In my early work as a private practice psychologist, I struggled to make ends meet. I could rarely afford the expensive and time-consuming psychometric tests that a lot of my training had focused on. Some of my clients were “pro bono”, and many more had reduced rates. Others would just disappear without paying me. Continuing education was expensive to attend, and my professional dues ate into the bottom line. The only thing that kept me going was the fact that most of my clients liked me and referred their own friends and family when they were in need of help.
As my practice developed and matured, the range of patients I was seeing broadened tremendously, and I began to offer consultation services for insurers, government agencies, health care facilities, and even forensic settings. I began to earn a decent living, and it became evident to me that my ability to use testing efficiently, handle a large caseload, and get results quickly for my clients was a major asset. I quickly realized that being a good therapist meant a lot more that having clients who thought I was a nice guy and felt that I was helping them. In today’s world, clients and their therapists are under tremendous pressure to get meaningful results, demonstrate real change, and make this happen as quickly and for as little cost as possible.
It also became difficult for me to overlook how the existing systems offering mental health treatment were based on a paternalistic, disease model of illness rife with rigid professional boundaries that largely excluded clients from any self-directed learning. Outside of this world resided a range of mostly flakey, unsupported methods that were often hostile to the medical model, delivered by unqualified individuals hopefully, but not always, with good intentions. Finally, in the self-help realm clients were left to desperately sort through countless ratings for books on Amazon.com, or to wander into the disorienting, unreliable, and manipulative depths of the internet, where clicks on ads have more value than clinical outcomes.
With these issues in mind, I set about devising a plan that might give clients more autonomy to learn about mental health and help themselves, while offering a bridge to the professional world to improve their chances of getting good, effective, and timely help. I was going to construct a system for delivering a wide variety of tools to help people gain insight into themselves and treat their problems. That system became Myndplan, and the foundation of the system were the Scans.
Development of the MyndScan
Given the wide range of problems I was seeing in my own practice, and after listening carefully to hundreds of my clients, I realized people needed a relatively quick and efficient tool that could measure their well-being in several realms. My core assessment tool began as a battery of what I call Elements intended to provide a comprehensive description of a client. First, based on my work in medical clinics, I needed to somehow screen for the various health behaviors that can influence our happiness. These included things like sleep and fatigue, but also addictive behaviors such as alcoholism and drug abuse. Drawing from my background and training as a psychologist, I knew that I also needed to get a bearing on some of the more common emotional symptoms that motivate people to seek help. Things like depression, anxiety, anger, and mistrust.
But problems are not the only thing we need to understand in order to make positive changes. Based on my early research training in the “stress lab” at the University of Waterloo, I knew that I needed to understand some of the core strengths that clients bring to the situation – their coping resources. Finally, I was learning from working alongside other counselors in medical and forensic settings that we must always take into account the social world that includes a myriad of networks that influence our wellbeing. Most notably, we often are part of an intimate relationship with a partner, and many of us are working in some sort of job alongside others. The quality of these personal and work relationships can have a tremendous impact on our health.
In an effort to assess all of these influences, I scoured the research literature for examples of mood measures and personality scales, and studied the underlying theories of behavior that they were based on. I looked at the rapidly growing literature on screening for early signs of problems, and also considered larger all-encompassing ideas such as the “big 5” factor model. I assembled large lists, numbering thousands of individual questions, and then began to work down to the most basic items that shared common features. In the end I had over two-dozen measures, which I then submitted to my colleagues – physicians, psychologists, and psychiatrists – to help confirm whether I had found the most useful items. In its initial version the scale was called the Multi-Axial Assessment Inventory.
Once I had what I felt was a very promising test battery in my hands, I sought the help of several supportive colleagues along with plenty of clients with real problems. It took a lot of humility at the start to ask for help, but after recruiting a small normative sample, we were able to start administering the scales in real life practice settings. Many clients generously consented to complete a paper and pencil version of the questionnaire as part of their assessment, along with some well-validated measures such as the Symptom Checklist 90-Revised, so that we could study our ability to use the inventory effectively as an assessment tool.
Thanks to the feedback of many naturally curious and always thoughtful clients and their counselors, over the years I amassed a mountain of information describing the strengths and weaknesses of a typical clinical practice. Slowly, as things evolved, I added treatment tools and progress measures to the mix, so that in the end I have been able to follow the treatment of over 1200 individuals in settings ranging from private practice counseling, to primary care mental health counseling, and including a sizeable group of individuals receiving counseling in forensic settings. Plus, we gathered an additional several hundred profiles from people who weren’t clients in therapy and didn’t have any really significant mental health issues. Over time, I was able to analyze the results, adding and culling items in order to improve the reliability and validity of each of the Elements in what finally comprised the MyndScan.
An Essential Difference
An important distinction must be made between how the Scans are applied and how most other personality inventories are used. Mainstream psychology treats test results as being for the clinician’s eyes only, and testing methods tend to emphasize that the client (i.e., you) is not capable of interpreting the results without the wisdom and experience of an expert. In the case of the Scans clients are encouraged to use their results as part of a process of self-discovery.
In addition to getting a profile that provides a quick visual summary of your scores, we provide a comprehensive report, broken down into individual Element narratives. Each Element narrative comes complete with a graph to help you see where your score falls in comparison to the larger “norm” group, and users can select whether this “norm” is made up of people from the non-client or active client samples. The Scan report also highlights any critical items.
Another unique feature of the MyndScan report is its use of Construct Scores. In our work establishing the reliability and validity of the various Elements, we discovered that many of them clustered into distinct groups. A total of 5 of these “Constructs” were found to be uniquely relevant. These are distinct personality spectrums and we think you may find them very helpful in understanding how your own symptoms may cluster.
Some people will be happy to stop at this point. They may have simply been curious about their personality “make up” or wondering about how severe a particular symptom was. Many others will want to know more, and we plan on delivering some big surprises. Several of my subsequent Blog posts will outline more about what we have discovered as we have been exploring and refining the Scans, the many individual Elements making up each Scan, and the Construct Scores. We’re pretty excited about this, and think you will be too. I’ll also be posting regular articles on the next phase of the project, which includes a comprehensive library of interactive Guides, complete with some pretty amazing information about how the mind works based on cutting edge neuroscience. We’ve spent the past couple of years getting these ready, and can’t wait to see them in action!
Hopefully by now you can see that Myndplan is not some kind of gamified app that we hope to sell to the masses. I frequently describe it as the ultimate self-help book, one that uses artificial intelligence and big data not to sell you other people’s stuff, but to make it easier for you to figure out your own stuff. Our hope is that with the help of Myndplan, people who would otherwise fail to seek and/or receive help for their problems will be introduced to a unique resource that encourages them to learn about themselves in a way that inspires confidence, provides feedback that is science based and effective, and suggests practical steps to foster improvement. It will also encourage collaboration with professionals and community resources as an enjoyable, helpful and often necessary part of the journey towards personal change.
Keep an eye on our Blog for more information about the release of our Beta version of the Scan so that you can be one of the first to give it a try.