Friday, June 30, 2017

Why Counselor's Tests Are Not Reliable

The reason counselor's tests are not reliable is that reliability is a property of scores not tests. This isn't a matter of semantics. Think about it this way.

Give all the students in one school an achievement test. The test items don't change so they appear stable, consistent, and reliable. However, when publishers report reliability values, they calculate the reliability statistics based on scores. Scores vary from one administration to another. If you ever took a test twice and got a different score, you know what I mean. Individuals change from day to day. And we change from year to year. Also, even a representative sample of students for a nation can be different each year.

Everytime we calculate a reliability statistic, the statistic is slightly different.

Reliability values vary with the sample.

Reliability values also vary with the method used for calculation. You can get high reliability values using coefficient alpha with scores from a one-time administration. This method is common in research articles. But you will see different values from the same research team in different samples in the same article.

If we use a split-half method, which usually calculates reliability based on a correlation between two halves of one test, then we can get a reliability value based on one administration. But that's only half a test! Researchers use the Spearman-Brown formula to correct for the shortened half-test problem- but that's just an estimate of what the full test could be.

There's also a test-retest reliability method. Give a test one time, wait awhile- maybe a week or several weeks, then retest. That gives you an estimate of stability. But if you have a good memory, you can score higher on the second test on some tests like intelligence and achievement.

By now you get the point. Any one test can be associated with a lot of reliability values. The problem is not with counselor tests. The problem can be understanding that tests do not have one reliability value. As with many things in science, there are many variables to consider when answering a question.

Reputable test publishers include reliability values in their test manuals. Counselors, Psychologists, and other users ought to know about test score reliability.

Learn more assessment and statistical concepts in

Applied Statistics: Concepts for Counselors


Monday, June 5, 2017

Understanding Human Nature: The SCOPES Model

Mike Schmidt where Greensburg KS Tornado took his house 2007
What I call the SCOPES model is an organization of and an elaboration on the way many psychologists conduct comprehensive assessments for patients. I find the approach helpful because it guides us in thinking about ourselves and others in terms of multiple dimensions rather than just one or two labels that can lead to misunderstanding or worse.

SCOPES is an acronym for five dimensions of human nature within a social context. 

SCOPES is also a metaphor for looking with an intent to carefully observe people in a richer and more diverse way than we do with a cursory glance. Once I name the six dimensions you will see how they reflect the common ways we speak about ourselves and others. What makes this aapproach uncommon is that it takes effort to look beyond that which is immediately evident and consider multiple dimensions before making “snap” judgments.

A camera metaphor may help. People are like cameras operating on default settings. Modern cameras have multiple settings but usually come with defaults. Once given life via a charge, the camera is ready to use in auto mode. In sophisticated cameras, various settings are adjusted in response to a button press, screen input, or other environmental information such as location and what’s in front of the lens.

By the time we reach elementary school age, our biological “hardware” has been modified by our experiences resulting in customized settings that enable us to adapt to our environments. Some adapt better than others. Parents, teachers, friends, and others work to “shape” us—adjust our settings throughout life. But we are not left out of the process because we too attempt to change many settings—including some over which we have little control such as date of birth.



Spirituality includes religious and other ways people find meaning in life. Most organized religious faiths include specific beliefs and practices but these are integrated with each person’s experience. For example, a person’s dreams and visions or culture influence how they pray and what they identify as right and wrong. Atheists and those with nontraditional spirituality may describe meaningful experiences in the beauty of nature and music. For some, the spiritual dimension is so vital to their identity that it dominates their clothing, communicated beliefs, daily practices, interactions with others, and what they eat.


It doesn’t take long to form an impression of a person’s general intelligence. Sometimes we are awed and sometimes—not so much. But there’s more to cognition than solving problems on intelligence tests. We can include many neuropsychological processes such as memory, attention, language skills, visual-spatial skills as well as cognitive biases and prejudices. 

Some aspects of cognition have a huge impact on identity such as extreme deficits in attention span, incredible ability to solve complex problems, or persistent declines in memory for self and others.


I used the letter O so it works with the acronym. Essentially, people may be described in terms of a few or many durable traits like the famous Big Five: 
Openness: intelligent, imaginative, insightful
Conscientious: organized, thorough, planners
Extraversion: talkative, outgoing, energetic, assertive
Agreeable: forgiving, sympathetic, kind, affectionate
Neuroticism (v. stability) tense, moody, anxious

There are other traits or characteristics that may be added like dominance and psychopathy. People are different. We usually act in fairly predictable ways--habit patterns and traits that are part of who we are.


We all come with bodies and many of us with less than culturally desirable bodies protest that we are more than mere bodies. We want to be known for what’s inside. Nevertheless, our physiology is a critical part of who we are. Drives for hunger, thirst, sleep, and sex vary from person to person and those biological factors vary for each of us during a day, week, or year. Measures of biological status can change and influence other aspects of who we are- height, weight, blood pressure and more. Biology shapes our identity and we influence our biology and that of others.

