Gilbert Macvaugh III, PsyD ’04
"The study is designed to show how people who have mental retardation, who aren't criminally involved, do on these tests. It's a big study. No one has ever done it."
Third Generation Psychologist Chooses Forensic Work in Mississippi
Forensic psychologist Dr. Gilbert Macvaugh III evaluates adults accused of grievous criminal offenses for competency to stand trial and insanity. His findings are used as expert witness testimony for the Mississippi Circuit Courts. Gil, who graduated from AUNE in 2004 with a PsyD in Clinical Psychology, takes on these tasks as part of his private practice in Greenville, Mississippi.
“I work statewide with adult felony criminal cases, a lot of death penalty work,” he said. Since much of what he does is for capital murder cases, the work is stressful, high risk, and has life or death outcomes. “It’s a lot of power, more power than I want,” said Gil. “The consequences of my mistakes are very great; it’s delicate work.”
Gil, who grew up in Greenville, is a third-generation psychologist. His father maintained a private practice as a general therapist and ran a local mental health center. His grandfather was a psychologist and scholar who not only published myriad articles and books, but worked closely with internationally renowned psychiatrists Joseph Wolpe and Harry Stack Sullivan.
As a young boy, Gil became well acquainted with the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM), the psychologists’ Bible. “I grew up with every version of the DSM on the coffee table,” he said. “I always knew that becoming a psychologist was an option for me. It wasn’t predetermined, but I don’t remember a time when there was anything else I wanted to do.”
In 1996, he graduated from Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. Discovering his passion for forensic psychology, he earned a master’s in clinical psychology in 1999 from the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth; then applied to AUNE’s PsyD in clinical psychology program.
Mock Trial Breeds Confidence
During his five years at AUNE, Gil completed internships and practica in forensic psychology at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester. As part of his coursework, he participated as an expert witness in a mock trial, coordinated by AUNE adjunct faculty member Dr. Bill Halikias, complete with professional judge and attorneys. “I remember thinking how nervous I was about being cross examined by practicing lawyers,” he said. “I did fine and learned valuable lessons. One was that no lawyer will ever know as much about what you’re doing as an expert witness as you do.”
“That lesson has taken me a long way,” he said. “I don’t think that my colleagues in other institutions had that same opportunity at such an early stage. It’s a relevant example to show how AUNE was the stepping stone to get from where I was to where I am now.”
Upon finishing his studies, he received the Gene Pekarik Memorial Award for Research on Psychological Practice, the annual dissertation award bestowed by AUNE’s Department of Clinical Psychology. Following post-doctoral work in Massachusetts, he returned to Mississippi where he worked for the last four years on the Forensic Services Unit at Mississippi State Hospital. He also assesses jailed inmates for suicide and violence risk; and provides child and family forensic evaluations for child custody, child abuse, and related court matters.
“I’ve always been attracted to the law,” he said. “I’m trained in psychology, but my interests are very legalistic. Being a forensic psychologist I do the courtroom work. That’s always grabbed me. But, I do it in the context of a psychologist.”
Additionally, he teaches at Millsaps College in Jackson; is on the faculty of the University of Mississippi Medical School; and has supervised pre-doctoral and post-doctoral interns at Mississippi State Hospital. Gil’s also fast becoming an expert on Atkins evaluations, named after the 2002 U.S. Supreme Court decision that individuals with mental retardation cannot be executed. With Dr. Mark Cunningham, he’s co-author of one of the first papers on how to properly conduct Atkins evaluations to be published in the Journal of Psychiatry and Law. Beyond that, he’s undertaken a major research project.
“I’m one of the co-principal investigators in a large study to determine the validity of malingering measures currently used in Atkins cases,” he said. “The interesting problem is that, with all the current instruments psychologists use to measure whether someone is faking cognitive or mental deficits, there are no norms for people with mental retardation. It can look like they’re faking on these tests when they’re not. It can lead to erroneous conclusions in life and death circumstances.”
“The study is designed to show how people who have mental retardation, who aren’t criminally involved, do on these tests,” he said. “It’s a big study. No one has ever done it.”
Happily back in his hometown of Greenville, Gil lives with his wife, who is a lawyer, and his two young, pre-school age sons. Asked if they’ll be a fourth generation Macvaugh psychologist, he joked: “As for my son Gil IV, he’ll probably be a lawyer like his mother.”