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November 2013

APA Database Synergy: Recent Help for an Expert Witness

APA's research databases can work together to provide you with a suite of information about a topic.

For example, consider a young psychology professor asked to testify as a defense expert witness on the fallibility of eyewitness identification in a sexual assault case. Although she has a doctorate in psychology and law and is confident of her command of the research, she is new to court testimony and would like practical advice on the behavior of decision makers and successful courtroom testimony. She has an APA PsycNET Gold individual subscription, and so has access to APA's core databases. She has little lead time, and so she needs information she knows is authoritative and she needs it quickly.

An index term search for "expert testimony" and "witnesses" limited to full text published in the past year yields 11 results across databases.

Knowing that PsycCRITIQUES is the place to turn for peer reviews of current works, she looks there first for guidance. Pay dirt! She finds a review of Testifying in Court: Guidelines and Maxims for the Expert Witness (2nd ed.; Brodsky, 2013) that is specifically on point. The reviewer, cognitive psychologist Curt Carlson, is a professor at Texas A&M University whose primary research area is recognition memory and decision making involved in eyewitness identification.

Carlson's review of Testifying in Court describes it as "a practical guide, a kind of do-it-yourself pamphlet on expert courtroom testimony." Our novice expert is pleased to note that there are chapters specifically on eyewitness testimony and how to deal with intimidation from cross-examining attorneys, and Carlson reviewed a couple of the expert witness techniques used in the book and attests to their usefulness from his own experience. He also noted some aspects of the book he found problematic, most notably the alphabetical ordering of chapters.

Overall, the recommendation is positive enough that our novice witness wants to read it, and read it as soon as possible. This is an APA-published work. Though it was published in 2013, within the past year, it is no longer under embargo, and PDFs of all chapters are available in her PsycBOOKS subscription. By going to the Book record in PsycBOOKS, she can access the Table of Contents of the book, review the abstract for each chapter, and go directly to any content she needs.

Among the many chapters that will be right on point for her are the following:

  • Transformative Moments
  • Vigorous Cross-Examinations and Vigorous Answers
  • The Well-Dressed Witness
  • Your Expertise Used Against You

To replicate the search, limit to full-text databases, PsycARTICLES, PsycBOOKS, PsycCRITIQUES, and PsycEXTRA, search for"expert testimony" and "witnesses" as index terms, and restrict the search to the past year.

February 2013

It's Hard Out There for a Psychotherapist

When this culture celebrates professions that require both dedication and courage, soldiers or athletes are far more likely than psychotherapists to be the focus. After all, isn't a therapist simply that cool, dispassionate listener of New Yorker cartoons?

But as every graduate student discovers and working therapist knows better with every passing year, therapists are on the front lines of raw human need. Their job is a continuing education from which there is no graduation and includes regular exposure to others' grief, failure, rage, and often impaired reasoning. They have chosen a profession in which their goal is to counter the abrasiveness of those daily wounds with openness and compassion rather than turning away or raising a self-protective wall. In consequence, they often pay a high price — burnout, substance abuse, and even suicide rates are high in the profession.

Any research that helps psychotherapists cope with their own needs and responses can be vitally important. This is an area where PsycCRITIQUES can be especially helpful, as professional education and training are a core area covered.

For example, the most recent weekly release included this review:

In "Channeling the Dark Side: Negative Reactions to Psychotherapy Clients," Thomas Schacht reviewed Transforming Negative Reactions to Clients: From Frustration to Compassion (Wolf, Goldfried, & Muran, 2012; DOI:10.1037/a0031778). The reviewer has taught psychotherapy for three decades and knows from personal experience that few people entering the profession realize just how hard it actually is. As Schacht presents the background, people drawn to a "helping" profession such as psychotherapy are typically shaped by the "more spiritual and nurturant poles" of the human motivational spectrum. However, reality brings this:

Like the mythical "Force" in the cinematic Star Wars galaxy, psychotherapy, too, has a "dark side," a dimension of conflict and potential destructiveness originating in the therapist's own passions and expressed in a capacity for reacting to clients with frustration, annoyance, anger, disgust, fear, shame, guilt, withdrawal, disengagement, indifference, and so on…[S]uch negative reactions may evoke experiences of potentially severe dissonance in therapists.

This book provides research on the often-overlooked area of negative reactions to clients. The editor's goal was explicitly to help therapists "understand, accept, and adapt to their negative reactions and to do so in ways that enhance the therapeutic mission. The contributors, all of whom are experts in the field, recount their experiences with and reactions to therapeutic sessions with difficult and noncompliant clients, as well as how they were able to use those experiences in their own lives and work. In addition, case studies presented at the end of each chapter illustrate the theory's practical application relative to the therapeutic module or expertise presented.

January 2013

Food Fight!

Millions of Americans are making their annual resolution to lose weight on the heels of their also annual holiday bacchanalia. This year's binge and remorse came nearly simultaneously with the Global Burden of Disease Report released in December, by 500 researchers from 50 contributing countries, which found that obesity is now a bigger global health crisis than hunger.

Setting aside some island groups in the Caribbean and Pacific, the United States leads the world in adult obesity and is just edged by Malta in childhood obesity. Outgoing APA president Suzanne Bennett Johnson has made obesity the primary focus of her presidential year, noting that one thing that surprised her during her tenure as president was a persistent belief that psychology is a "mental health" discipline as opposed to a "health discipline."

Thus some questioned whether obesity is psychology's legitimate concern. Yet it would be difficult to find a single issue that affects us as individuals, families, communities, and nations more or that so affects our nation's future.

PsycCRITIQUES has provided reviews of books that cover many aspects of the obesity epidemic and blog discussions on some of its challenges. For example, just in the past 3 years, we have released 11 reviews of books addressing various aspects of obesity. They include the following:

  • Jill Salsman (2012) reviewed Fat Shame: Stigma and the Fat Body in American Culture (Farrell, 2011), a work aimed at a popular audience in which the author used media ads to show how the meaning of fatness has changed over time and how "fat denigration has been used as a tool for economic and political power and to disempower individuals of the nondominant culture (e.g., women, immigrants, non-White individuals)."
  • Jillon Vander Wal (2012) reviewed Eating Behavior and Obesity: Behavioral Economics Strategies for Health Professionals, a more rigorously academic work in which Heshmat (2011) applied behavioral economics, the application of economic theory and psychological principles to the study of human behavior, to eating and weight management. Heshmat used behavioral economics to explain the "irrational decisions that favor the development of overweight and obesity" and support the proposition that people need a "nudge" to make lifestyle choices consistent with successful weight management.
  • Kathryn Henderson and Meghan O'Connell (2010) reviewed The World Is Fat: The Fads, Trends, Policies, and Products That Are Fattening the Human Race (Popkin, 2009).  Popkin has described how the pandemic maps onto global technological advances, food industry growth and proliferation of nutrient-poor foods, and government inaction and government policies that impel, rather than reduce, factors that promote energy imbalance. By using accessible language and a story-like tone, he makes public health policy suggestions aimed at government and corporate audiences, appealing for large-scale changes.

Thank you. And good luck on your January resolutions!

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