One of the questions that I get from viewers on a regular basis is, “As a psychologist and lawyer, what exactly do you do when you’re not on TV?” So, if you’re among the viewers who’ve asked or wondered that, here’s a quick rundown:
Sometimes, I serve as an expert in various types of legal matters, performing assessments and rendering opinions about people’s competency (e.g. to make their own health-care or legal decisions, to hold a professional or pilot’s license, or to stand trial), damages (e.g. how badly hurt somebody was in a personal-injury or employment case and what caused the harm), parenting (e.g. the abilities of the respective parents to meet the kids’ needs in a child-custody dispute), or accountability (e.g. whether a psychological condition forced or prevented a particular behavior). For example, last year, I was asked to assess a high-level employee of a health-care organization who had been placed on suspension pending termination after a couple of incidents of disruptive behavior in the workplace. The employee argued that the organization was legally required to accommodate a psychological condition rather than discharge. The employee had also, however, engaged in an extramarital affair with a low-level employee of the organization, which had nothing to do with the psychological condition, violating organizational policy, damaging organizational morale, and exposing the organization to liability on multiple levels. I helped clarify that, despite the authenticity of the psychological condition, the organization had more than sufficient legal grounds to go ahead and terminate the employee.
Sometimes, I serve as expert counsel, helping the primary attorney(s) in various types of cases to identify the right expert(s), prepare the expert(s) to testify, cross-examine opposing experts, or refine case strategies given certain psychological characteristics of the parties, witnesses, jurors, etc. For example, a couple of years ago, a small personal-injury law firm was representing a plaintiff who alleged a workplace injury. After the case had been filed, and the attorneys had invested approximately $10,000 in expert reviews of the medical evidence, etc., it came to light that the plaintiff had told multiple people in social settings (trying to get dates) that the injury had actually occurred in the course of playing a major spectator sport, both in college and professionally. While the statements about having played college and professional sports were lies, they obviously damaged the credibility of the allegation that the workplace was responsible. So, the attorneys wanted my opinion as to whether there’d be any way to account for the lying (e.g. via some kind of psychopathology) and still win the case. In my opinion, there wasn’t, so I advised the attorneys to cut their losses and withdraw from the case, which they did. It wasn’t necessarily what they wanted to hear, but it probably spared them a lot of wasted time and money in the long run.
While I’ve often worked at the intersection of psychology and law, my best value to others, or my “narrowest niche,” may actually be at the intersection of psychology, law, and business, i.e. people, policy, and productivity.
Sometimes, I give presentations to groups of people who are encountering various types of organizational problems, primarily (but not exclusively) in the health-care industry. For example, health-care is becoming increasingly “corporatized,” and there are entire generations of health-care professionals who are having difficulty adjusting to that (e.g. transitioning from being essentially small-business men and women to being corporate employees). In order to succeed in those situations, people need to develop leadership, management, communication, emotional intelligence, and other interpersonal skills that weren’t taught during their clinical training and weren’t as critical earlier in their careers. Otherwise, they’re liable to unnecessarily disrupt their organizations, their careers, or both. I give a whole series of presentations just for high-level health-care employees, one of which focuses on replacing frustrated externalizations of blame with a double dose of personal responsibility and empowerment. I teach them how to “triage” what to accept, what to address incrementally, what to address in real time, and how to go about addressing things in the latter two categories using the kinds of tools and tactics that a corporate organization requires and respects.
Sometimes, I consult with business owners and leaders on a wide range of tough decisions about how to optimize productivity given their particular personnel and policy constraints. For example, when making high-level employment decisions, hiring managers often want an opinion as to a particular candidate’s goodness of fit with the position and with the people with whom he or she would be working. Both with prospective and existing employees, this can involve gauging the probability of certain types of risk, and in this case, I don’t mean risk of a violent incident in the workplace (although I assess that, too). I mean risk of a critical mistake (e.g. if the person is over-extended, distracted, under tremendous stress, etc.) or, increasingly, of an ethical lapse. There’s no real “test” for the latter, so executives have to identify an assessor whose values and judgment they trust who can at least reliably assess the extent to which they think alike. And when two entire organizations merge into one, all of the above issues are multiplied by tens, hundreds, sometimes thousands, requiring careful analysis and management of human-factors issues in evaluating and executing the merger.
