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The Dangerous Bias in Fabulous Reports

The Dangerous Bias in Fabulous Reports   © 2024 Jenni McBride McNamara, LMFT, PC Intro from Bill Eddy This month we have a great article about how to write objectively about other people’s behavior, especially for those who write reports. The article is written by Jenni McBride McNamara, who is a Marriage and Family Therapist, Parenting Consultant/Coordinator, and author. She also is a member of one of the High Conflict Family Law Consultation Groups that I facilitate for High Conflict Institute. She offered this article to our group after a discussion of report writing. We found it so helpful that we wanted to include it in our Newsletter for all of our readers, many of whom are evaluators or otherwise write reports in their work. Enjoy the insights that she shares with us! We Know This About Bias Bias can be conscious or unconscious, explicit or implicit, harmful and othering, plus just plain bad form. We also think we know this: Writing professional notes, emails, and reports conveys a lot more information when we dress up those documents a bit, throw in some concept creep, and hint at what we really mean. Those dress-up clothes, in the form of adjectives and adverbs, are the bias that lurks in our professional words, hiding among the expressions of our expertise and our highly polished abilities to analyze complex family systems. Bias exists in our reports to other professionals and to the courts. Bias exists in our emails and our notes. Bias even exists in the words I just wrote. (“Highly polished”? Says who? Just me?) Our written words can show just as many microaggressions and biases as any raised eyebrow or pasted smile. Even journalists agree. Julie Mastrine, a writer at Allsides (a media bias watch organization) writes, “Adjectives do indicate bias — even if the descriptor is not one you’d deem unfair, it indicates a viewpoint.” These viewpoints, when they can be interpreted as unfair, are what we need to try to avoid. Written Words, Evidence, Bias? In the following two examples, the same information is being shared in a family therapist’s report to a Parenting Coordinator (PC). Let’s say these notes will later inform how the PC will make decisions about parenting time. So, we’ll look at the first example, well, first, and see what we think the PC might take from it. This therapist met with Dad in my office. Dad was resistant and clearly angry with this therapist about my prior report to the PC. This therapist attempted to lighten the tension by asking questions about Dad’s recent visit with daughter, a sweet 13-year-old, but Dad’s narcissistic attitude got in the way of us having that discussion. This therapist continues to believe Dad to be highly manipulative and possibly even a danger, emotionally, to his daughter, given his unrelenting complaints about this therapist’s process and his clear unwillingness to follow recommendations. What do you notice? What kinds of words are being used? What evidence is given to support those words? Writing things like, “resistant and clearly angry” conveys the therapist’s opinion about the client, and that opinion goes something like, “This guy thinks he knows it all (resistant) and is taking it out on me (clearly angry)”. Additional phrases such as, “highly manipulative” and “possibly even a danger…” to that “sweet” daughter also convey that this therapist has little positive regard for the parent. At the end, there’s another “clear unwillingness”. Clear how? Clear to whom? We’re not sure. So, what do you suppose the PC is going to think about this dad? The opinion the PC forms from the therapist’s bias could have an impact on that father’s parenting time. Now let’s look at a version that attempts to take some bias out of the note. This therapist met with Dad in my office. Dad reported that he wasn’t sure he wanted to attend the session because “The last time I was here, it didn’t seem like you listened to me. Then you wrote that first report to the PC and I may lose some parenting time.” This therapist validated that Dad feels that way. This therapist then asked Dad, “How was your recent visit with your daughter?” Dad reported that it was “fine”, but he wanted to talk about the report and share information he hadn’t shared before. Dad reported that he disagreed with this therapist’s report because it contained “factual errors” that he wanted to have corrected. This therapist again validated Dad’s frustration and brought up the visit with his daughter in a different way to refocus the session. Dad repeated his request to discuss the errors two additional times. In the second version, the therapist writes that the client “reports” versus the therapist offering shorthand interpretations of what the Dad said or did. The therapist also used the Dad’s direct quotes to capture information, rather than using the idea of “narcissistic attitude” (with its negative, concept-creeper connotation) to convey what Dad was upset about. How likely is it, then, that the PC might form a different opinion about this father and more fairly address a parenting time question? How did YOU feel about dad from this example? Though it’s not flowery and expressive, the second version of the therapist’s notes allow the next professional up the authority chain to make decisions for a client or family based on facts and behaviors and not countertransference or assumptions. When I was teaching middle school English and creative writing back in the day, we spent a lot of time on grammar. We talked about adjectives, adverbs, and showing versus telling when we’re trying to be creative. My seventh graders got As when they could describe and enhance their stories with words that evoked the five senses or appropriately applied a figure of speech. But now, here we are, blissfully out of seventh grade (See? My bias is that I’m glad about that!). To avoid bias as much as possible, our professional reports need to be more

