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An Interview with David S. Remmert, Ph.D. on Forensic Psychology

David Van Nuys, Ph.D. Updated: Apr 30th 2012

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David Remmert, Ph.D.

Dr. David S. Remmert, a clinical psychologist, talks about his experience in and around the practice of forensic psychology. Born into a legal family, Dr. David S. Remmert was subjected to all manner of legal logic at a very young age. His father, associate general counsel to Exxon USA, conducted mock trials as a method of defending juvenile indiscretions and determining punishment. Despite this informal education, his mother encouraged more eclectic pursuits.

Dr. Remmert explains that forensics is a very broad term for anything that has to do with the legal system. There have been many iterations of the definition of what forensic psychology, forensic entomology is. And for just about every profession there is a branch of forensics, whether it be engineering or whatever. He says that forensic psychology, on the other hand, came into the field about 100 years ago with some pretty important cases having to do with the mental health of the person, particularly in reference to their mental capacity, their intelligence. And forensic psychology specifically refers to the application of psychology to the legal system.

He states that many people seem to confuse that with application of psychology to the courts and that's not quite accurate. It's any part of the legal system that forensic psychology applies to. It could be interviewing police officers for their fitness for duty, interviewing police officers who have shot someone and need an evaluation. There are many areas where forensic psychology plays a part -- not just the courtroom.

 

David Van Nuys: Welcome to Wise Counsel, a podcast interview series sponsored by Mentalhelp.net, covering topics in mental health, wellness, and psychotherapy. My name is Dr. David Van Nuys. I'm a clinical psychologist and your host.

On today's show, we'll be talking with clinical psychologist Dr. David S. Remmert about his experience in and around the practice of forensic psychology. Born into a legal family, Dr. David S. Remmert was subjected to all manner of legal logic at a very young age. His father, associate general counsel to Exxon USA, conducted mock trials as a method of defending juvenile indiscretions and determining punishment. Despite this informal education, his mother encouraged more eclectic pursuits.

The eldest of two, Dr. Remmert's initial professional interest was in the theatrical arts, an interest he pursued through his 20s in New York City. Growing up in New England, Texas, and overseas, Dr. Remmert has had exposure to a wide range of cultures and ethnicities, as well as low, middle, and upper socioeconomic statuses.

Graduating summa cum laude from the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas, he went on to pursue graduate studies in Chicago at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology, where he obtained both a master's and doctoral degree in clinical psychology, and was the graduating class speaker and valedictorian. You can find out more about Dr. Remmert by visiting the show notes on our website. Now, here's the interview.

Dr. David Remmert, welcome to Wise Counsel.

David Remmert: Well, thank you very much, Dr. Van Nuys. It's very nice to be here. I'm an avid listener of your show and enjoy it very much.

David: Right. And I'm always happy to discover that I have fellow professionals in my podcast listening audience. And you dropped me an email, and as a result, you and I have had several phone conversations and Skype conversations. And I discovered that you are involved in a number of interview-worthy activities, so I thought today we'd focus mostly on your work in forensic psychology.

David Remmert: That sounds fantastic.

David: Okay. Well, for starters, forensic psychology is a pretty fancy sounding term. What exactly does it refer to?

David Remmert: Well, as many of your listeners may know, forensics is a very broad term for anything that has to do with the legal system. There have been many iterations of the definition of what forensic psychology, forensic entomology is. And for just about every profession there is a branch of forensics, whether it be engineering or whatever.

Forensic psychology, on the other hand, came into the field about 100 years ago with some pretty important cases having to do with the mental health of the person, particularly in reference to their mental capacity, their intelligence. And forensic psychology specifically refers to the application of psychology to the legal system.

Many people seem to confuse that with application of psychology to the courts. That's not quite accurate. It's any part of the legal system that forensic psychology applies to. It could be interviewing police officers for their fitness for duty, interviewing police officers who have shot someone and need an evaluation. There are many areas where forensic psychology plays a part -- not just the courtroom.

David: Okay. Well, I've already learned a lot in what you've just said. I had no idea that the profession was 100 years old, and I hadn't thought about forensic engineering and forensic other professions.

David Remmert: Entomology -- looking at bugs.

David: Really. Oh, that makes me think --

David Remmert: Or etymology, looking at bugs.

