Steven R. Smith, Assistant Professor in the Department of Counseling, Clinical, and School Psychology, has “always been interested in what makes people tick and what makes people do what they do.” It’s not surprising, then, that he received a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the University of Arkansas and after spending four years at the Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston, joined the Gevirtz School faculty in 2004, where he now serves as director of the Psychology Assessment Center (PAC).
At PAC he and his team of graduate students get to bridge the gap between research and practice in very direct ways. “A lot of the research questions I have come from my time as a practitioner,” Smith says, “and a lot of ideas come from practitioners in the community. It is my inspiration for the work I do.” One part of that work is studying the efficacy of Rorschach inkblots. “There’s lots of controversy in the field about what the test is about,” Smith explains. “I’m contributing to the debate by casting it differently, looking at it as a neuropsychological test that allows us to look at cognitive functioning that relates to personality. We are adding more and more wrinkles to it, understanding it on a basic science level. We also hope it tells us how people understand ambiguous situations.”
This work is just one way Smith as helping to move psychological assessment forward. “We’re trying to have assessment be integrated more with the process of psychotherapy,” he says. “We’re trying to have it be more cost effective.” The goal is to have assessment be a positive in itself, for Smith insists “if it’s done well, it should shorten the process of therapy and be therapeutic itself.”
Because about half of PAC’s clients are families, this work is particularly important. “Lots of these parents may be at wit’s end with their children, they might see the child as oppositional, but we can tell them the child has difficulty processing information,” Smith says. “Telling the parents a different story about their child can help them approach things differently.”