material. Some of it is on the website that an assessment teacher can use in class to give students.
JS: Has there been any movement integrating technology into assessment?
BB: I think so. I think that is probably truer in research settings versus clinical settings at this point. For example, when we are trying to assess personality in primary care settings, which is one of the things I am doing now, you need to be able to bring the material to the patient in the waiting room. That is where iPads can become particularly useful. The other area where tech is becoming very active is with smart phones, because they are great tools for sampling behavior in-vivo. There are actually smart phone apps at this point that will prompt people to do a couple of quick responses at random times during the day, and some of the researchers at University of Michigan and Penn State are making huge strides with that.
JS: Is there a Student President of SPA?
BB: SPA has always been very student-oriented organization and there is an arm of the society called the SPA Graduate Student Association, and they elect a president as well, and as it happens, this year it is Christy Denckla, M.A, a fifth year Derner student who is starting her internship at Mass General in Boston. She has been my student here and so that was just fortuitous. It was not a concerted thing, we just both happened to be elected. There are endless opportunities for Derner students to become involved in the graduate student association at SPA. They are looking for people with energy and leadership skills and it is a great place to commit some effort.
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