Wednesday, June 13, 2012


As I continue to work on one of my next novels, “Black Mariah,” there’s a point in the book where I write about a character, “Rick” taking a test –

Rick is sitting in a partitioned cubicle staring at a computer screen answering questions from the MMPI-2 personality evaluation test.
On the computer screen were the words: TRUE or FALSE: I feel that it is certainly best to keep my mouth shut when I'm in trouble?
Rick responded by hitting a key on the keyboard.His action prompted the next question.TRUE or FALSE: No one seems to understand me?He took a few moments to think about his answer.
Then he tapped the keyboard with his response.
TRUE or FALSE: I would like to be a singer?Rick was confused… and exasperated. Not only with the question, but the entire test.  

I wrote this part of the book drawing from something that happened to me in real life.
The experience happened years ago, after my second wife and I had divorced. We had two young girls together and were in the midst of a very ugly child custody case. The court supervising our dispute had enough of our fight and ordered both of us to undergo what they called a “parental evaluation.” This evaluation would then be turned over to the court and the judge would use it as a guide to determine custody.

Those who have gone through this process know that it is a very extensive process. The core of the evaluation is based on both of the parents going through three comprehensive mental tests known as the MMPI-2; the MCMI-III and the Rorschach Exner tests.

Before I was about to be tested, I asked my lawyer, Doug Bagby, what to expect. And he said something that I’ve never forgotten, and that I now pass along as sage wisdom –

“I’ve taken the tests. I found the results illuminating. It told me things about myself that really helped me. In fact, as a divorce lawyer, I recommend that anyone about to get married should be evaluated, and they should insist their future spouse go through it as well.”

In my novel, the questions Rick are asked during the test are drawn from real questions from the MMPI-2, otherwise known as the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory-2 evaluation. According to the literature promoting the test the MMPI-2 is an instrument that remains “the most widely used and widely researched test of adult psychopathology. Used by clinicians to assist with the diagnosis of mental disorders and the selection of appropriate treatment methods, the MMPI-2 test continues to help meet the assessment needs of mental health professionals in an ever-changing environment.”

It was the first of three tests I went through during that parental evaluation and after I completed it I turned to the evaluator and said, “You know my wife is smarter than this test. She will know exactly how to answer each of the questions.” The evaluator, a female doctor in her fifties, leaned in to me as I spoke, clearly making an effort to show she was listening to my concerns. She then knitted her eyebrows, was silent for a few thoughtful moments, before saying, “Well, I guess we’ll have to see if that is a possibility.”

I learned weeks later, when both my ex-wife and I received copies of the evaluation assessing our fitness as parents, that there was probably no chance anyone could outwit the combination of these three tests.

To prove my point, I’m not going to get into any passages from this evaluation that violates my ex-wife’s privacy, or even the outcome of the child custody battle which the evaluation was meant to help decide.

The point of this post is to inform any reader about the value of having someone go through the three tests previously mentioned. When I read the evaluation, I felt like an idiot for telling the doctor that my ex-wife was capable of sailing through the three tests with any of her “problems” undetected. The evaluation totally captured my ex-wife’s mental make-up perfectly. And the basis for my opinion was supported by the complete accuracy of how the tests captured my mental state.

“Mr. Finney approached the MMPI in a somewhat defensive manner, attempting to describe himself as quite virtuous and possessing high moral values, good self-control and freedom from psychological problems. Although his clinical profile is valid, it may not reflect all of the problems that he is experiencing.”

“He endorsed items that suggest he may, at times, be oversensitive, mistrustful and suspicious.”

“Deviations from Mr. Finney’s routine may result in his experiencing anxiety. He may, at times, struggle with feelings of low self-esteem. He will most likely attempt to deny the experience of negative emotions. He may also struggle with feelings of rebelliousness that, despite his attempts to control them, may break through periodically.”

The above passages are about all I can post without completely embarrassing myself like some pathetic reality show performer.

The day we showed up again in court after the evaluations, my lawyer asked me, “Did you learn something about yourself with the evaluation?”

“Yeah, I learned a lot.”

“I told you. They should make it a law. If you want to get married, you pay for a license, and you also pay for a psych evaluation that both parties must go through. Then both parties get to see what the doctors come up with. It would be interesting to see how many people still get married once they read that mental evaluation.”

C’mon, what my lawyer said then… still makes a ton of sense. I guess it just goes to show you… wisdom can come from any place, including from an area that most of us would regard as one of the rings of hell Dante would have mentioned if he was born in another age.  

Doug Bagby, Bevery Hills divorce lawyer… wise fool on the hill.