Psychiatric Evaluation And Assessments: What To Know About A Psychiatric Evaluation

By: Dylan Buckley

Updated September 01, 2021

Medically Reviewed By: Sonya Bruner

Providing appropriate mental health care is important for individuals and society. The importance of diagnosing and treating mental health issues could be the difference between life and death. There are those who have mental illnesses that stop them from functioning properly in their life or may add extra hardship to their lives that they need support and healing for. No matter where you are, psychiatric help is, fortunately, just a couple of clicks away at all times.

Psychological testing and assessment is often the first line of defense in treating mental illness. These tests help psychologists determine the nature and severity of a person’s mental illness while giving insights into treatment options. A clinician has a variety of assessment tools available based on the reasons for evaluation. Also, psychological testing can detect developmental delays in children, give insights into an individual’s personality, and assess intelligence and aptitude.

Psychiatric Evaluations

If you or someone you know is referred for psychological testing and assessment, you probably have questions, concerns, and maybe a little apprehension. Although this is common, it need not interfere with your daily life. During a psychiatric evaluation, patients simply receive knowledge to better understand and manage their issues and symptoms. We’ll discuss this in greater depth as we move throughout this article.

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When we think about getting help for our issues, we may feel as though it is our decision alone, and we may be hesitant to seek out the necessary resources because we believe that something might be wrong with us or that we are the only ones that are having issues. The truth? Many people struggle with mental illness, and others simply seek out therapy by looking ways to find a therapist to help them cope with day-to-day problems. More importantly, therapy is effective and helps them to properly deal with their issues rather than trying to deal with them on their own. If you or a loved one is putting off getting psychological testing, consider this: Just like medical issues, early intervention can prevent potentially serious illness.

Signs a Psychological Evaluation Test May Be Necessary

By knowing the symptoms and early warning signs of mental illness, one could proactively seek the help of a psychologist/ find a therapist or other mental health professional. The American Psychiatric Association outlines several warning signs that warrant a psychiatric evaluation. These include:

  • Social withdrawal: Losing interest in interacting with others, especially close friends and family.
  • Problems with thinking: Having issues with memory, concentration, speech, and logical, rational thought.
  • Decreased functioning: Having significant difficulties at school, work, or social activities. This includes quitting previously enjoyed activities and struggles to perform routine tasks.
  • Apathy: Loss of motivation and desire to participate in familiar tasks.
  • Disconnected feelings: A hard-to-shake idea of being disconnected from oneself or surroundings. A feeling of reality has been altered in some way.
  • Increased sensitivity: Being affected or overloaded by sensory input like sights, sounds, and touch. Avoiding situations in fear of over-stimulation.
  • Mood changes: Unexplained rapid or dramatic shifts in emotions.
  • Unusual behavior: Acting in uncharacteristic ways of displaying peculiar behaviors.
  • Changes in sleep or appetite: Declining personal care due to changes in sleep and eating patterns.
  • Irrational thinking: Illogical thought patterns that impact daily functioning. These could include intrusive thoughts, “magical” thinking, or unusual and exaggerated beliefs.
  • Anxiety or paranoia: Fears or suspicions of others, situations, or one’s environment.

When someone has one or two of these signs, it may not be cause for alarm, especially when they are temporary. When you or someone you know has more of these symptoms that impact daily functioning and social interactions, a psychiatric evaluation is necessary. If the person in question has thoughts of self-harm, harming others, or suicide, they should find a therapist or seek for other available immediate assistance.

What Is a Mental Health or Psychiatric Evaluation?

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Psychological testing and assessment are similar to medical tests. When a patient goes to a doctor with chronic pain, fatigue, or other symptoms, a medical doctor often orders appropriate tests to find out what is happening with the patient physically. For example, if someone falls and experiences severe hip pain (chronic pain, a doctor would order an X-ray to determine the problem. From there, the appropriate course of treatment is determined. Instead of tending to physical needs, a psychiatric evaluation observes and measures a client’s behaviors, thoughts, and emotions to determine a diagnosis and appropriate treatment plan.

Psych Assessment

A psychological evaluation test gives your therapist a snapshot of your emotional state. The assessment looks at thinking, reasoning, and cognitive function. Also, the psychologist will note your mood, behaviors, daily functioning, and social interactions. Since mental health issues are often complex, psychological testing has a variety of methods.

