Psychological Testing Enhances the Therapy Experience
A psychological evaluation can enhance your or your loved one’s therapy experiences. This type of evaluation provides information about the way one thinks, feels, and behaves. Psychological assessments provide individuals with an opportunity to gain insight about themselves, including strengths and challenges, motivations, interests, and traits that can enhance personal growth. This process provides levels of information about a client’s functioning that may not be explored otherwise. Additionally, assessments provide information about treatment targets to ensure important issues are being addressed by the provider. Assessments can be helpful to challenge the diagnosis they have provided and to ensure the treatment they are offering is useful. In addition, assessments can help determine the appropriate intensity of treatment that is needed. Overall, the assessment can empower both clients and clinicians by providing a greater sense of self understanding and by ensuring that treatment is tailored to each individual’s strengths and tendencies.
What is a psychological evaluation?
A psychological assessment is a “process of testing that uses a combination of techniques to help arrive at some hypothesis about a person and their behavior, personality, and capabilities,” (Farmingham, 2018). The methods used for the evaluation will depend on an individual’s needs but typically include various questionnaires, inventories, standardized, norm referenced tests, clinical interviews, and observations. A psychological assessment provides a comprehensive view of the client that demonstrates their cognitive strengths and weaknesses as well as their personality traits. Using this information will guide the therapy process and provide the client with a clear understanding of the way they process information and view the world, which will, in turn, enhance their growth during therapy. For providers, assessments can be helpful to challenge diagnoses and determine the appropriate intensity of treatment that is needed. This information helps to ensure that the treatment they are offering is useful to each client’s individual needs.
What psychological assessments are often used?
There are many different psychological assessments that provide clinically relevant information. Categories of assessment that are often used to inform treatment include:
Intelligence and neuropsychological functioning – These assessments typically measure different dimensions of cognitive functioning including attention, memory, reasoning, and problem solving abilities. Commonly administered tests of intelligence include the Wechsler scales (WAIS-IV for adults and WISC-V for children).
Personality inventories – The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, currently in its third edition (MMPI-3) is a commonly administered inventory that measures personality traits and clinical symptoms. Results from this inventory give clinicians information that is relevant to planning treatment targets. Other commonly administered personality inventories include the Millon Clinical Multiaxial Inventory and the Personality Assessment Inventory.
Career assessments – Career assessments take individuals’ workplace interests and compares them with individuals working in one of the hundreds of careers. A common career assessment is the Career Assessment Inventory (CAI). This assessment is geared for both college-bound and non-college bound individuals and matches individuals with jobs and careers that align with their professional interests.
What are the benefits?
Many clients come in feeling generally overwhelmed and it may be difficult to piece where difficulties are stemming from or which need to be addressed first. Psychological assessments help the treating clinicians to better understand the client’s tendencies and clarify areas that may be beneficial to work on while in therapy. For example, individuals often struggle with symptoms that are common across a range of diagnoses (i.e., mood difficulties, attention problems, etc.).
Assessment information, in addition to interview information, gives clinicians specific details to provide clients with accurate diagnoses and clarify the intensity of interventions that may be needed. Based on the information gathered during a psychological assessment and clinical interview, a client may be provided with necessary services that may not have been available prior (e.g., school accommodations, medications targeting symptoms). In addition to therapy, these services may enhance the client’s performance in school, work, or other areas of their life and result in more positive outcomes. With additional support in place, people are more likely to succeed academically, professionally, and socially.
When is the best time to have a psychological assessment?
Psychological assessments are very helpful to complete at the onset of treatment. The results from the assessments will give clients and clinicians a better understanding of the client’s level of functioning, behavioral tendencies, personality traits, and symptoms they may not be aware of that are playing a role in their distress and discomfort. Many psychological diagnoses share overlapping symptoms and assessments aid in ruling out diagnoses that are not helpful to understanding a client’s presenting issues. Even when someone has been accurately diagnosed, it can be helpful to dive deeper to better understand which symptoms are the most impactful to the client, as no two people present the same way. Initial testing is beneficial to challenge diagnoses and ensure that the diagnosis (if given) is appropriate and determine the appropriate intensity of treatment that is needed. Furthermore, if treatment stalls while a client is present in therapy, a psychological evaluation may be useful to identify the factors that are limiting progress and aid the clinician in modifying treatment that is most appropriate for the client. Additionally, as a client’s life changes over time, new difficulties may emerge and the client may benefit from a psychological evaluation to fully understand the new symptoms emerging and determine the most appropriate steps to take in therapy. A client may benefit from a reevaluation after they have been in treatment for an extensive amount of time to validate and ensure a diagnosis is still accurate.
While psychological assessments themselves are structured, the insights gained from assessments are used to collaborate with clients and improve treatment outcomes. The information gathered from the assessment may facilitate better self-awareness in individuals and inform therapists of the most effective approaches to treatment (e.g., pharmacotherapy, psychotherapy, etc.) that are tailored to clients’ individual needs. Therapy overall is a collaborative endeavor between clients and clinicians; therefore, assessment results are discussed openly with clients, and treatment goals are agreed upon by both parties. The ultimate goal of psychological assessments is to get to know each individual (their strengths, weaknesses, and tendencies) in order to assist them in overcoming the obstacles they face, aid them in reaching their goals, and lead gratifying lives.
Psychological assessments provide a relatively comprehensive view of clients’ strengths, motivations, symptoms, traits, and interests which are important for tailored treatment planning. The psychological assessment process can be empowering to individuals as it allows them to explore some aspects of themselves they may not have much insight into (cognitive patterns, personality traits, behavioral tendencies, etc.,). Additionally, assessment results can empower practitioners by providing information that is significant to treatment intensity and treatment goals and ensuring that appropriate services are being provided. Psychological assessments can take place at any time during a client’s journey but are often sought out at the onset of treatment, mid-treatment when progress is not being made when new symptoms emerge, and to validate and ensure the correct diagnosis. This is a collaborative process between client and practitioner that aids in better treatment outcomes and facilitates overall personal growth.
Written by Jessie Phillips and Terran Sutphin, clinical interns for Matone Counseling and Testing who are completing their Master’s of Arts in Psychology at Western Carolina University.