Gordon, R.M. (2010), Test at Home Not Unethical per se, The National Psychologist, January/February, p.24.
Often you can let patients that you trust and with strict instructions, take an MMPI-2 home to complete. It is not automatically unethical. We don’t want psychologists to think of ethics in such black and white terms (Gordon, 2006). Dr. Jeffery E. Barnett’s ethical reasoning in the Nov-Dec. 2009 issue of The National Psychologist misses the letter and intent of Standard 9.11 by stating that it “should never occur.” He responded with an unequivocal “unethical.” He referred to Standard 9.11 “Psychologists make reasonable efforts to maintain the integrity and security of test materials and other assessment techniques consistent with law and contractual obligation and in a manner that permits adherence to this Ethics Code.”
The intent of this standard is to remind us of our obligation to protect the validity of our testing instruments and try to get the most valid results from each situation as well as to honor legal, contractual and ethical standards. We do not want the test answers published on the Internet, and we do not want a particular testee to give us invalid results. The psychologist might not know who took the test and if the testee got help in answering the questions. Certainly, we should never let a forensic client or job applicant take a test home, but patients have very different motivations. Even so, it would be foolish to give an MMPI-2 to take home if the patient has a problem with responsibility or passive aggressiveness. These are serious concerns to be considered, but it is not inherently unethical.
Dr. Barnett is worried about distractions affecting the test scores at a patient’s home. If the MMPI-2 were so fragile, it would not be a reliable and valid instrument of personality traits.
However, within the office, testees can take pictures of the test questions with their smart phones and later post them on Internet. There are web sites to help people “pass” such tests as the MMPI-2, which is also available on smart phones. The intent of 9.11 is that we all try to address these concerns- regardless of venue. The greater good and least likely harm may at times be allowing a patient to take an MMPI-2 home. The testee may have a medical condition that makes it more humane to take it at home, or someone may wish for more privacy. Quite testing rooms may not be available. Also Dr. Barnett assumes that seeing the MMPI-2 items outside of the office will compromise the test validity. As I just stated, the items are already out there, but that does not help a person who wants to cheat the test. Self report personality tests such as the MMPI-2 are not based on ‘right’ answers such as an ability test. In fact there are several self report personality tests that can be taken over the Internet. True a testee can fake to look good or bad, but that will happen regardless of venue. There is also a difference between the test items versus the scoring keys. The later is not available on test booklets and therefore there is no issue about the loss of validity.
There are no contractual or legal issues to letting patients take a self report personality test at home. I have been doing this for over 35 years.
I am an ethics educator and an MMPI-2 expert. My effectiveness research on 55 patients in long-term psychotherapy would have been very hard to do if I did not allow my patients to take the MMPIs home (Gordon, 2001). I do agree that we need to understand the intent of ethical standards and then weight the pros and cons. The issue is one of concern and caution, but not a matter of simply being labeled “unethical.” The last thing we need is another reason for licensing boards to go after psychologists.
Gordon, R.M. (2001) MMPI/MMPI-2 Changes in Long-Term Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy, Issues in Psychoanalytic Psychology, 23, (1 and 2), 59-79.
Gordon, R.M. (2006) The APA Ethics Code as a Projective Test. Psychologist-Psychoanalyst, XXVI, 1, 67-68.