Psychopathology, Assessments of Personality, and I-O Psychology


In the latest issue of Industrial and Organizational Psychology: Perspectives on Science and Practice, one of the focal articles talked about maladaptive personality at work. In the article, Nigel Guenole (2014) discussed the DSM-5’s newest changes to the personality disorder diagnosis. He presented a model of maladaptive trait, along with objections to inventories measuring maladaptive personality. Under the section titled “Important Considerations in the Assessment of Maladaptive Personality at Work,” Guenole listed five barriers to explain why I-O psychologists have been reluctant to examine maladaptive trait model and its corresponding changes in the newest DSM-5.

I will very briefly list the five barriers and then add one important concern I have that was not mentioned on the list.

  1. Legal Concerns – “concerns that use of maladaptive inventories might infringe rights protected by law” (p. 91).
  2. Social Responsibility Concerns – “concern of the social impact of the use of maladaptive personality as a prehire screen” (p. 93).
  3. Small Validities – “the new taxonomic model of personality pathology is redundant if measures of the Big Five are already used in assessment and would therefore have no incremental validity” (p. 91).
  4. Construct Redundancy and Lack of Incremental Validity – “personality tests show low validities generally and are not predictive of performance” (p. 91).
  5. Maladaptive Personality Inventories Are Easily Faked – there is a concern about faking on the maladaptive inventories.

Guenole (2014) ended the article by stating that “industrial psychologists need to be faster in their response to recent developments in clinical psychology to develop a full picture of personality at work” (p. 94)

While these five concerns may be valid, a major concern I have (as a former mental health counselor) and one that I did not see mention is potential violation of American Psychological Association Ethical Code, specifically APA Code 2.01 Boundaries of Competence.

The APA Code of Ethics states that psychologists should provide services in areas in which they are competent (based on education, training, experience, etc.) and if they do not possess such a level that they should seek out additional education, training, etc. to become competent or that they should refer these clients (individuals or businesses) to another professional who is more competent.

APA Code 2.01 Boundaries of Competence states that psychologists are to “provide services, teach, and conduct research with populations and in areas only within the boundaries of their competence, based on their education, training, supervised experience, consultation, study, or professional experience” [(APA Ethical Code, 2002, 2.01(a)]. In addition, when called upon to provide services which are new or beyond their level of competence, they are to “undertake relevant education, training, supervised experience, consultation, or study” [(APA Ethical Code, 2002, 2.01(c)]

Here is an example of an ethical situation an I-O psychologist might find him/herself in:

Summary: An I-O psychologist (not trained to administer and interpret a personality test) hired a clinical psychologist (who is trained) to administer and interpret a personality test. However, due to some financial reasons, the services of the clinical psychologist was discontinued and the I-O psychologist continued testing and interpreting the personality assessments, beyond the boundaries of his training and competence.

Ethical Issue: Performing assessments (or services) to which one has not received training and which are beyond his/her level of professional competence.

APA Code: APA Code 2.01 Boundaries of Competence states that psychologists are to “provide services, teach, and conduct research with populations and in areas only within the boundaries of their competence, based on their education, training, supervised experience, consultation, study, or professional experience” [(APA Ethical Code, 2002, 2.01(a)]. In addition, when called upon to provide services which are new or beyond their level of competence, they are to “undertake relevant education, training, supervised experience, consultation, or study” [(APA Ethical Code, 2002, 2.01(c)].

Resolution: To avoid this ethical dilemma, I-O psychologists should get training in the administration and interpretation of the personality assessment(s). A professional does not need to be a clinical psychologist to administer personality assessments. However, one does need to receive appropriate training to ensure that he/she is competent in administering and interpreting these assessments [(APA Ethical Code, 2002, 2.01(c)]. Examples of training might include: taking a graduate-level assessment course or getting trained by a mentor who is competent and who regularly administer and interpret assessments.

One Final Comment: Even with the appropriate training to ensure competency in administering and interpreting personality assessments, when it comes to assessment of psychopathology and mental health issues, it might be wise for I-O psychologists to refer clients who need such services to counseling and clinical psychologists because psychologists in those areas of psychology are much better trained in mental illness and providing counseling and therapy. They have a firm grasp of the DSM-5, and they are generally much better trained and experienced in both assessing and addressing psychopathology and mental health.

I have shared this before in discussing coaching and mental illness, but it is certainly applicable here in our discussion about psychopathology, assessments of personality, and whether it makes sense for I-O psychologists to also jump in. I really like the following quote so I’ll leave the reader with this:

“Any diagnosis, treatment, ways to help or exploration of underlying issues is the province of mental health specialists and is best avoided” (Buckley, 2010, p. 395).

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership and Talent Consultant

References

American Psychological Association. (2002). Ethical principles of psychologists and code of conduct. American Psychologist, 57, 1060-1073. Also available: http://www.apa.org/ethics/code/index.aspx

Buckley, A. (2010). Coaching and Mental Health. In E. Cox, T. Bachkirova, & D. Clutterbuck (Eds.), The complete handbook of coaching (pp.394-404). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Guenole, N. (2014). Maladaptive personality at work: Exploring the darkness. Industrial and Organizational Psychology: Perspectives on Science and Practice, 7(1), 85-97.