David: Yeah. What's the TV show that my wife and I watch?

David Remmert: Oh, CSI?

David: It's a different one. I can't believe I'm blocking on it, but they do a lot of looking at bugs. I'll think of it later. I'm sure everybody who's listening probably knows. Dr. Temperance Brennan is the name of the main character. Does that ring a bell?

David Remmert: Yeah, it does. And I can't recall either. I think the most famous application or depiction of forensic entomology would be from Silence of the Lambs when she brings in the Devil's moth out of the throat from the corpse, and they find that it's not indigenous to the area, and they figure out that this guy is taking care of these moths and putting them into the people he kills, their throats.

David: Thanks for sharing that, and it gave me just enough time for my memory to kick in. It was Bones that I was referring to.

David Remmert: Bones. Yes, of course.

David: Yeah. So how did you come to be involved with forensic psychology?

David Remmert: Well, it's been a long and interesting road. Forensic psychology is something I've always been interested in. I grew up in a legal family. My father was a lawyer for Exxon. And we used to hold sort of mock trials when I was a child.

David: Oh, my goodness.

David Remmert: Yeah, when I was 8, 9, 10 years old, he used to put me on the witness stand, or we would play mock trials and he would challenge what I said and back me -- paint me into a corner and just slaughter me.

David: Did you enjoy that process?

David Remmert: You know, I did. I did enjoy it. Not only was it time with my father, but it was an enjoyable process of learning how to think in an analytical way. And that's a very important aspect of forensic psychology which differentiates it from the more popular clinical psychology.

David: Yeah, what a fascinating childhood experience that must have been. It must have really sharpened your wits and kept you on your toes.

David Remmert: It sure did.

David: Did you do any particular course work in grad school that prepared you for forensic work? Or was this expertise that you developed on your own after completing your doctoral work?

David Remmert: When I was in grad school there were no real forensic -- there were no forensic programs per se. As you probably realize, there are now forensic programs popping up all over the place, and the field is becoming inundated with new forensic psychologists who have specific training. People like myself, who chose to go into the field following a clinical degree, were forced to take CEUs, forced to educate themselves through the numerous books that are out there on forensic psychology. No, I did not take any special class in graduate school, but I did attend several, several, several CEUs and spoke with colleagues and things like that.

David: And in case anyone doesn't know what CEUs are, it refers to --

David Remmert: Continuing education units, which are required for psychologists to renew their license every two years.

David: Right. So what's the range of activities that you've been involved in as a forensic psychologist? You've already indicated that it can cover quite a wide swath of activities. What sorts of activities have you been involved in that would be forensic?

David Remmert: Well, I think my first exposure to forensic psychology was screening campus police officers on my internship. One of the functions that I served was screening the various people who applied for the campus police officers for their suitability to interact with the students. And that was an interesting process that was very free form. You know, I had a lot of freedom in how I did my evaluations.

After that, I would say my exposure has been mostly in Ventura, California. I worked for mostly the state, which is a very comfortable position. Perhaps we get into that later, the conflicts of interest and all of that. But working for the state, you're not beholden to either defense or the prosecution. You're sort of hired by the court.

And a lot of the evaluations I did, and I would say the bulk of evaluations that most forensic psychologists do, are competency to stand trial -- whether someone has the wherewithal, understands the proceedings, can cooperate with their attorney, has the mental capacity to understand the legal process. It was an important decision by the Supreme Court in Dusky v. the United States, in which they determined that the defendant had to have a rational understanding -- a rational and factual understanding of the proceedings against him, and had to cooperate with their lawyer. So a lot of the -- the bulk of the work that forensic psychologists do generally is competency evaluations.

David: So how do you go about making that evaluation?

David Remmert: There are several instruments specifically designed for that. There's the MacCAT, which is the MacArthur competency to stand trial test. There are a couple of others out there that I don't use. But you never want to use one test and one test only.

David: Why is that?

David Remmert: Well, if you do so, you'll probably be slaughtered in court by anyone who has their -- knows anything about competency. Any defense attorney or prosecution attorney that knows anything about psychology testing, competency issues, will slaughter you. It used to be that an interview would suffice.