What will a psychiatric evaluation look like?

Psychological testing can involve formal questionnaires, checklists, surveys, interviews, and observations to assess a person. The type of psychiatric evaluation often depends on the person and what needs to be assessed. When determining the appropriate test, an individual’s cognitive functioning, current symptoms, abilities, and attitudes are all taken into consideration.

What are the Types of Psychological Testing?

Psychological tests help assess the cognitive and emotional functioning of children and adults by using verbal, visual, or written evaluations. Several psychological testing methods are helping assess attributes like personality, mental ability, and neurological functioning. Here are the common types of psychological testing:

Psychological Personality Test

Personality testing is used for a variety of reasons. From screening a potential employee to diagnosing forms of psychopathology like a personality disorder, these tests identify characteristics of a person’s personality. By using personality tests, a clinician can evaluate attitudes, emotions, thoughts, and behavioral traits contributing to one’s personality. These tests can help determine a person’s strengths and weaknesses, allowing them to make informed life choices based on their personality traits. Also, if someone shows signs of psychopathology, personality testing can help identify these emotional problems and start the treatment process. Types of psychological personality tests include:

  • Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory for Adolescents (MMPI-A)
  • Millon Pre-Adolescent Clinical Inventory (M-PACI)
  • Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)

Projective Test

During a psychological projective test, the individual looks at ambiguous stimuli such as pictures, inkblots, or incomplete sentences and shares an interpretation. The individual’s responses give insight into thoughts, feelings, and themes consciously or unconsciously projected into the material. Response frequencies and ratios are compared to normal and abnormal averages determining particular tendencies or pathologies. Examples of projective tests include:

  • Rorschach (inkblot) Test
  • Thematic Apperception Test (TAT)
  • Sentence Completion Test
  • House-Tree-Person Test

Neuropsychological Tests

For children and adults dealing with a traumatic brain injury, brain damage, or organic neurological problems, a neuropsychological test may be necessary. These tests assess a person’s level of functioning and help identify areas of mental impairment. Individuals undergoing treatment or rehabilitation for a neurological illness may need these tests to evaluate their progress. Also, some neuropsychological tests can help screen children for learning disabilities and developmental delays like autism and attention deficit disorder. Examples of neuropsychological tests include:

  • Behavioral Assessment of Dysexecutive Syndrome (BADS)
  • Rivermead Behavioural Memory Test
  • Boston Diagnostic Aphasia Examination
  • Kaplan Baycrest Neurocognitive Assessment (KBNA)
  • Dean-Woodcock Neuropsychology Assessment System (DWNAS)

Achievement and Aptitude Tests

These tests measure intellectual functioning and cognitive ability. Achievement tests measure a person’s knowledge in a specific area, while aptitude tests assess learning and ability to perform in new situations. Similar to aptitude tests, intelligence tests measure a person’s ability to adapt to the environment. Many achievement and ability tests are established standardized assessments with uniform procedures and testing protocols. They can be used in schools, universities, outpatient healthcare settings, and social agencies. Formats include written, verbal, or computer-based tests. Examples of this test include:

  • Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC-III)
  • Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale
  • Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT)

Direct Observation Tests

As the name implies, these tests involve the observation of a trained clinician. During these tests, the clinician watches and records interactions and behaviors while a person completes activities. Direct observation tests are usually conducted in a laboratory, classroom, or home. The purpose of these tests is to establish a pre-intervention baseline regarding a child’s behavior and parent-child interactions. Direct Observation Tests include:

  • Parent-Child Interaction Assessment-II (PCIA)
  • MacArthur Story Stem Battery (MSSB)
  • Dyadic Parent-Child Interaction Coding System-II

Preparing For a Psychiatric Evaluation

A psychological assessment can include many components such as information from tests, surveys, interviews, medical evaluation, observational data, and other records. A psychiatric evaluation can take between 30 to 90 minutes, depending on the reason for testing. Sometimes, a few days before a psychiatric evaluation, you will be asked to keep a journal of your thoughts, emotions, or symptoms. This gives doctors or psychologists a better view of what you are experiencing in your day-to-day life. Be honest and candid. If you are truly seeking help, your cooperation is essential.

