What I Need To Know About A Psych Evaluation
By Nadia Khan
Updated December 20, 2018
Providing appropriate mental health care is important for individuals and society. In a time when all too common tragedies like mass shootings, terrorism, and domestic abuse occur by those with untreated mental illness, the importance of diagnosing and treating mental health issues could be the difference between life and death.
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.
If you or someone you know is referred for psychological testing and assessment, you probably have questions, concerns, and maybe a little apprehension. After all, nobody wants a psychologist to tell them they are "crazy." Luckily, psychologists aren't judging you and calling you harsh names. Instead, during a psych evaluation, patients receive knowledge to understand better and manage their issues and symptoms.
If you or loved one is putting off getting psychological testing, consider this: Just like medical issues, early intervention can prevent a potentially serious, disabling mental 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 or other mental health professional. The American Psychiatric Association outlines several warning signs that warrant a psych evaluation. These include:
- Social withdrawal: Losing interest in interacting with others, especially close friends and family.
- Problems are 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 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 or 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 psych evaluation is necessary. If the person in question has thoughts of self-harm, harming others, or suicide, they should seek immediate attention.
What Is A Mental Health Evaluation?
Psychological testing and assessment are similar to medical tests. When a patient goes to a doctor with 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, a doctor would order an X-ray to determine the problem. From there, an appropriate treatment is determined.
Instead of tending to physical needs, a psych evaluation observes and measures a client's behaviors, thoughts, and emotions to determine a diagnosis and appropriate treatment plan.
A psychological evaluation test gives your therapist a snapshot of your emotional state. The evaluation 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.
Psychological testing can involve formal questionnaires, checklists, surveys, interviews, and observations to assess a person. The type of psych 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 taken into consideration.
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 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)
During a psychological projective test, the individual looks at ambiguous stimuli such as pictures, inkblots, or uncompleted 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
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:
- Behavioural 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:
- 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 the 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 Psych Evaluation
A psychological assessment can include many components such as information from tests, surveys, interviews, medical evaluation, observational data, and other records. A psych evaluation can take between 30 to 90 minutes depending on the reason for testing.
Sometimes, a few days before a psych 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 psych 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 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 psych evaluation.
A mental health assessment could cause you a variety of emotions. Depending on the reasons for a psych evaluation, you may feel resentful, hostile, afraid, or anxious. These are all common reactions to someone evaluating how you think and feel. Remember, psychologists, are here to help you work through problems, not 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. Be patient. An improper diagnosis may only cause you more problems.
Getting help for mental illness can seem like a daunting experience. By agreeing to participate in a psych 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. The accredited, caring therapists at Betthelp.com 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.