Going back to some legal cases: Daubert v. Dow Chemical established that if a science was respected enough to be accepted by the scientific community, it could be admitted into the courtroom. And following that, they determined that psychology was one of those professions, and psychologists had a lot of latitude in how they went about determining whether someone was competent to stand trial, not guilty by reason of insanity, these sorts of issues.

But that became very unpopular in the late 1960s, 1970s, when we turned to more objective methods, objective methods of assessing people. So today when you go into a courtroom, you would bring with you data from a specific instrument designed to determine competency to stand trial, but you would also want to give them a test that tests for, say, malingering, which is where someone is trying to feign, trying to fake whether they're well or ill. You would want to bring in something like the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, the MMPI, to make sure that someone is -- that the pathology lines up with what you're seeing on an objective. And, of course, you want to do a clinical interview. A clinical interview is always a part of the process.

David: What kinds of questions would you ask during a clinical interview?

David Remmert: Well, in a competency case, you would certainly want to know -- I would say you would begin by asking them about their childhood, asking them about how they grew up, just get familiar with them, develop some rapport. And then you would jump into questions about what they are charged with, if they understand what is going to happen in the courtroom, if they understand various positions that the people play -- the judge, the defense attorney, the prosecution attorney; to establish whether they have an understanding of what they are facing and what they have done is a criminal offense.

David: Now, do you then write up a report that you submit to the court?

David Remmert: Absolutely. That's a big part of it. The report goes to the person who retained you, of course, and then a copy is made for the prosecution, the defense, and the judge. And all three of these people scrutinize it, and you're subjected to grilling by all three. And if a psychologist has never been on the stand in an adversarial process like the legal process, it's quite an intimidating process.

David: Well, I had that impression. And, actually, that's one reason why I haven't tried to go down that road, at least to this point. I remember, when I was in graduate school, reading a transcript of a psychologist who was on the stand, and the cross examination was just withering. For example, one part that I remember was the attorney saying, "Okay, so, you call yourself 'Doctor' Remmert. Is that right? You call yourself 'doctor'?" "Ah, yes. I do." "Does that mean you're medically trained? You have medical competence?" "Well, no. I went to graduate school to get a Ph.D." "Well, I have a J.D., and I don't call myself 'doctor.'" And along that line. That left a lasting impression on me.

David Remmert: Oh, I'm sure. And in the 1960s that would have been absolutely a valid question. In the 1960s and the early '70s, it was the psychiatrists who dominated the field of forensic psychology, and psychologists were really blocked out of the field of forensic psychology, forensic work. It was only in the '70s and the '80s that forensic psychologists were admitted to the field because we had such a repertoire of objective testing material. And perhaps a little sidebar here about the difference between objective testing and what a psychiatrist might do is warranted here.

David: Great.

David Remmert: A psychiatrist is not qualified to administer objective tests. We have objective tests; we have interviewing; we have projective tests. Projective tests, probably people are familiar with the Rorschach where the inkblots -- people will tell you what they see. That's very subjective in nature. It was not considered to meet the litmus test of Daubert.

In the '70s and the '80s we started developing objective tests, where they answered true/false to many questions. And that was really when we broke into the field of forensics, because we had hard data. And it's actually swinging the other way at this point. It's swinging towards the direction of admitting psychologist testimony over psychiatrist testimony.

David: Fascinating.

David Remmert: Yeah. Because psychiatrists really don't have the tools that psychologists have to bring in hard data. And, as Daubert established, you really have to have scientific data. And I think the question of what did you do to determine this person's sanity or this person's competence, a psychiatrist would have a hard time answering that well because all a psychiatrist would do is either interview the person or use medication to see whether the person got better on the medication. And it's a fallacy. It's a bit of throwing darts at a dart board. Throw an antipsychotic at them, and if it works, he's psychotic. Throw an antidepressant at him, and if it works, he's a depressive. And that's not a very good way of establishing someone's sanity or someone's competence to stand trial.

David: Yeah.

David Remmert: Which is why psychologists are being admitted into the field of forensics far more than psychiatrists are these days.

David: Now, I take it that you've appeared as an expert witness on the stand.

David Remmert: Yes.

David: And have you ever been involved in criminal cases, for example?

David Remmert: Oh, almost all of the cases I've been in are criminal cases.

David: Oh, really. Well, what are the challenges of that? And what kind of preparation does it require for you to be ready to get up there?