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Tips for Family Law Professionals

Tips for Family Law Professionals ©2021 Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq. & Susie Rayner, GradDip FDRP New Ways Manager, Susie Rayner, and HCI Co-founder, Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq., share their thoughts in a Q & A session. What’s the #1 tip you have for family law professionals who are dealing with high conflict personalities most every day? SUSIE RAYNER: Gain an understanding of the basics of HCP’s if you can. It truly is fascinating stuff and it will make those difficult clients make sense to you. These people have a COMPLETELY different operating system and some may even have a personality disorder or display traits of one, (diagnosed or undiagnosed) and we need to keep this in mind. I don’t label people – I just keep them at an arms length and the issue at hand, is most often not the issue: It’s the high conflict personality that is the common denominator. It really helps to have awareness and this really helps with dealing with HCP’s. We have to adapt and change our approach and this adaptation really helps. I recommend collaborating with a NWFF Coach and you will see a remarkable difference in how your clients interact with you and the opposing counsel. BILL EDDY: Don’t work harder than your client. In other words, don’t worry about the outcome of the case. With high conflict people it’s more important HOW you work with them than the outcome, which you can’t control and they often sabotage. Just do your standard of care of communicating, doing your research, and giving advice. Be patient with your client and never blame them or shame them for their difficult behavior. Just give your client lots of empathy, attention and respect (EAR Statements), then focus on their choices going forward. One question I’m asked more than any other is ____? SUSIE RAYNER: The question I’m frequently asked: Can you help me, please? I don’t know what to do! Answer: We have lots of information (articles to read) and online courses (playbooks) that you can participate in. We can offer you stand alone courses that you can take in your own time, and we can suggest NWFF coaching with the online class or NWFF Counseling with a trained provider with the NWFF Counselling method. Any information / support that you get is going to help you to navigate this challenging time, but it is up to you. We can’t help everyone, we wish we could, however, if you have the skills and understand how HCP’s operate then you are ahead of the rest. One of the most important things to learn is that we choices. Learn what you can and use the skills every day. BILL EDDY: The question I hear the most is: Don’t they know that they are being difficult, sabotaging their case, and the cause of many of their own problems? Answer: NO! They really lack self-awareness even though their behavior is obvious to everyone else around them. They don’t connect the dots, from their own behavior to how people respond to them and what happens to them. It’s a personality problem (sometimes a personality disorder), which means it feels necessary and normal to them to act the way they do. What is your best suggestion for individuals going through a high conflict divorce? SUSIE RAYNER: I say to parents that knowledge is power. Having effective coping tools and skills in your tool kit is like liquid GOLD. On one hand it helps us as parents and on the other hand, it shows great role modeling for our kids. A high conflict divorce is utterly draining, stressful and exhausting, and if you know how to deal with yourself then you are one step further to getting through this less unscathed. Your children will also learn how to handle themselves in times of stress. Change the other person: We all want the other person to change, but the reality is, is that they probably won’t. Adapt your approach. Knowing and Understanding: We can’t control how the other person thinks, acts and feels, that is the key. What we can do is (100%) control our own upset emotions (feelings), our own negative thoughts (how we think) and our own behavior (behaving in an acceptable manner.) My last comment: love your children more than you hate your ex. BILL EDDY: Favorite Answer: Get my book Splitting, the 2nd Edition. Seriously! It tells you what to expect from family court, from professionals, and from your partner. Alternate Answer: Get information and support. Get legal advice as soon as possible, such as a 1-hour consultation with a lawyer. Get counseling or at least some psychological information on what to expect from the other person. Build a support system of family and friends that won’t tell you what to do or try to fix everything for you.   BILL EDDY, LCSW, ESQ. is the co-founder and Chief Innovation Officer of the High Conflict Institute in San Diego, California. He pioneered the High Conflict Personality Theory (HCP) and is viewed globally as the leading expert on managing disputes involving people with high-conflict personalities. He has written more than twenty books on the topic, developed methods for managing high-conflict disputes, and has taught professionals in the U.S. and more than ten countries. He is also co-host of the popular podcast, It’s All Your Fault, and writes a popular blog on Psychology Today.   SUSIE RAYNER, FDRP, is a mediator, co-parenting coach, and New Ways Manager for the High Conflict Institute. Prior to becoming a dedicated family dispute resolution practitioner and family coach in 2018, she held positions in the corporate arena for 20 years. She also works in other areas of dispute resolution and volunteers with organizations that support people in crisis. She is the co-author of New Ways for Life™ Instructor’s Guide and Student Journal with Bill Eddy.

