I am a licensed psychologist located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. My area of specialty and interest is forensic evaluations, for criminal, civil, and family courts. I pride myself in being an ethical and thorough evaluator, as well as a proficient report writer able to convey complex ideas to the courts. My private practice, Bliss Psychological Services LLC, was chosen for the 2018 Best of Pittsburgh awards in the category of Psychologist.
As part of my private practice, I am currently accepting referrals for a variety of forensic evaluations throughout Pennsylvania for criminal, civil, and family court matters. These types of evaluations include competency to stand trial evaluations (for both children and adults), decertification assessments for juveniles and juvenile certification evaluations, mitigating factors/circumstances evaluations, immigration assessments and recommendations evaluations, psychosexual risk assessments (for both adults and juveniles), psychological evaluations to potentially assist in restoring gun-rights after a 302 hospitalization, custody evaluations, dependency (parenting capacity) evaluations, and fitness for duty evaluations. I am also available to complete general mental health evaluations, both in forensic and non-forensic situations. Finally, I also accept referrals for jury consulting, consulting with attorneys, and critiques of other evaluations. In addition to my clinical work, I collaborate with CYF caseworkers, attorneys, judges, and other treatment providers, and I provide expert testimony when needed.
Basics about Forensic Evaluations
As part of an evaluation, I complete a thorough clinical interview, review collateral information, administer psychological tests/assessment measures, and provide a detailed written report. I am also available for expert testimony.
Just some of the many types of tests that I have used include:
Wechsler IQ testing; achievement (educational) testing; personality measures such as the MMPI-2 and MMPI-2-RF, PAI, and MCMI-III; measures of psychological functioning such as the BSI-II and Achenbach tests for children; measures for specific symptoms such as the BDI, BAI, Conners, and specific PTSD measures; parenting tests such as the PSI and PCRI; sex-offender testing such as the JSOAP, ERASOR, Static-99r, STABLE2007, ACUTE2007, and CPORT; and other forensic testing such as the CAPI, Conflict Tactics Scales, MacCAT, M-FAST, SIRS, SIMS, and TOMM.
Custody disputes are always difficult for all of the involved parties, but research indicates that children are resilient and can thrive, even after their parents divorce. Psychological Evaluations for Custody are sometimes ordered by the court or requested by one of the parties to help The Court determine the best interests of the children involved.
As a forensic psychologist, my job in custody matters is to complete a thorough psychological evaluation of both parents (as well as other pertinent adults, such as stepparents, grandparents, etc). This includes interviews, testing, and observations of the adults with the children. I also complete evaluations with the children in order to determine any special needs for this specific child. Finally, I talk to many collateral sources for additional information. At the end of the lengthy evaluation, I submit a report to The Court and am available for expert testimony.
Parenting Capacity Evaluations
Sometimes, despite their best efforts or intentions, parents can make mistakes with their children, which result in involvement with child protective services. Parenting capacity evaluations include individual psychological evaluations of the parent, as well as observations of the parent with their children, in order to help determine possible reasons for their behaviors or services that they may benefit from in order to better parent their children in the future. Unfortunately, sometimes people are not able to correct the problem or are unwilling to work to do so, and this may mean that their parental rights need to be terminated. Evaluations can also help to determine if that best meets the needs and welfare of the children.
As a forensic psychologist, my job is to complete these evaluations while remaining unbiased. My hopes are to help identify the problem and recommend services so that the family can be reunited. However, I must always consider the needs and welfare of the children, and sometimes I have to recommend termination of parental rights. It is not the psychologist's job to decide what happens with the placement of the children--we simply summarize our findings and make recommendations to better help The Court.
Mental Health and Best Practice Evaluations
Individual Psychological Evaluations include thorough interviews, review of collateral information, and use of psychological testing instruments to help determine if someone meets criteria for a DSM-5 or DSM-5-TR diagnosis. These can be helpful in legal matters, as well as non-forensic issues, such as to better understand oneself, to seek appropriate treatment, or to qualify for certain services, such as wraparound treatment. I always summarize the results in a manner relevant to specific referral questions.
All sex offender evaluations or psychosexual evaluations include a thorough clinical interview, including sexual history and a detailed risk assessment that includes use of actuarial instruments (when appropriate) and other research-based risk and protective factors. It should be clear that research indicates that most sex offenders are never re-convicted of another sexual offense and good sex-offender treatment programs are associated with further reductions in sexual offense recidivism rates.
As a forensic psychologist, Dr. Bliss' function in sex offender cases is to determine if the offender meets criteria for any mental health diagnoses or personality disorders and to assess their current risk to reoffend. I also determine someone's amenability to sex-offender treatment. This information can be useful in pre-sentencing investigations, evaluations to determine someone's risk to be with children, or for a sex offender's probation requirements. I complete these with both juvenile and adult offenders.
Competency to Stand Trial Evaluations
Competency to Stand Trial requires that a defendant understands the nature and purpose of the legal proceedings against him/her and be able to effectively cooperate with counsel in the defense.
As a forensic psychologist, Dr. Bliss' function in Competency to Stand Trial cases is to determine whether or not a mental disorder, defect, or impairment precludes this understanding and cooperation. Psychological testing is given in competency to stand trial cases on an as needed basis, and psychological testing of malingering is often indicated.
Fitness for Duty and Pre-employment Evaluations
Prior to being eligible for certain jobs, such as police academy or fireman positions or Peace Corps involvement, an individual needs to complete a psychological evaluation. Additionally, at times, someone makes a mistake on the job and their boss requires them to be evaluated before they can return to their position. Finally, in order to be able to carry certain weapons or to have their gun rights restored after an involuntary hospitalization, a person needs a psychological evaluation. As a forensic psychologist, I can help complete all of those assessments.
Decertification and Certification Assessments
In Pennsylvania, juveniles who are 15 or older and commit certain levels of offenses are typically automatically charged in adult court and have to petition for decertification if they wish to be sent back down to juvenile court. As a forensic psychologist, I could be hired by either the defense or prosecution to evaluate a juvenile and determine the appropriateness of possible decertification. This includes an analysis of the juvenile's maturity/sophistication, risk for future violence, and most importantly their amenability to treatment and rehabilitation in the juvenile system.