David Remmert: Well, it requires an awful lot of preparation, to be honest with you. I don't know if we have the time to go into it, but just in brief -- you certainly have to meet with the person. The person may be incarcerated. The person may not be incarcerated. The person may come to your office. You may have to go to the jail and meet with the person in one of the holding cells. And, of course, the holding cells are the attorney's cells, which are confidential.

And then you would spend a day, maybe two days, maybe three days, administering psychological tests, talking with the person, making sure that you have fully covered all your bases in terms of being prepared to enter into court. Then you go to your office and you score all these tests. Thank God for computers. We now have computers that will score tests instead of having to do them by hand. Otherwise the process would be days and days and days. But now we have computers that score tests.

And you take that data, and the one thing that is very important to get across to anyone who aspires to be in this field is you better know your tests. You better know the validity and the reliability statistics related to the MMPI, for example. Because if you get a prosecuting or defense attorney who knows their stuff, that's the first thing they'll question you on: how sure, how valid is this test in comparison to, say, the PAI, the personality assessment inventory? How does it stand up? And they will challenge you on everything they possibly can challenge you on.

David: Wow.

David Remmert: And then you walk into court and you wait to be called as an expert witness. And expert witnesses, interestingly enough, are the only people in court who able to give opinions as testimony. Anyone else who appears in court or who is not designated as an expert witness is not allowed to give opinion as testimony.

David: That's interesting. Now, ordinarily, psychologists have confidentiality, and their clients are protected. But would that be the case when you're interviewing someone in a jail cell?

David Remmert: No, it's not the case. The person has -- depending on who hires you. If a defense attorney hires you, the person does not have confidentiality and you get them to sign a waiver of confidentiality so that you can release the records to the defense counsel. Now, part of the catch-22 in this is that the defense counsel then has the option of whether to use your testimony or not. So it can be a little biased. If you provide them with a very negative report, they're not going to forward that to the prosecuting attorney. They're going to bury that.

When you're working for the court system, when you're -- they call it a "friend of the court," you're not beholden to either side, and the person does not have confidentiality at all. So the answer to your question is, no, the person does not have confidentiality, and you get them to sign a confidentiality waiver, and that's the first thing you do.

David: Are you able to tell us about a particularly dramatic or interesting criminal case that you worked on? Or are you disguising it somewhat, or are you too bound by --?

David Remmert: Oh, no. I'm not bound too much, without mentioning too many specifics to identify the person. Well, I'll tell you about an interesting one recent -- well, some time back, I guess. I had an individual who was -- the lawyer wanted to have this person assessed for not guilty by reason of insanity, which is a very dangerous road to go down. Insanity defenses almost never works.

Now, this particular individual claimed that he had been "dosed" with methamphetamine, and he had been dosed for about three days. And during those three days he had committed a few crimes -- robbing a grocery store, a couple of other things that slip my mind. But he had finally been caught, and now he was trying to plead that he was insane at the time he committed the crimes.

Now, the law states that you are not able to claim insanity by virtue of a voluntary action, such as taking a drug. So it's almost impossible to succeed with the insanity defense if you have voluntarily ingested a substance. In his case, he was claiming that he had not voluntarily ingested the substance and was committing these crimes under some sort of delusional or psychotic process.

I evaluated him and it would be almost impossible to determine whether he was telling the truth or not, but we do have measurements that give us some sort of sense of whether someone is being truthful or not. I determined that this individual was being truthful, that he was being dosed at a friend's house, and he honestly believed that $20.00 flew out of the cash register into his hand and he walked out the door. And I'm not sure of the outcome of that because I wasn't asked to testify in that, but my guess is that the testimony was shot down, that it was not accepted as valid because of the fact that he was using drugs.

More recently here, I had an individual who was claiming -- he was up for Medicare fraud, and this was a federal case. And he had his attorney running around in circles looking for evidence. This was a competency case in which the central question was whether he was able to cooperate with his counsel, and/or whether he understood the nature of the relationship between his counsel and himself, the fact that the relationship was a confidential one.

He turned out to be very personality disordered, and I did have to testify in that case, and that was a very interesting case because, normally in competency cases, the question is one of mental capacity -- whether they're insane, whether they need treatment, whether they're under some psychotic process. In this case, it was more of a personality disorder. This person had a very distrusting personality and just was unable to cooperate with his lawyer. So, my determination was the lawyer be reassigned, that this person could not cooperate with his lawyer, and that's what the judge ultimately decided to do.