Sometimes, business leaders want an analysis of why their employees and/or customers don’t seem to be responding to what the leaders think are well-established incentives. For example, a few years ago, a recently-hired executive who’d been recruited to reverse a trend of declining sales directed the sales staff to spend more time in the field with clients, but in order to verify compliance, salespeople were required to submit substantial reports of each client meeting. Not much changed. It was a classic case of “perverse incentives,” in which the sales staff had been simultaneously motivated to do a thing and its opposite. Modifying the reporting requirement made significant differences in their actual time spent with clients, their sales, and their morale. In my work with wealth-management executives, I’ve encountered similar frustration when clients don’t act on even the soundest of advice in terms of reallocating their assets (fear-induced “decisional paralysis” is often the limiting factor in such instances). I try to help wealth managers to better identify different investor “types” (i.e. mindsets), to develop tools for classifying investors accurately, and to develop strategies for working more effectively with each type.
Sometimes, business owners are wrestling with increasingly-complicated family dynamics as they try to engage in succession, estate, and legacy planning. For example, it’s often very difficult for a highly-successful father or mother, who’s perhaps been more successful in business than in parenting, to face the fact that his/her child(ren) is/are not qualified to take over the family business. In that situation, I help them identify overriding long-term goals and how best to achieve those under the existing constraints, including whether/how to liquidate or sell the business, whether/how to provide an ongoing income stream to their adult children, etc. Again, these are problems that have human, legal, and financial implications, so I get to put my MBA training to work as well, and given the frequency of divorces, multiple marriages, stepchildren, etc. these days, the resolutions can require counseling, lawyering, financial-planning, and even mediation skills (helping spouses with blended families to discuss, address, and resolve their sometimes-divergent concerns).
I don’t do much in the way of psychological treatment, i.e. psychotherapy, or divorce mediation these days, although I’ve done a good deal of both in years past. I also don’t do much in the way of lead-counsel law practice these days (although a few years ago, I represented the complainant in what may still be the most-publicized sexual harassment case in this part of the country in years). I do, however, remain committed to trying to help people, especially kids, who’ve been damaged by psychiatric drugs, especially drugs that they never should’ve been prescribed in the first place (either because they were improperly diagnosed or because the drugs were prescribed off-label, i.e. for a particular age group or condition with which they lacked a proven track record of safety and efficacy), and I’ve developed a small network of experienced personal-injury attorneys with whom I can collaborate in such cases.
I’m a part-time lecturer at the University of Kansas School of Business, teaching a course that meets a couple of evenings a week for 75 minutes and covers a lot of psychological and legal issues that come up often in the American workplace. The course has been really well-received, with hundreds of students enrolling in it each semester, and I enjoy the opportunities to stay involved with one of my alma maters and to interact with an audience in a way that TV doesn’t allow. I also do some lecturing outside of KU to parents’, voters’, law-enforcement, business, legislative, and other civic groups whose members are interested in my work and the socioeconomic and public-policy implications thereof (e.g. I enjoy helping legislators to better understand the relationships between psychology and crime and to draft/revise statutes to meaningfully enhance public safety — if you think about it, governance really happens at the intersection of people, policy, and productivity, the three major factors to consider when trying to figure out how we can all live together most peacefully and prosperously).
And when I’m not co-hosting Fatal Vows, appearing on a news/talk show, or doing any of the above, I like to travel (I’ve been to over 35 countries so far), to do a wide range of outdoor activities (especially on or near water), to write (articles for WorldNetDaily and HLN online, blog posts, brief Facebook posts, tweets, and hopefully soon a book!), and to just get together with good friends. So, if you’ve ever asked or wondered, there’s your answer, and thanks for your interest in my work — it probably means more to me than my work will ever mean to you!