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What Is Psychological Assessment?

by Dr. Alex Mylonas

When a person begins seeking services for psychological issues (such as depression, poor concentration, etc.) he or she will often be asked whether any psychological assessment was done in the past, or referred for a psychological assessment after meeting with the clinician. For those who have never undergone an assessment before, this brings up many questions: what is involved in an assessment? What is the purpose of it? How will this impact my treatment going forward? These are all excellent questions, and in this article I hope to answer them and help demystify the assessment process.

A psychological assessment, often referred to as psychological testing, is called for when a client and clinician identify a question that they can't easily answer through the regular process of therapy. Another psychologist is then called in to provide an assessment to answer this referral question. This process involves having the participant or examinee go through a variety of tasks that are designed to assess various abilities, capacities, and traits, all to answer the referral question. For example, some tasks assess verbal fluency, creativity, memory, introversion vs. extroversion, risk factors for substance abuse, and more. The actual task asked of the examinee varies from instrument to instrument, but often you are asked to answer certain questions, state whether you agree or disagree with statements, manipulate objects to solve a puzzle or problem, or tell stories based on a prompt, along with a wide range of other activities. The psychologist working with you will always provide instruction and be willing to answer questions, although he or she may be limited in the types of answers that can be provided due to the nature of the task. Still, the psychologist will do what he or she can to ensure that you understand what is asked of you.

Once an assessment is complete, which may take several hours over one or two sessions, the psychologist will interpret the results and combine the data into a report for the examinee. This report will aim to directly answer the referral question, as well as provide insight into the examinee's strengths, weaknesses, and character traits. Often a psychological diagnosis will be provided (if appropriate) along with treatment recommendations based on the client's results. The psychologist will then meet with you to discuss the results, answer any questions you might have, and provide a copy of the report to you. This report, along with all the data it contains, can be useful both for your current therapy and in the future, as it provides a strong foundation on which to build any potential diagnosis or treatment plan.

Ultimately, the goal of an assessment is to provide you, the client, with more information about yourself, and help facilitate getting the best treatment possible for your concerns. To that end, here are a few points to keep in mind when thinking about an assessment. First, don't worry about your performance on any given task, since your psychologist is not looking for a perfect answer. He or she is focused on getting an accurate view of your abilities, and that means evaluating both your strengths and weaknesses. Also, some of the tasks are quite difficult, so focus on trying your best! Second, emphasize answering accurately based on what you think and feel, rather than trying to figure out if there's a right or wrong answer. And third, on the day of the assessment you want to be well rested and refreshed, so make sure you get a good night's sleep. Also, make sure to let your psychologist know about any medications you may be taking, as they might have an important impact on the assessment process.