David: Okay. Now, you mentioned that sometimes you're asked to discover the truth of something that's being asserted. I'm under the impression that lie detectors can't be used in that process.

David Remmert: Well, that's not completely true. That's a bit of a misunderstanding. Lie detectors can be used in court if, and only if, both defense and prosecution agree that they will submit to a lie detector test. You are right that lie detectors traditionally are not used in court. Almost never will you see the results from a lie detector in court. But there are certain cases where they are if the defense and the prosecution agree to the results and they agree to have them admitted as evidence prior to receiving the results.

David: Or perhaps I could imagine a situation where they might, on the basis of the lie detector test, decide either to settle or not to proceed with prosecution.

David Remmert: Right. Exactly.

David: I've seen some of your marketing materials on one of your websites, and you come across as somewhat critical of other psychologists offering these sorts of services. What's that based on?

David Remmert: Oh -- somewhat critical of other psychologists. Boy, that's putting me on the spot. Well, oftentimes -- I've worked for the state, for various states, and I have seen forensic psychologists come in, and the question is often whether someone should be -- whether their 72-hour hold should be extended. Some of your listeners may not know that any psychologist or physician can sign a document that allows the state to hold a person for 72 hours for their safety or for someone else's safety, just de facto. With no reason whatsoever, they can order that, but during those 72 hours they have to have an evaluation by a psychologist and a psychiatrist.

And I've seen these evaluations be so poorly done, without any psychometric instruments, without any knowledge of the field, and it's almost a kangaroo court. And that is a forensic process, and it should be done in a much more stringent way. I've also seen psychologists and psychiatrists who have gone in and done nothing more than a clinical interview. All that they have done is spoken to the person and presented what their impression is in court, much like a psychiatrist would do. We have very sophisticated instruments that a lot of psychologists just make the decision not to use; and for what reason -- I don't know.

David: Well, they might not have the training.

David Remmert: They might not have the training -- precisely. But that's another issue. If they don't have the training, they have no place being in the courtroom; they have no place doing a forensic evaluation.

David: Do you think that there's some sort of certification or licensing that should be required for that kind of work?

David Remmert: I see that coming; I absolutely see that coming. Somewhere down the road -- two, three years -- there will be some certification that will be required to do forensic work. It's a very specialized area of work, and it's very, very different from the clinical side of work, where things are conjecture, things are interpretation. They want facts in court, and the court system by its nature is an adversarial environment. It's a fight, if you can put it that way, one side against another.

David: Sure.

David Remmert: And even though it's a civil fight, even though it's a -- well, it's a cordial fight, it is a fight, and one side is trying to beat the other, and you have to understand that process in order to understand what's going to happen to you in court. I have seen forensic psychologists be destroyed by not anticipating that adversarial nature.

Sometimes when you do work for a defense attorney, the prosecution attorney will hire someone to look over your results and scrutinize them. And I've had that happen to myself, and the person came -- and the prosecution grilled me for a good hour on why did I choose this test, how does it compare to this test. And it was a very adversarial process. And you have to keep your calm because there is that tendency to say, "Hey, I'm the expert here. I know what I'm talking about."

David: That won't win you any points, huh?

David Remmert: That will not win you any points. If you lose your cool in court, it's not going to win you any points. You will lose the game.

David: I actually -- this is reminding me that, many years ago, I was actually hired by the -- oh, which side was it? It was a murder trial, and I was hired to look at the testimony of a expert witness in the social sciences and try to find some basis for picking it apart. And I wasn't with the case for very long, and so I can't tell you too much about it.

David Remmert: Yeah. It's very common for particularly defense attorneys who have more money at their disposal to hire someone to scrutinize the results. And oftentimes there are two expert psychologists. And this is another area that I'd hoped we'd get to, is the nature of the relationship between you and defense counsel. When you develop a relationship with defense counsel, it can be a very testy relationship. You have a bit of a pull, whether it's subconscious or conscious. You have a bit of a pull to give them the results they want because you want their business.

David: Yeah, sure.

David Remmert: I would caution anyone going into the field that that is the best way to get yourself thrown out of the field. If you get the reputation of being, as they say, a whore of the court or a whore of the defense attorneys, then your testimony will be discounted right off the bat. They won't even listen to you.

