Sorry for the recent paucity of posts. There has been a case I've been working on that is both complicated and involved, and has included testifying on the witness stand. As I mentioned about six weeks ago, once an issue related to competency, sanity, etc. is contested, a significant amount of work magically appears on your "To Do" list (at least if you don't want to look like an idiot on the witness stand). Cross-examination instills anxiety in the most seasoned of evaluators, and preparation is a must to ensure your opinion is well stated and easily understood. To be sure, it gets easier (like anything else) with repeated exposure: I think this is due both to exposure to the anxiety-producing environment, as well as continued mastery of the issues (which leads to increased confidence and belief in the "expert" moniker). However, I don't know that one ever acheives complete ease, and I am not sure that would be desirable in any event - a bit of tension is an excellent motivator!
That being said, I've been gaining sufficient experience testifying on the stand that I've observed a few different strategies, both cognitive and behavioral, that help relax me, and allow me to be as sharp as possible on the stand. I'll discuss one briefly in this post, and then post others along the way.
One strategy that has certainly improved my overall mental state while on the stand is consistently reminding myself that I am on the stand in the service of the Court. That is, the judge on the case sent the defendant to me in order to obtain my opinion. I've done a thorough evaluation (theoretically a matter of opinion, but my evaluations are generally much longer and more thorough than private evals), and my job on the stand is to provide the court with information relevant to the question asked of me - no more, no less. I am not there to "win" the case for either side; I am not there to "take down" another expert; I am not there to "prove" anything. In short, I am on the stand to describe for the judge (or a jury) my opinion regarding the defendant, how I arrived at that opinion, and what information factored into my opinion. I have no dog in the legal fight.
When I remind myself of this, I both loosen up, and experience an increase in confidence. The legal area belongs to the attorneys and the judge - the mental health area belongs to me and the other experts. The evaluators may disagree on the interpretations of the data with respect to the defendant's mental health, but that's okay, too: Psychology is complicated, and we're not always going to agree on everything. But I can almost guarantee I know more about psychology than whoever is cross-examining me, and I think it's okay to take comfort in that. After all, they asked the expert for his or her opinion - there's a reason for that.
And what I've noticed as I've gained more and more experience testifying is that attorneys have generally been good about simply wanting to get information out for the Court to consider. Each attorney has their point of view, naturally, but there aren't nearly as many "Gotcha!" attempts as Law and Order, etc. would have you believe. All of this combines to significantly reduce anxiety as I prepare to take the stand, as long as I remind myself of it. So far, I haven't forgotten to!