Psychiatric Testing

As the mother of one of David Attias’s five victims, I’d like to clarify a couple of points in Nick Welsh’s otherwise fine column of June 14.

While we greatly appreciate The Independent’s coverage of the Attias hearing, Welsh’s evocation of a “parallel universe” – by which we assume he means (a) the fact that it took Attias’s Patton State Hospital treatment team of psychiatrists, psychologists, clinical social workers, rehab therapists, and nutritionists eight years to decide to administer Depakote, (b) the fact that the jobs of 15 of Santa Barbara’s “frontline” mental health workers are due to be cut, and (c) the $500,000 increase in Mental Health’s administrative expenditures so “they can hire 10 new administrative workers” – has little to do with the District Attorney’s office, and with Paula Waldman’s superb performance in particular.

The Mental Health budget is entirely separate from the DA’s budget. That the DA’s office was in agreement with hiring an additional expert, Professor Margaret Hagen, specifically to raise serious concerns about the legitimacy of psychiatric testing (and if that testing had been subject to the kind of scrutiny Hagen asks for, perhaps the Patton team would have given Attias Depakote a lot earlier) was necessitated by Ms. Waldman’s goal to keep a seriously mentally ill criminal under ongoing inpatient surveillance, and, yes, treatment, for significantly longer than a decade. Waldman’s aim was and is to protect the community from a dangerous man whose record for adhering to his prescribed medications and attending his ongoing psychotherapy sessions has been sadly unreliable.

The testing done by Patton State, while we’re sure it was done in good faith, was deeply flawed, as Dr. Hagen (and Welsh himself) pointed out. To rely on it for a decision would have been criminal in itself. And to characterize Dr. Hagen as “one of the experts-for-hire for whom she’s expressed such scathing contempt,” and “whose expertise seemed rooted in scholarly articles … she’d downloaded off the Internet and the details of which she could recall only with a striking degree of un-specificity” is not only profoundly mean-spirited but wrong.

Dr. Hagen is a highly-regarded scientist. She is not a treating psychotherapist, which was precisely the point of her testimony. She was not testifying for or against Attias but simply and powerfully pointing out the errors, inconsistencies, gaping holes, and “creative interpretations” that make up current psychiatric and psychological tests, tests which formed the foundation of Attias’ “expert” evaluations.

Mr. Welsh seems to agree with the need to keep David Attias locked up, which would surely be less expensive (and that includes Dr. Hagen’s fee) than letting him loose to strike again, which statistics show he’s more than apt to do, thus necessitating renewed incarceration, not to mention yet another costly trial. Ms. Waldman (backed by her superiors) went to admirable lengths to argue that this must not happen.


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