David: Well, it sounds like a mine field; that there are lots of intricacies to it.

David Remmert: It certainly is, and you really have to pay great attention to your ethics and your obligation to present the results in an accurate manner. Normally when you present a defense attorney with negative results, they won't use them. But you still need to give them an accurate assessment.

David: Well, speaking of legal mine fields, I thought we might talk about another topic that I know you've got some experience and interest in, and it's in the news a lot, which is medical marijuana. So that's a topic that intersects both psychology and the law. So how did you come to be interested in that set of issues?

David Remmert: Well, I would say my first exposure to medical marijuana was when I was living in California and Santa Barbara particularly. My wife got a job at a dispensary, a medical marijuana dispensary. And people would come in, and certainly you have your fair share of people who did not have ailments and merely wanted to get their fix, so to speak, get their marijuana. But she began making the baked goods, and they decided to develop a relationship with Cottage Hospital near by. Cottage Hospital is very famous for their cancer treatment.

And she and I would go in there with these baked goods and give them to the cancer patients and the anorexic patients on the psych ward. And there were just tremendous changes in the way they -- their appetite, their attitude. And it was very healing for them. Suddenly the cancer was not so overwhelming for them, and they had an appetite -- secondary to the chemotherapy, they have a lack of appetite, but give them some marijuana and they have a tremendous appetite. Anyone who's smoked marijuana knows that it will give you a heck of an appetite.

David: Yeah. So you had, really, a chance to observe that, though, in a medical situation, so that I take it you're strongly persuaded that there is medical value.

David Remmert: Absolutely. And not just for cancer patients and anorexics for the appetite reason, but also I think it does wonders for people who suffer from psychiatric disorders as well -- depression, anxiety. Of course, we want to start -- we want to try our frontline medications first, but I have a lot of faith that medical marijuana will one day be one of those frontline medications.

It's just been so demonized in our history, particularly in the early 20th century, that it has developed a reputation of being a drug of abuse, a gateway drug. But I firmly believe that, as we develop more understanding of the cannabinoid receptors in the brain, as we begin to understand how to use this plant/drug effectively, we will be able to use it to help or alleviate some psychological pain as well as physical appetite and things like that.

David: You're right. It's hard to see it clearly because it's so clouded by the social and political hysteria, really, around it. And there are a number of well-known intellectuals and politicians who've come out to suggest that the "war on drugs," and particularly the war on marijuana, is creating more problems than it's solving.

David Remmert: Sure, absolutely. And I think California in particular is really leading the charge in getting the medical marijuana aspect of it to go forward. California Proposition 420, some of the other laws about recreational use of marijuana. Now, I'm not a big proponent of recreational use, but I'm glad that it has been brought down to a misdemeanor rather than a felony. I mean we have people in jails now for 20 years for possessing a joint.

David: That is really so shocking.

David Remmert: Isn't it, though.

David: I don't even know if I know anybody who's not possessed a joint at some point in their lives.

David Remmert: I don't think I know anybody either.

David: So it's really criminal to have people locked up for that for 20 years.

David Remmert: Yeah. And there are people in the jail system who are still there. Once that gavel hits the bench, your sentence is set in stone unless you decide to appeal it. So, yeah, I'm really glad that it's been brought down to a misdemeanor, but I'm particularly focused on the medical applications of marijuana because, as I said, we're just beginning to understand the cannabinoid receptors in the brain and how important they truly are in terms of mood, in terms of the various aspects of how we feel about ourselves and our self-esteem.

And while I don't smoke marijuana myself, I know a lot of people who do, both recreationally and medicinally. And I've heard a lot of people say that there's been a drastic change in their self-esteem, in their self-confidence, and I see it as a very viable medication.

David: In fact, I think you're passionate enough about medical marijuana that you have suggested that you might want to become a lobbyist there in the State of Nevada for it.

David Remmert: Absolutely. I would like to get involved with the -- there are some various organizations, NORML being the most popular, but there's an ASA, which Americans for Safe Access to marijuana. And there's one more, MPP -- I can't recall what that stands for. But these organizations are lobbying for the medicinal use of marijuana, and I personally would like to get very involved on the political front, making sure that marijuana is decriminalized here in the State of Nevada.