A family member or loved one may be asked to accompany you during a psychiatric evaluation. They can provide insights, observations, and perspectives helping the psychologist assess your current strengths and needs.

Be ready to share any medical issues you are experiencing. Know all of the medications and supplements you take, including recreational drugs. This helps a psychologist rule out physical health problems, medication side effects, and issues with drug interactions. Make a list of questions and concerns for the clinician. During an appointment, it’s easy to forget questions about the need for the test, its risks, and what the results mean. By writing them ahead of time, you will remember and have the confidence to ask during the psychiatric evaluation.

A mental health assessment could cause you a variety of emotions. Depending on the reasons for a psychiatric evaluation, you may feel resentful, hostile, afraid, or anxious. These are all common reactions to someone evaluating how you think and feel. Remember that psychologists are here to help you work through problems, not to judge you. If you are not willing to work with the clinician or complete the tests honestly, you are sacrificing the first step of receiving help.

Properly diagnosing some mental health issues is difficult. A psychologist may need to order additional psychological testing, blood work, urine samples, or a physical exam. Try your best to be patient. Improper diagnosis may only cause you more problems.

What Can You Do From Home to Evaluate?

While you should never self-diagnose and treat your own disorder, there are some things you can do at home that can help you in the future and allow you successfully tackle your issue when you finally do start treatment. Here are a few of those tips to get you started.

  • Come Up With a List of Your Symptoms and Symptom-Related Issues

Having a mental illness can be a bit like having a cluttered closet; you aren’t sure of everything that you have until you get organized and take stock of everything. Fully understanding your mental illness and getting a better idea of what you may have all starts with learning more about your symptoms and how they are impacting you.

  • Take a Look Into Potential Disorders

While you shouldn’t self-diagnose, you should seek to learn more about potential disorders before you walk into your therapists. Knowing more about what you may be dealing with can help to move the process forward faster and help your therapist when you begin counseling. Take a look at some of the most common mental illnesses and see if your symptoms match up with any of those to learn more about what you could be facing.

  • Improve Your Self-Care Routine
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Not every mental health disorder can be impacted by what you do on your own time, but self-care can often go a long way when it comes to alleviating many mental illness symptoms. Before and during therapy, make sure to take care of yourself to the best of your ability. This can help to reduce your daily stress to make things easier as you gradually work through your current situation.

Getting help for mental illness can seem like a daunting experience. By agreeing to participate in a psychiatric evaluation honestly, you are taking the first brave step in changing your life. If a traditional therapy setting is too expensive or inconvenient, they are other options. Try to find a therapist— The accredited, caring therapists at BetterHelp provide convenient, affordable online counseling. If your struggles with everyday life seem overwhelming, let the dedicated therapists at BetterHelp.com guide you on a path to happiness and mental well-being.

Unlike traditional counseling options, BetterHelp gives you access to a variety of certified therapist through an online platform, allowing you to skip the inconvenience of having to leave your home, work out a schedule that may interfere with other important responsibilities, and search through a handful of physically-based therapists until you find the right one. Read below for some reviews of BetterHelp counselors, from people experiencing different issues and life challenges.

Counselor Reviews

“Kristen helps me to see my life and myself from a different perspective. I tell her about my experiences, and she is able to hone into another side of the story that I couldn’t get working things out on my own. And I had tried for a very long time. As someone particularly skeptical of counseling in general, it has been refreshing to speak and work with someone who genuinely recognizes that I am seeking help but reluctant to take it. Her patience and consistent inquiry have been the greatest asset for me, and I appreciate my time with her.”

“I’ve worked with Jamie for a number of months, and he’s helped me with everything that life has thrown my way. Difficulty in work, my relationship, and other stresses that I’ve struggled to navigate by myself. He listens, and he helps. I always feel validated and supported. He gives me tools and perspectives that have made a big difference in my overall happiness.”

Conclusion

Although the act of seeking out therapy and getting an initial diagnosis can seem daunting, letting your mental illness go untreated can have a much more serious impact on your life. Taking the first steps and connecting with a counselor today will open up the path to healing and push you into the life that you have been capable of living all along.


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