Website for Sharon Rae Jenkins, Ph.D.
My current research program identifies the clinically important features of personal relationships that are reflected in clients' stories. These features include social isolation, experience in violent relationships, dependency, and other relationship problems, as well as personal strengths such as attachment and emotional expression that seems to enable clients to have good relationships. The major assessment approach that I use comes from my recently finished edited book, the Handbook of Clinical Scoring Systems for Thematic Apperceptive Techniques, which presents 15 scoring systems for the storytelling techniques that we use in clinical assessment. This book is designed for advanced assessment courses and to assist students with theses and dissertations by presenting research summaries and scoring manuals that are designed for self-teaching. Less structured assessment techniques, including storytelling and Rorschach Ink Blots, are more promising for cross‑cultural generalizability than are structured tests that are dependent on the language and culture of the test developers, which are more vulnerable to cultural differences in language use, such as idioms. Less structured techniques capture the client's way of organizing the world, rather than asking the client to adopt and respond to the test developer's frame of reference.
Clinical assessment for treatment planning depends on good data about the client's psychosocial functioning, as that will influence how the client responds to a particular treatment modality, therapist, and intervention strategy. A client's social relationships while in treatment might also affect the success of therapy, so it is important to know what the client brings to those relationships. The nonlinear and situation-specific, sometimes culture-specific, associations between clients' experiences and their problematic behavior are best understood using storytelling techniques to sample clients' internal interpersonal scenarios, then using structured scoring systems to identify the aspects of these scenarios that aren't fitting the client's context very well. Finally, in my approach, the chief consumer of this information is the client, using the collaborative assessment (see Connie Fischer's book, Individualizing Personality Assessment) or therapeutic assessment (see Stephen Finn's book, In Our Clients' Shoes) models. In those models, the conversation between client and assessor about the client's data enables both to understand the role of their own culture in shaping their perceptions of the client and the client's problems, thus leveling power disparities and reducing the potential negative impact of cultural differences. These assessment approaches offer a stronger platform for psychotherapy (indeed, "culture‑positive" therapy!) than has been possible to this point.
I have several projects in progress, mostly involving teaching undergraduates to score story data from existing data sets, which they may use for their honors theses. Some of my research team's recent theses and dissertations involve relating scores for dependency, affect, interpersonal decentering, or Westen's Social Cognition and Object Relations Scales (SCORS) to college students' close relationship characteristics and interpersonal problems, or using them to predict the unfolding of psychotherapy in clients' early sessions. Other current theses and dissertation projects include correlates of suicidality among Asian Americans, Asian Indian American women's family tensions in relation to acculturation and gender roles, acculturation variables and family process among globally mobile sojourners, and academic acculturation stresses among first-generation college students. My team's new data collections will include culturally diverse samples.
More about the
Handbook of Clinical Scoring Systems for Thematic Apperceptive Techniques
A fundamental hypothesis behind my book is that structured scoring systems for thematic apperceptive techniques (TATs) are one way to bridge the scientist‑practitioner gap by enabling scientifically sound, efficient, and clinically informative examination of clients' stories to answer focused clinical questions relevant to diagnosis, estimation of prognosis, and effective treatment planning. Testing this hypothesis requires a body of research using specific systems for clinically appropriate purposes. Such research has been difficult because the scoring manuals and practice stories necessary for both clinical and research use have not been available widely, if at all. This collection of scoring manuals makes available a selection of promising ones, and the summary chapters for each explain their best uses, evidence for validity and reliability, and priorities for future research.
Any movement from general to specific, or vice versa, involves a leap of inference. The traditional "clinical approach" to story analysis has involved large leaps of inference (albeit highly educated), using abstract theoretical constructs and frameworks to structure the assessor's understanding of the stories, and thus of the particular client. This approach allows for a highly detailed and individualized understanding of the person, but might make it difficult to see the client's commonalities with others. Yet if no generalizations can be made, how can we know whether what helped the last client might help this one?
Structured scoring systems minimize leaps of inference by providing the assessor with detailed, specific descriptions of what to look for in each story‑‑words, phrases, images, structural features, degrees of intensity. These scoring category criteria indicate what to do if the material described is found‑‑assign a point, a scale rating, or make some other decision. One requirement of these descriptions is that they be sufficiently clear and detailed that most appropriately trained people, given the same rules for observation, will usually see the same thing in the same place. This requirement of interscorer reliability meets the scientific criterion for objectivity, that is, agreement on whether or not the phenomenon to be identified has in fact been observed.
"The story‑‑from Rumplestiltskin to War and Peace‑‑is one of the basic tools invented by the human mind, for the purpose of gaining understanding. There have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories."
‑‑Ursula K. LeGuin, 1979