Now, it is decriminalized here in the State of Nevada to a certain degree. The problem we have with medicinal marijuana, or marijuana in general, is that while it may be legal on the state front, it has not been deemed legal on the executive front, on the federal front. And you have the DEA coming in every once in a while and raiding these dispensaries in violation of state law. The state may say it's legal, but the Feds come in and say, "No, federal law takes precedence and we're seizing it." So I think there really needs to be a decision by the Supreme Court about whether medical marijuana and that law about medical marijuana falls under the Constitution in terms of the states' rights to make their own laws.

David: Yeah. Boy, that's quite an issue.

David Remmert: It really is.

David: And we have a very conservative Supreme Court, so --

David Remmert: Yeah.

David: I wonder what its chances are. But, on the other hand, there have been some pretty conservative spokespeople who have actually spoken up for medical marijuana, so --

David Remmert: Yes, there have.

David: It'll be interesting to see how it all plays out. Well, among my listening audience I have other psychologists, such as yourself, as well as many students, both graduate and undergraduate students. So what would you say are the rewards of forensic practice?

David Remmert: Well, I would say the rewards of forensic practice are your results are very -- your job is very cut and dry. Your job is to make a decision about whether this person meets this criteria or does not meet that criteria, and then you are out of the process. It's a very life changing process. There's a lot of burden put on you in making that decision. It's a difficult decision to make. If you're comfortable with making those difficult decisions, then forensics may be for you.

The other side of the coin, the clinical side -- and another side that I've spent some time in -- what drives me up a wall with the clinical side is the revolving door of clinical psychology. You get someone over a bad relationship, and they come back to you six months later in the same relationship, just different person.

David: Yeah.

David Remmert: The length of a clinical relationship can be years and years and years and stagnate at various points. The enjoyment I have with forensic psychology is that it's a process that has an end.

David: You do it and then it's done, and you can move on.

David Remmert: And then it's done. Which is also why -- and we haven't talked anything about this -- but I also enjoy doing learning disability testing, which also has an end and it has a result. It has a very finite result that that person walks away from, and they have -- they either are granted or not granted what they're looking for.

David: I have the impression that forensic practice can be especially lucrative. Is that the case, or not?

David Remmert: Well, it depends on who you're working for. If you're working for the state, it's not very lucrative. Depending on the case and depending on the hours that you put into it, it can be as little as, say, $30.00, $40.00 an hour. If you're working for a defense attorney on the other hand, you can bill them by the hour and invoice them at your rate, and it can be extremely lucrative, particularly in the more high profile cases.

David: But you really have to be willing to stand the heat.

David Remmert: Yes, you do.

David: Because you will be put under considerable pressure and scrutiny.

David Remmert: You certainly do.

David: Yeah. What would be your advice for someone who'd like to become a forensic psychologist? For example, are there any noted graduate programs that you're aware of? Or, what would be your advice, other than what we've said?

David Remmert: Well, I think, most of all, looking for a good school that has a strong forensic program. I personally went to the Chicago School of Professional Psychology, and they have a developed a forensic program, one of the first forensic programs, and I believe them to be pretty strong. They were very focused on application of psychology as opposed to research and academics. So that would be one that I would recommend to look at.

But there are several programs popping up in various graduate schools that are also worth looking at. There's been a lot of debate about whether you want to get a Psy.D. or a Ph.D. I stay of that debate. I don't argue with my colleagues about such trivial matters. But I would recommend looking for a very strong clinical program, and then making sure that you join the various groups that are either APA groups or independent groups that are forensic in nature, like APPL.

David: What does Apple stand for?

David Remmert: Ooh, you would have to ask me that.

David: I assume it's not A-P-P-L-E.

David Remmert: The American -- APPL is what it is. It's American Psychological -- and there I lose it. But I just know it as APPL. And then, of course, the APA has Division 41, I believe it is, which is forensic psychology. Those types of organizations are important because you may be asked in court are you a member of any of these organizations.

David: Right. So I'm sure the interested listener can do a little work on the Web, and they'll find the organizations. And if they go to the APA site, American Psychological Association, they can also get additional information about graduate programs and so on.

David Remmert: Absolutely.

David: Well, I think we've come to end of the road here, unless you've got anything you want to add.