We know that despite protests, people think of others in terms of a biological factor like blindness or deafness or another challenge. Some have a mental health diagnosis and are referred to by that diagnosis such as alcoholics or Schizophrenics. Some are known by a disease they have or survived such as cancer. One aspect of our entire personal identity can be a physiological status that is defining or confining. We know that we and others are more than a biological fact but somehow, we often fail to think beyond the “P” dimension.

E   EMOTIONS or feelings

Our emotions influence our identity and our judgments about others. There are many ways to show our emotions. Psychological scientists disagree on what may constitute core emotions. As a psychologist, I was tuned in to sadness, anxiety, and anger as well as joy and a sense of calm. More common emotions include fear, worry, hate, guilt, and that complex we call love. Feelings are critical to understanding who we are and why people do what they do.


The people in our lives and where we live out our day-to-day existence influences who we are even as we influence others. Our personal timeline is a factor too. We and others see common threads of who we are since childhood but we also see changes. Looking back, we may see events, people, or places that resulted in major changes in who we are today. Like many immigrants, the move from one country to another was a big deal for me and my parents.

Our relationships matter. Relationships affect our spiritual faith, thoughts, feelings, behavior patterns and even our health. A recently divorced cantankerous fifty-year old man with a history of alcohol abuse may feel anger, distress, and worry. A 35 year-old woman may feel happy and enjoy a sense of freedom as she boards a cruise with a friend. People are different in their relationships. Some feel liberated by divorce whilst others feel devastated. Some worry about finding a mate whilst others intentionally live a single life. Some prefer frequent interaction with friends whilst others require large periods of aloneness.


The SCOPES model is a way of organizing information about ourselves and others. It is a way of recognizing we are complex beings who change in many ways. We respond to others and our environments in ways that change us. And we have an effect on others and our environment. At any given point, a few dimensions may be more important than others such as when we feel depressed at the loss of a loved one or celebrate a birthday.

We should also be aware that activity in one or two dimensions affects the other dimensions even when we are not aware of the effects. A loud noise like a gunshot can produce fear, thoughts of safety, memories of past terror, crouching, increased heart rate and even a cry for divine intervention.


I have applied this model to moral-social judgments in A House Divided and elsewhere.
Those familiar with psychology will recognize the common Cognitive-Affective-Behavior constructs in Cognitive-Behavioral-Therapy and attitude theory. Most clinicians have coursework in the biological basis of behavior. Some, but not all, also consider spirituality as relevant to understanding people and their well-being. Many will also recognize the importance of the environment, which I include in the Social dimension. I have also been influenced by the BASIC-ID of Arnold Lazarus—a part of his work in Multimodal Therapy and Kurt Levin’s field theory or concept of lifespace.

Sutton, Geoffrey W. A House Divided: Sexuality, Morality, and Christian Cultures. Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2016. Also available on AMAZON.

Is Your Moral Lens in Focus?

I used Autofocus to capture this tiger in India

News reports documenting the killing of children tug deeply at our most basic impulse to care for the young and vulnerable. Many of us identify unfair treatment and at least give a nod of support to those who seek to remedy injustice. It is no secret that people disagree about the right way to solve social problems. Matters of right and wrong are the stuff of morality. And matters of right and wrong often connect people with similar religious and political beliefs.

I have drawn upon the research of Jonathan Haidt and his colleagues when writing about moral perspectives as formulated in moral foundations theory. The six moral foundations provide a useful way to consider various social-moral issues. In this post, I review the six moral foundations. In A House Divided, I applied these six foundations to show how different tribes of Christians argue about such divisive issues as birth control, abortion, and sex education.

I begin with a metaphor. The human moral response is like setting the focus on a digital camera. Many of us view life using autofocus. That works most of the time when we live in the culture where we were raised. But at other times, we need to reset the focus to a particular option or do the hard work of manual focus.

It turns out that most people draw upon a few options when arguing about morality. People have their favorite settings. Some use more than others. According to Haidt and his colleagues, liberals tend to rely on two or three settings—Care/Harm, Fairness, and sometimes Liberty. While not excluding these two or three options, conservatives may select from another two or three—Authority, Loyalty, and Purity.

Unlike cameras, when it comes to humans, we have powerful emotions like love, fear, and anger driving the arguments for right and wrong. Some of us hammer away at one or two points regardless of what others say. Unfortunately, when people latch on to a reason or two, they don't let go. Once committed, other reasons are ignored.

The Six Moral Foundations

1. Care/ Harm
Caring is motivated by the complex emotion of love and affection. Loving parents also become very angry when perceiving threats to their families and loved ones. The natural love that embodies care and protection for children can be expanded to kinship groups and cultures. It is not surprising that family metaphors arise in religious and political writings.

