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Irresponsible and Careless: An Uninformed Psychological Assessment of Sereno Makes It Big with Some Media | CMFR

Irresponsible and Careless: An Uninformed Psychological Assessment of Sereno Makes It Big with Some Media

Psychologist Geraldine Tria. during the House hearing on February 27. | Screengrab from GMA News Youtube channel.


JEERS TO some media organizations for going along with a worthless opinion of a psychologist judging the mental health of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.

Geraldine Tria, a psychologist, admitted that she could not evaluate the chief justice objectively because she did not even know her. And yet the media felt that the public deserved to hear her views anyway.

The Manila Times, Philippine Daily Inquirer and GMA News Online ran reports detailing Tria’s evaluation of Sereno’s mental fitness during the February 27 hearing when she was invited by the House Committee on Justice as an expert witness in the impeachment probe of Sereno; None of the articles carried any information on Tria’s background, experience and education.

Tria testified that she would not have recommended Sereno’s appointment as chief justice because the latter manifested five out of nine symptoms of “mental disturbance.” Trias described these based on the allegations included in the impeachment motion filed by Lorenzo Gadon, allegations which have yet to be proven. The Inquirer report cited from Tria’s list: “grandiosity, preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success and power, sense of entitlement, and tendency to to be ‘interpersonally exploitative’. . .’’  The report also said that Tria pointed to the delayed action on the release of benefits to families of deceased judges. These observations were argued only from the accusations made against Sereno (“Psychologist says CJ displayed symptoms of mental disturbance’’).

While Tria also referred to a 2012 psychiatric assessment of Sereno which was done for the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC), the list of characteristics she described as signs of mental disturbance could very well apply to many politicians and public officials.

The Manila Times carried her testimony in their March 1 banner story “CJ Sereno mentally unfit – psychologist”. A similar story was published by the Philippine Daily Inquirer, (“Psychologist says CJ displayed symptoms of mental disturbance”) and posted by GMA News Online  (“Doctor says would not have endorsed Sereno for CJ over test, IQ”). The three reports framed Sereno as mentally unfit based only onTria’s statements.

Sereno’s accusers have made much of her supposed “failure” of the psychological exam given by the Judicial Bar and Council (JBC), with members of the impeachment committee chiming in. House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez said the results of her psychological assessment may “invalidate” Sereno’s appointment because she “betrayed public trust” by making it seem like she was psychologically fit for the job.

Rappler provided more balance in its report by citing another psychologist, Arsenio Alianan Jr. of the Departmet of Psychology of the Ateneo de Manila University. He said that professionals should follow standards in the methods of evaluation. Psychologists should interview a person directly because otherwise, it’s easy for another person to “malign” the subject.

Alianan said that in a country where mental health is often misunderstood and mental health issues are stigmatized, it is not surprising that a psychological report was used in the wrong context to assess or evaluate a public official’s character. He added that Sereno should be judged by her performance rather than by a psychological exam.

The media should then be careful in reporting psychological evaluations as the topic of mental health remains taboo in the Filipino society. Mental fitness is a broad category, and some characteristics may occur often enough even among effective and high performing individuals.

The Psychological Association of the Philippines released a position paper on March 2, 2018 regarding the proper use of psychological evaluation reports (“On the Valid and Ethical Use of Psychological Assessments”).

CMFR recommends these guidelines to reporters when reporting on the subject and related concerns.