David Remmert: Just don't be a whore of the court.

David: Words to live by.

David Remmert: No. I am telling you that is the quickest way to be drummed out of the field. Don't be a whore of the court.

David: Okay. Dr. David Remmert, thanks so much for being my guest on Wise Counsel.

David Remmert: It's my pleasure, Dr. Dave.

David: I hope you found this conversation with Dr. David Remmert interesting, and that you learned something, as I did, about this fascinating niche of psychological practice. If you'd like to learn more about Dr. Remmert and his work, you might visit his website at www.drpsychologicalservices.com (no longer available online).

You've been listening to Wise Counsel, a podcast interview series sponsored by Mentalhelp.net. If you found today's show interesting, we encourage you to visit Mentalhelp.net, where you can add a comment or question to this show's web page, view other shows in the series, or simply page through the site, which is full of interesting mental health and wellness content. Access the show's page and show archive information via the podcast box on the Mentalhelp.net home page.

If you like Wise Counsel, you might also like ShrinkRapRadio, my other interview podcast series, which is available online at www.shrinkrapradio.com. Until next time, this is Dr. David Van Nuys, and you've been listening to Wise Counsel.

Links Relevant To This Podcast:

  • Remmert Psychological Services (as of 7/15/14 website no longer available)

About David Remmert, Ph.D.

David Remmert, Ph.D.

Born into a legal family, Dr. David S. Remmert was subjected to all manner of legal logic at a very young age. His father, Associate General Counsel to Exxon USA, conducted mock trials as a method of defending juvenile indiscretions and determining punishment. Despite this informal education, his mother encouraged more eclectic pursuits. The eldest of two, Dr. Remmert's initial professional interest was in the theatrical arts - an interest he pursued through his 20's in New York City. Growing up in New England, Texas, and overseas, Dr. Remmert has had exposure to a wide range of cultures and ethnicities as well as low, middle and upper socioeconomic statuses. Graduating Summa Cum Laude from the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas, he went on to pursue graduate studies in Chicago at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology where he obtained both a Masters and Doctoral Degree in Clinical Psychology and was the graduating class speaker and Valedictorian.

He has worked in a variety of contexts including Cook County Hospital and Department of Corrections, a university counseling center, a Management Consulting Firm, the prestigious Passages Residential Treatment Center, Nevada's State Psychiatric Hospital (Rawson Neal), and Private Practice. While living in Santa Barbara, California, he worked extensively with the Ventura Superior Court as both a retained expert psychological witness and as a 'friend of the court' expert witness. Having worked on over 100 cases and testifying in half of those, his skills in both assessment and testimony have been acutely honed. Most recently at Rawson Neal Hospital and the West Charleston Clinic in Las Vegas, NV he treated over 500 patients and performed assessments of all kinds on over 700 patients.

His primary interest is, and has always been, psychological assessment for intellect, disability, competency, differential diagnosis and civil commitment. Working for the state, he implemented and taught his colleagues how to use electronic methods of test administration and interpretation, vastly streamlining the process of evaluation. As a psychometrician, he has developed the ability to perform and interpret evaluations quickly and accurately and his turnaround time for full evaluations is approximately 25% of the time that other clinicians take. He has never been successfully challenged in court and has never faced a Daubert Challenge that successfully disqualified him. Nor have his recommendations ever been challenged successfully and he quickly became the preferred evaluator for Judge Bruce Clark's court in Ventura, CA. He has worked with patients mandated to treatment by Nevada's Mental Health Court and advised lawyers, probation/parole officers, and judges on appropriate alternative adjudication for these patients. He has taught Crisis Intervention to Las Vegas Metro Police as well as acting as an adjunct professor of psychology at Pacifica Graduate Institute where he taught 3 classes every semester and supervised countless Theses and Dissertations for both Masters and Doctoral candidates.

After three years of working for the State of Nevada in both outpatient clinics and the inpatient hospital, Dr. Remmert decided that he would venture to apply his years of expertise to the legal profession. Superbly qualified through years of practice that emphasized testing and assessment as well as teaching these specialized skills at the graduate level, he dared to open a firm that would offer the legal system an alternative to choosing a psychologist whose interest in the law is fleeting at best. Dr. Remmert is committed to providing the bench with the highest standard of competency within the psycho-legal community.

 

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