2. Fairness and Justice
We learn about playing fair as children. Those who break the rules are punished in various ways. Most learn it is wrong to cheat. Cheating and discrimination are close. People who seek justice may often use peaceful means yet righteous anger can flare and motivate more aggressive action.

3. Authority/Rebellion
Respect for authority is not only a strong moral impulse but it can be foolhardy to rebel in some settings. For some, the moral value of respecting those in authority is a core value. Feelings of respect for authority can be increased by feeling fear and awe. Disrespect can lead to powerful and destructive righteous anger toward the disrespectful. Look for words such as respect, deference, arrogance, pride, awe, humility and authority.

4. Loyalty/Betrayal
Loyalty is motivated by love and betrayal by hate. Some people constantly test the nature of their relationships in terms of loyalty and betrayal concerns. At the national level, betrayal is treason.

5. Liberty/Oppression
People are motivated to be free, independent and unbound. Laws, policies, and unwritten social norms can restrict where certain classes of people can live and what they can do. People celebrate the joy of freedom following oppression. Righteous anger leads to overthrowing oppressive regimes.

6. Purity, Sanctity/Impurity, Disgust
Children learn early in life to clean up and avoid germ-infested matter. We humans have a built-in yuk response to various bodily fluids and other substances. It isn’t long until lessons about being physically clean generalize to call certain behavior or activities dirty, filthy, perverted, disgusting, and unclean. And it is not much of a leap to label people who engage in such behavior or activities as unclean, unworthy, disgusting, perverts, and so on. Religious and social rules as well as laws banning certain activities can be the result of motivations to purify a culture. In the extreme, righteous anger using the language of cleansing is a thinly veiled way of disguising the killing of people as a moral duty.

To find how we agree or disagree we must listen to the reasons given and pay attention to the power of emotion. But then we will still need a way forward by relying on principles and weighing consequences.


Haidt, Jonathan. The Emotional Dog and Its Rational Tail: A Social Intuitionist Approach to Moral Judgment. Psychological Review 108 (2001) 814–834.

Sutton, Geoffrey W. A House Divided: Sexuality, Morality, and Christian Cultures. Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2016. Also available on AMAZON.

Read a review of Haidt’s book, The Righteous Mind.

Find more about examining cultures at this website 

Friday, May 12, 2017

Holy Mother’s Day: How do YOU Honor Her?

I’ve had some time to think about honoring mothers on Mother’s Day. My mother lived until she was 93. And my wife has been a mother and grandmother for some years (I'm being careful here).

I’ve written about Mother’s Day before (20142015) but this year I have been asked to talk about Ephesians 6 the week after the US Mother’s Day so I’ve been thinking about Mother’s Day from the perspective of this text about honor.

One of the interesting things about this well-known phrase, “Honor your father and your mother” is that it appears eight times in the Bible (Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 5:16; Matthew 15:4 & 19:19; Mark 7:10 & 10:19; Luke 18:20; Ephesians 6:2). Apparently, it was important to repeat this command. People over a span of centuries needed reminders. Maybe we do too.

Here are my thoughts on this ancient text codified into a cultural norm for several decades.

Words Aren’t Good Enough

Christian honor required children to use their resources to care for their parents. The lack of government social programs for the elderly meant mothers and fathers were left without assistance when they were no longer able to care for themselves. In Pauline morality, the church ought to care for widows unless they had a relative (1 Timothy 5).

In western cultures, there are social programs but nothing replaces the loving care adult children can provide to their parents. Parents vary in needs as children vary in resources, so the application of loving care will vary. Some will benefit from a visit. Other’s need a ride. Some will enjoy a time to share old stories. Others need financial support. The principle of honor is carried out in loving and caring relationships.

You May Reap What You Sow

Grace is in need of support in caring for her husband who has Alzheimer’s disease. She is elderly and busy 24/7. Fortunately, her children take turns stopping by to lend a hand. I like to think her children are honoring her and their father because these elderly parents set such a caring example during their years as parents and grandparents. This is a real story but her name is not Grace.

My point is, each of us sets an example of how to honor parents by what we do as parents and grandparents. Adult parents provide examples to their children by the way they honor their elderly parents and relatives. One can always hope that a positive parent example will inspire their own children to be loving and caring when another generation reaches old age.

Mother’s Day Ought to be Personal

If you go to church on Mother’s Day you’ve probably heard all the common sermons and advice. In the US, mothers may receive a flower or some trinket. Some church leaders fret about leaving out women who are not mothers. There’s no easy way to avoid offending women who are mothers and resent the dilution of Mother’s Day into “Women’s Day” or hurting all those women who wanted to be mothers but for various reasons are not mothers. And of course, there are people who are biological mothers but have not been nurturing and loving toward their children. People hurt in different ways. Mother’s Day is not always a happy day.

