What Is The MMPI Test And What Is It Used For?

Medically reviewed by Arianna Williams, LPC, CCTP
Updated February 10, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) is a clinical assessment tool. It’s primarily used by mental health professionals to help them diagnose mental health disorders. Read on to learn more about the history of the test and its applications.

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The History Of The MMPI

As explained on the University of Minnesota’s website, the MMPI was devised in 1937 by clinical psychologist Starke R. Hathaway and neuropsychiatrist J. Charnley McKinley. They created it for use at the university’s Department of Psychiatry, since the self-report-style tests used previously were found to not be objective enough. The test they created was published in 1942 and became widely accepted for use in the field by the late 1950s. By 1976, the UNM website reports, the test had been translated into 50 languages for use around the world.

In 1982, an updated version of the test was released. The update was undertaken for the purpose of revising some outdated and offensive content included in the original test, and making necessary updates to the scales without changing them so much that decades of research based on the original ones would become outdated. The scales in older versions of the test each represented a clinical condition, but newer scales are intended for identifying symptoms that may be tied to different mental health disorders.

Since then, several other updated versions of the tests have been released regularly over time. After the MMPI-2 was published in 1989, the MMPI-2-RF followed in 2008 with the MMPI-3 just released in 2020. There’s also the MMPI-A and MMPI-A-RF, which are two different versions of the test intended for adolescents ages 14–18.

What The MMPI Is Used For

Today, professionals in this field may use the MMPI as one source of information about the state of a patient’s mental health, along with observations gathered from time spent speaking with them. It’s considered to be one tool in a toolbox for identifying mental health disorders—such as depression, anxiety, or schizophrenia—as a first step toward a treatment plan.

Outside of a mental health treatment setting, MMPI testing is sometimes used in substance abuse programs, child custody disputes, or for educational purposes. It’s been administered as part of employment screenings as well, though this application is controversial because it has been argued that it violates the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).

What To Expect If You’re Taking The MMPI

It’s important to note that the MMPI is not a test that individuals take on their own to get insights about their personality or functioning. It’s a clinical tool that’s primarily used in clinical settings.

So if you take the MMPI, it will typically be administered by a mental health professional. They will be trained not only in knowing when the test may be useful, but in interpreting the results. Without the proper training and experience, understanding the results of the test is generally quite difficult, if not impossible. It’s not pass/fail, as there are no “right” answers to the questions. Instead, the results of the test will be interpreted against a number of different scales in order to discern what they may indicate.

If a licensed mental health professional has you take the MMPI-3, here’s what to expect. It’s made up of 335 true/false statements which take between 30 and 50 minutes for most people to complete, depending on whether it’s done on a computer or on paper. Other versions of the test will likely be similar. When you’ve finished, the therapist, psychiatrist, or other trained professional who administered the test will interpret the results and make a decision accordingly about potential next steps for treatment.

Gaining Insights Into Your Mental Health

To reiterate, all versions of the MMPI are intended for use only by mental health professionals. If you believe you may have a mental health condition, connecting with a licensed therapist to discuss it should generally be your next step. They can use their expertise and training to evaluate you based on the measures they believe are best, which may or may not include the MMPI. In many cases, a counselor will mainly rely on talk therapy to gain insight into a person’s mental state to understand how best to help them with the challenges they’re facing.

If you believe you may be experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition or would simply like to process your feelings or work to reach your goals with the help of a therapist, online therapy is an option some people choose. Research suggests that it’s as effective as in-person therapy for a variety of conditions and needs, and a platform like BetterHelp can connect you with the right mental health professional for you based on a questionnaire you fill out. While some people prefer in-person therapy, online therapy can be an additional option for those who prefer attending sessions virtually from home. Choosing the format that works best for you is key.

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Psychological tests like the MMPI are designed to help a mental health professional you’re working with to gain insights into your mental health. If you’re facing concerns or challenges related to your mental health, know that therapists are available to help you address them.

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