Mental health is a process. Diagnosis, therapy sessions, medication, internal confrontation, growth, change—these are all broad explanations of the commonly thought of steps that a person in the mental health process can, and very well might go through during their path of recovery. However, one item missing from that list is testing and assessment.
In many ways, psychological assessments are like more standard medical tests. If a patient shows physical symptoms, a doctor may order X-rays or blood tests to understand what's causing those symptoms. These tests will then help inform a diagnosis and a treatment plan, when necessary. Psychological assessments serve the same purpose. Psychologists use assessment tools to measure and observe a client's behavior to arrive at a diagnosis and guide treatment.
For example, a child who is having difficulty in school may undergo assessment for learning disabilities. Dexterity, reaction time, and memory tests can help diagnose conditions such as brain injuries or dementia. If a person is having problems at work or school, or in personal relationships, assessments can help a psychologist understand whether their patient may have issues with anger management or interpersonal skills, or certain personality traits that contribute to the problem. Other assessments evaluate whether clients are experiencing emotional disorders such as anxiety or depression.
This is a very important step in the process, as the problems a person is experiencing may not always be clear, let alone that the underlying causes of the above issues may be even more opaque to the outside observer.
The Mechanics of Assessment
Assessment often involves the use of formal assessments such as questionnaires or checklists. These are often described as “norm-referenced” tests. “Norm-referenced” simply means the assessments have been standardized so that test-takers are evaluated in a similar way, no matter where they live or who administers them. Other assessment options include informal tests and surveys, interview information, school or medical records, medical evaluations, and observational data. A psychologist then determines what information to use based on the specific questions being asked and the answers given to them.
One common assessment technique, for instance, is a clinical interview. When a psychologist speaks to a client about his or her concerns and history, they're able to observe how the client thinks, reasons, and interacts with others. Assessments may also include interviewing other people who are close to the client, such as teachers, coworkers or family members—with their respective permissions, of course.
It is important to note that psychological assessments are not one-size-fits-all. Psychological testing isn't like taking a multiple-choice exam that you either pass or fail. Rather, psychologists use information from the various tests and assessments to reach a specific diagnosis and develop a treatment plan. Psychologists pick and choose a specific set of assessments and tests for each individual client. And not just anyone can perform a psychological evaluation. Licensed clinical psychologists are expertly trained to administer assessments and tests and interpret the results.
What Comes Next
In many cases, psychologists who administer assessments will then treat patients with psychotherapy. Some psychologists focus only on evaluating patients, and then refer them to other specialists for treatment after they've made a diagnosis. In either case, the testing and assessment process will help ensure that the client receives treatment that's tailored to his or her individual needs.
Remember, psychological testing and assessment is nothing to fear. It's not something you need to study for. Rather, it's an opportunity for psychologists to determine the best way to help you, and that assessment allows a psychologist to see the full picture of a person’s mental state and what the best path forward into the future of their treatment will be.
If a career in psychology looks like it should be in your future, come apply to programs at our California School of Professional Psychology. To learn more, contact an Alliant Admission Counselor today at 1-866-825-5426.