My thought—church leaders ought to encourage people to honor their own mothers and to make a special effort to honor those mothers who do not have children around to honor them. A meaningful Mother’s Day ought to be personal and relational—between mother and child or children—not between an organization and a mother or a woman.

If Possible, Avoid Materialism

I don’t like the fact that corporations have hijacked Mother’s Day and Father’s Day creating a demand by shaming poor families into showering mothers with exorbitantly priced cards, flowers, dinners, and so forth. I realize that many will not have an easy way out of this commercial trap without feeling like they are not doing enough to honor their mothers. And mothers are not immune to the culture in what they expect as a minimum of honor.

I think it better to follow the cultural norm if possible unless all parties agree to bypass excessive commercialism in favor of a more personal honor. People have different values. I’m not opposed to enjoying the good things in life. I just don’t like to see people feeling trapped by social expectations designed to drain excess family resources in support of high paid CEOs. Of course, situations are so different in terms of resources, work demands, distance, and so on. We must all use wisdom.

Whether nearby or far away, a clear and loving expression from a child to a mother on Mother's Day goes a long way to maintaining or re-creating a strong relationship.

The Mother-Child Relationship is of Critical Importance

The quality of the relationship between a mother and a child is a building block for personal and family identity and well-being. Quality relationships are the building blocks of society as well. There are many good reasons to honor one’s mother. In addition to loving and caring for her, we bless ourselves and our society. A family structure built on honor, respect, love, and care is surely a good home. And a society built on honor, respect, love, and care is surely a good place to live.

Related Posts

Friday, February 17, 2017

Insecure Love of God and Christian Morality

Christians are commanded to love God with all their being. Psychological scientists interested in religious studies have examined the idea of loving God in several ways, including measures of attachment.

Attachment researchers have long examined the relationship between parents and children. Two components of the relationship are security and closeness or their opposites- anxious insecurity and distance or avoidance. These same dimensions have been found in the relationship between religious adults and God- especially when God is viewed as a person as in Christianity.

Understanding attachment to God is one important aspect of Spiritual identity. And it is also related to morality. In this post I look at a study by Thomas Fergus and WadeRowatt at Baylor University.

Morality and scrupulosity

Some people experience extreme concerns about their sinfulness and have a strong sense of urgency to do something to rid themselves of their sin. This particular pattern of obsessions and compulsions is a form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or OCD known as scrupulosity. 

It appears that some people perform ritual behaviors to heal what they perceive as an impaired relationship with God.

Common distressing thoughts include blasphemies, impure thoughts, committing sin, and worries about going to hell.

Prayer has been specifically identified as a compulsive behavior in some persons attempting to rid themselves of intrusive and stressful thoughts. Other actions include frequent confessions, seeking assurance from clergy and other leaders, cleansing and purifying rituals, making deals with God, re-reading or repeating scripture verses.

The study sample

The investigators obtained responses from 450 adults using the internet. On average, they were age 34. Most were women (59%). Most identified themselves as Caucasian (79%). A few religious groups were represented:

 “In terms of a current religious affiliation, 20.7% of the sample self-identified as Protestant, 16.5% as Catholic, 1.6% as Jewish, 1.6% as Buddhist, 1.6% as Hindu, 0.2% as Muslim, and 14.9% as “other” religious affiliation. Approximately 41.9% of the sample reported having no current religious affiliation.”

Key finding

There was a strong relationship between high levels of anxious attachment and high levels of scrupulosity.

My Thoughts

1. The key finding makes sense. The distress experienced by people experiencing scrupulosity is an anxious condition thus we can expect religious people to experience an associated anxiety about their relationship with God.

2. The authors appear quite familiar with attachment research, including studies involving attachment to God. You have to read footnote 3 to understand the significant relationship between avoidance of God and scrupulosity. The authors note that when they controlled for religiosity, there was no significant relationship between avoidance attachment and scrupulosity. High avoidance attachment is linked to low levels of religiosity.

3. The authors appropriately acknowledge the problems of self-report measures and the sample. In my view, it would be more valuable to examine the issue in specific religious groups such as Evangelicals, Catholics, Muslims and so forth.

4. In the research and in clinical experience, scrupulosity is difficulty to treat. Mental health professionals follow treament approaches that follow guidelines for other OCD conditions. These include identifying and attempting to correct disturbing thoughts while being sensitive to a person's faith. Treatment may include limiting repetitive actions through response prevention strategies. The use of medication (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) also helps some people. See also Webmd.

Related Post

Research reference

Fergus, T. A., & Rowatt, W. C. (2014). Examining a purported association between attachment to God and scrupulosity. Psychology Of Religion And Spirituality, 6(3), 230-236. doi:10.1037/a0036345 Link to Abstract 

Read more about Moral Psychology and Christian Cultures