Broadly speaking, much of the change process relies on developing a greater self-understanding. Building insight is often personal, relational, and about understanding the greater world and context. Therapy is a useful way to explore and build insight; however, it can take longer to build a relationship while also exploring and building a greater understanding. Psychological assessment can precipitate this process.
But what is psychological assessment and why bother? Well, psychological assessment, also known as psychological testing or psychological evaluation, is a process used to better understand a person and their behavior. Testing results are then used to arrive at a diagnosis and guide treatment. In this way, psychological testing and assessment are similar to medical tests like X-rays, blood tests, MRI’s, etc. The “tests” are ordered to better understand symptoms, what is causing them, and help inform develop a treatment plan. However, psychological assessment can be more than that. It also attempts to understand a person’s psychological or mental health status, including challenges, personality style, IQ, or some other component. It aims to both identify strengths and weaknesses of a person, while considering the context of the individual and providing insight into potential causes.
Personally, I describe testing as a “snapshot in time”. The assessment and testing process measures an individual’s performance at a specific point in time. It gives a picture of how an individual is currently. I also remind people that the results may reflect how a person is under a certain set of circumstances, despite attempts to get a global and generalized understanding of them. Results reflect current functioning; however, once a deep understanding of present functioning is established, deeper, more targeted change work can begin.
The actual testing and evaluation process includes a clinical interview, the administration of numerous and varied psychological tests, analysis and interpretation of results, report writing, and feedback. The psychologist will gather history, background, and, with permission, even collaborating interviews or observations from other people (family, friends, teachers, therapist, etc.). The client meets one-on-one with the psychologist, who then administers various psychological tests. The specific measures used vary based on the psychologist, the specific clinical concerns, and the reasons for testing. The psychologist is trained to specifically choose relevant tests for the client and the task at hand.
There are several types of psychological testing. An evaluation process can include a focus on one or more of these areas.
Clinicians have varying degrees of expertise in the various types of assessment, so you may have to seek out a provider appropriate for your needs. Depending upon what kind of testing is being done, testing and evaluation can last anywhere from three hours to a full day. Testing is usually done in a psychologist’s office and consists largely of completing questionnaires, working through problem-solving tasks, and engaging in various activities such as examining pictures and answering questions. Once completed, the psychologist scores and interprets the tests and writes a report summarizing the results. The psychologist shares the results with the client, explains the report, and clarifies and answers any questions. Once this process is complete, the client typically shares the report with their therapist or treatment provider.
When participating in the psychological testing and evaluation process, it is important to be yourself and participate to the best of your abilities. Some people are tempted research tests, practice, or prepare ahead of time. This is not recommended because it will often skew the results of testing. In fact, preparation usually backfires and typically leads to inconsistent responding. This tends to make clients appear to have more problems than they actually do, and is usually apparent to the psychologist. Instead, consider that psychological testing and assessment is an opportunity for psychologists to determine the best way to help. It also provides a greater depth of understanding of an individual and their difficulties which is used as a road map for treatment.
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