MMPI-2-RF Expert Interview: Martin Sellbom, PhD

The University of Minnesota Press Test Division is pleased to feature Martin Sellbom, PhD, in the web series “Interview with a MMPI-2-RF Expert.” Dr. Sellbom is presenting several MMPI-2-RF Overview and Forensic webinars throughout 2016. 

Dr. Martin Sellbom is an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand. He received his Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology in 2007 from Kent State University (Kent, Ohio), and completed a two-year post-doctoral residency at Kent State University and Psycho-Diagnostic Clinic in Akron, Ohio. Dr. Sellbom’s research focuses on psychopathy and other personality disorders, the broader integration of personality and psychopathology, and personality assessment with the MMPI-2 and MMPI-2-RF. His work has been featured in over 115 peer-reviewed publications and he has won several awards for early career achievement. Dr. Sellbom serves as an Associate Editor for the journals Psychological Assessment and Journal of Personality Disorders. For his clinical practice, he specializes in court-ordered forensic psychological evaluations and pre-employment evaluations for public safety positions.  

How did you become interested in psychopathy and personality disorders in your research?
My research was initially focused specifically on psychopathy, which arose from my long-standing interest in the criminal mind. I had always been curious about why certain people seemed to behave in such socially norm-violating ways, whereas the great majority of people seem to function appropriately in this regard. Later in my career, it became obvious that the way we conceptualize psychopathy as a distinct entity is fraught with many of the same problems as personality disorders more broadly. My most recent work has therefore shifted to understanding and operationalizing personality pathology from a dimensional trait perspective; psychopathy is just one particular maladaptive trait constellation.

What led you to focus on forensic use of the MMPI-2-RF in your practice? 
Many of the psycho-legal questions that I am asked by courts or lawyers to address require consideration of response bias and mental health functioning.  The MMPI-2-RF likely offers the best combination of any psychological test instrument to get a good sense of an individual’s approach to the evaluation (via the Validity Scales) and current mental health and personality functioning.

How would you characterize the forensic work you do?
In Australia and New Zealand, most of my referrals tend to focus on pre-trial or pre-sentence psycho-legal questions. I am often asked to evaluate whether criminal defendants are competent to stand trial, should be held criminally responsible (i.e., sanity), pose a significant risk to self or the community, or generally, what mental health factors should be considered in sentencing. 

What do you find most satisfying about your work?
It is never the same and new challenges always seem to emerge. I think you are exposed to the widest range of mental illness and personality disorders of any clinical setting. I also love diagnostic puzzles and have developed an appreciation for the art of communicating complex psychological concepts in the form of opinions to lay decision-makers. 

What advantages do you believe the MMPI-2-RF offers over other tests?
There is no other test out there with the same wide range of Validity Scales, which makes the test so useful in forensic and clinical contexts.  The MMPI-2-RF also measures a plethora of important clinical constructs in a very efficient manner, and these constructs are clearly aligned with contemporary and emerging models of psychopathology and personality.   Finally, MMPI-2-RF scales have appeared in almost 300 peer-reviewed articles, which is quite impressive given how long these scales have actually been available.