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Spotting Dangerous Clients in 3 Steps

©2018 Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq. Family law professionals were shaken to the core by the murders of 6 people by an angry ex-husband in Arizona. The victims included two paralegals who worked for the wife’s attorney, a forensic psychiatrist who had testified in the case, a psychologist who rented space from a therapist involved in the case, and an unrelated couple who were known to the suspect. The gunman killed himself when police were closing in. He was 56. Apparently, the husband had a history of domestic violence and they had a high-conflict court case with restraining orders and disputes over their child. The case went on in court for several years from 2009 to 2016. What triggered the killing spree is not currently known. Apparently, his only criminal history was his misdemeanor conviction for domestic violence in 2009 against his wife. But with people with high-conflict personalities (HCPs), the issue’s not usually the issue, the personality is the issue. People with high-conflict personality disorders don’t usually change simply because of the passage of time. Few people realize that. But apparently, he was actively involved in social media postings that were threatening and it may be that engaging in venting his feelings online reinforced them so much that he moved into taking action. Since people with high-conflict personality disorders regularly feel helpless, vulnerable, weak and like a victim in life, when they focus on their feelings they get more and more upset, rather than getting feelings off their chest. Of course, there may have been a specific trigger for this killing episode, but if one cannot be found it’s worth considering that it was related to his immersion in his anger made possible by venting on social media. This should raise concerns for all family law professionals since public venting on social media is becoming so common in high-conflict separation and divorce cases. What is known is that the former wife, who was uninjured, has said that her former husband was a “very emotionally disturbed person” and that she had “feared for my safety for the past nine years.” In addition, the psychiatrist who was killed had done a psychological evaluation in the case and testified that the former husband “had anxiety and mood disorders and features of a paranoid personality.” And one of the first “Replies” to this article in the news with the above quotes was: “Continue to enslave men and this will continue to happen. You reap what you have sown.” While most comments were empathetic, this type of thinking only takes a few people to become highly dangerous.   Warning Signs In retrospect, we can see how dangerous this man was. But can we tell in advance that someone is dangerous or escalating into a dangerous episode? There are possible warning signs, although professionals who specialize in threat assessment, such as in the workplace, will tell you that we do not yet have an exact science about who is truly dangerous and who is just blowing off steam. While I do not specialize in threat assessment for violence, there are three key steps that I have found helpful for recognizing people with “high-conflict” personalities with the potential for a range of extreme behavior. I have developed a simple approach that anyone can use to recognize when they are dealing with a high-conflict person. Then, it’s important to concentrate on calming the conflict and re-directing attention to problem-solving, rather than emotionally confronting them or focusing on their emotions. I call this the WEB Method®. WEB stands for: Their Words Your Emotions Their Behavior I describe this method in depth in my new book 5 Types of People Who Can Ruin Your Life: Identifying and Dealing with Narcissists, Sociopaths and Other High-Conflict Personalities. The following is one excerpt from the book, which explains how this approach can be used in three steps to see warning signs, including another example from a legal dispute.   Listen to Their Words for Threatening or Extreme Language Written and spoken words can give you some clues. Let’s look at the following real-life message, written to a lawyer by a person without a lawyer on the opposing side, before a mediation session to resolve a business dispute.  I am going after you with every fiber in my being and I won’t rest until I see you behind bars for conspiracy to defraud. This might seem like a fairly simple and brief sentence. But it’s pretty extreme. If that were the only extreme thing the person said to the other person’s lawyer, perhaps in a moment of high emotion, it might be worth ignoring. But here’s what happened in real life: The man repeatedly swore at and threatened the lawyer weeks before the mediation. He also had a history of suing people. This suggests a pattern of high-conflict behavior. Notice, too, that this one sentence reveals all four key HCP traits: all‑or‑nothing thinking (“with every fiber in my being”), intense or unmanaged emotions (“I won’t rest”), extreme behavior or threats (“until I see you behind bars”), and a preoccupation with blaming others (“I’m going after you”). A week after writing the statement, the man attended a business mediation session at the office of a lawyer-mediator. Also in attendance were the CEO of the company with whom the man had the dispute, and the CEO’s lawyer, to whom he had written the message. Right after the mediation session ended, he shot and killed both the lawyer and the CEO! Then a couple days later he killed himself.   Check Your Own Emotions for Intense Reactions When you hear someone make extreme statements, you may feel uncomfortable, threatened, or disgusted. Pay close attention to those emotions. Don’t discount a sudden emotional impulse to run, or fight, or freeze in someone’s presence, especially when it doesn’t match what your thinking brain is telling you. While you don’t necessarily want to jump into action whenever you feel afraid, do pay attention to that feeling, and who might

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