June 8 | 1:00 pm - 5:00 pm (EDT)


Jennifer Marie Laney, PsyD | Carson Center for Human Service
Margo Townley, PsyD | Independent Practice
Karissa Spurgeon, PsyD, LMHC| LMHC, The Viersprong Institute for the Study of Personality Disorders

Workshop Information:

Personality assessment plays a crucial role in conceptualizing and formulating treatment recommendations for individuals seeking services, especially those with complicated presentations and histories of trauma. The sequelae of complex trauma include affective dysregulation, behavioral dysregulation, and interpersonal disruption with significant impacts across many domains of functioning.  In terms of personality testing, there are many common symptom patterns that arise on measures such as the Personality Assessment Inventory (PAI) and the Rorschach that often represent adaptive coping and survival mechanisms for individuals who have experienced trauma, poverty, and marginalization.  Such patterns, when removed from context, may be erroneously understood to represent characterological pathology, executive functioning deficits, or serious mental illness.
This presentation will demonstrate how to integrate an individual’s socio-cultural-political context with data derived from normed personality assessment measures to develop a trauma-informed, strengths-based diagnosis and formulation that honors the adaptive origins of the present maladaptive functioning.  Using the Trauma Symptom Inventory, we will analyze the overlap between common trauma symptoms, such as anger, dissociation, and interpersonal dysfunction, and diagnoses including borderline personality disorder, paranoid personality disorder, obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, bipolar disorder, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.  However, the latter diagnoses may overlook the context in which the behaviors developed and occur, the function they serve, and the significance of such variables in the formulation of treatment recommendations.  Furthermore, these diagnoses are inherently deficit-oriented, suggesting limitations within the individual, as opposed to appreciating the adaptive nature of the behavior and the potential for improvement in functioning should the barriers be removed.  We will address the reasons why the aforementioned disorders are inappropriate, as delineated by the DSM-5 criteria, when the symptoms are better accounted for by socio-cultural factors and explore how to interpret such symptom constellations through a trauma-informed, social justice lens.

Goals and Objectives:

1. Demonstrate an understanding of the ways in which normative adaptations to trauma present as psychopathology in commonly used assessment measures, such as the Personality Assessment Inventory and the Rorschach.;

2. Compare common affective/behavioral sequelae of trauma with symptoms of other DSM-5 diagnoses, including personality disorders and serious mental illness. ;

3. Analyze outcomes of normed assessment measures in the context of socio-cultural-political factors.;

4. Translate results of personality assessment tools into trauma-informed, adaptation-oriented, strengths-based clinical formulations.

Skill Level:

Students and professionals conversant in both trauma and personality assessment.

Dr. Margo Townley

Dr. Townley chose to earn a doctorate in psychology after working in child protection and related fields as a Social Worker for more than 20 years in the Midwest, South, and New England. She worked with persons across the lifespan in various capacities, which has given her a unique breadth and depth of understanding the intersections of our various social roles and identities as well as the institutions in which we operate.

Dr. Townley is self-employed as a Consultant for those involved with Massachusetts child protective agencies and courts to assist in their defense and to offer guidance in caring for the state’s most vulnerable children and families. She provides a myriad of assessments and evaluations; merging Social Work training and experience with the training and experiences gained through earning a PsyD. This allows her to provide a strengths-based approach to the work, offering assessments and recommendations for services and treatment with the aim of improving outcomes for individuals, parents, and children. By making the information and results accessible and understandable, more meaningful services and changes are possible for people and institutions. She endeavors to educate professionals and others regarding the effects that the intersection of trauma, poverty, intergenerational issues, circumstance, and a plethora of other factors have on one’s available choices and possible outcomes in an effort to increase understanding and promote social justice.

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