What is Psychological Testing?

           Psychological testing may sound intimidating, but when used appropriately psychological tests can be a fantastic source of information and guidance. In a nutshell, psychological testing is the practice of administering and interpreting various assessments designed to measure and observe an individual’s behaviors, thoughts, and emotions in order to better understand the cause of symptoms, as well as possibly diagnose various psychological disorders. In other words, psychological testing can help you better understand yourself or your child.

There are many different reasons someone might want to get tested, but one of the most commonly inquired set of assessments we administer at Matone Counseling and Testing is for symptoms of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). In this article, we will look specifically at the set of assessments used and common questions surrounding getting tested for ADHD (sometimes referred to as ADD). The process, however, will be very similar to other psychological testing we conduct.

Still have questions? Read on to learn more about psychological testing and how it works at Matone Counseling and Testing.

Do I need to be tested?

           To begin, what symptoms might prompt you to pursue psychological testing? ADD and ADHD can present in a myriad of ways. Often, these symptoms go unnoticed or undiagnosed because an individual has become so skilled at masking them. This is particularly true of those individuals who get diagnosed as adults.

           So, what is it like to live with undiagnosed ADD or ADHD? Below you’ll find several experiences that are common for those who have gone through life without a diagnosis.

● Constant fatigue: You may feel as if everything in your life takes maximum effort and you constantly feel drained, exhausted, or overwhelmed because of the energy day-to-day life requires of you.

● Low self-esteem: You may have constantly been told you are lazy or not living up to your potential. People in your lives may have called you things, like a “space cadet.” Over time, you started to believe those things and started to feel shame because of it.

● Constantly stumbling: Alternatively, you may have always known you were talented, but simply could not seem to stop stumbling over things like missing deadlines, a lack of motivation, or a tendency to never finish tasks or projects.

● Always Improvising: Because planning may be extremely difficult for you, you are always “winging it.” Sometimes it works out, but those times are mostly in the past and now life has become too complex and you feel overwhelmed all the time.

● Always being bored: Looking back, you may have noticed that you frequently jump from hobby to hobby, or job to job, giving 100% initially but soon finding yourself bored or unstimulated. 

           What if it is your child that you may be concerned about? It can be challenging to discern symptoms of ADD and ADHD from every day, “normal” behavior of children and students. Below you will find a list of symptoms from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the standard diagnostic manual used by mental health professionals. The DSM-5 has two different categories of symptoms: inattention and hyperactivity/impulsivity.

● Inattention symptoms:

○ Failure to give close attention to details 

○ Frequently making careless mistakes

○ Trouble holding attention on work tasks or play activities.

○ Difficulty listening when spoken to directly.

○ Frequently fails to follow through on instructions and fails to finish schoolwork, chores, or duties in the workplace (e.g., loses focus, side-tracked).

○ Difficulty in organizing tasks and activities.

○ Avoidance of tasks that require mental effort over a long period of time

○ Frequently loses things needed to complete tasks (e.g. homework assignments, work phones, etc.)

● Hyperactivity/Impulsivity

○ Fidgety, such as constant foot tapping; being “squirmy”

○ Frequently leaves their seat in situations when remaining seated is expected.

○ Often runs about or climbs in situations where it is not appropriate (adolescents or adults may be limited to feeling restless).

○ Often unable to play or take part in leisure activities quietly.

○ Is often “on the go” and acting as if “driven by a motor”.

○ Excessive talking

○ Frequently interrupts, blurts out an answer before a question has been completed, or has trouble waiting their turn.

What does testing tell me?

           With so many symptoms, many of them difficult to discern from so-called “bad behavior,” you may be asking yourself, do I need to get tested? While this question is ultimately an individual one, formal psychological testing offers a great deal of benefits and can offer a wealth of information. First and foremost, testing gives a definitive diagnosis. Psychological disorders can often present with complex and interwoven behavioral, emotional, and somatic symptoms. ADD and ADHD are no different in this respect and a formal diagnosis can help you and your mental health providers create a concrete plan of action for treatment.

           For example, some treatment recommendations for an adult recently diagnosed with ADHD may include:

● Ongoing medication management

● Exploration of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques with a psychotherapist

● Implementation of various techniques aimed at increasing skills such as increasing motivation and ability to focus.

● Implementation of a mindfulness practice 

           Another benefit of receiving a formal diagnosis of you or your child’s symptoms is rather subjective in nature. That is, the clearer picture and deeper understanding that come with a formal diagnosis can offer those with symptoms an explanation for why they have always felt “off” or “different” which can lead to greater self-esteem. A concrete treatment plan can also offer a sense of hope for those struggling without the support of a treatment team.

In addition to gaining clarity and understanding, a formal diagnosis can be particularly helpful for students because some form of psychological testing is required for things such as testing accommodations for the College Board and 504 plans. A formal psychological test with a diagnosis is often required in most educational settings to ensure students get the accommodations that they need, which can include modifications such as a separate testing setting or extended time, among many others. Without a formal psychological test and a formal diagnosis, the governing boards of many educational institutions, such as the College Board, will not grant these accommodations. 

How does testing work?

           There is no single standardized test, assessment, or measure for ADD or ADHD. Instead, we use a variety of individual assessments and tools to gain the best picture of you or your child. Each assessment serves to highlight a specific aspect of ADD or ADHD, including cognitive and executive function, attention, and emotional aspects as well. Some example assessments include the Brown Executive Function/Attention Scales, Tests of Variable Attention, and the Beck Anxiety Inventory, among others. Each of these measures has been tested for both validity and reliability, meaning that they are both accurate and reliable across different environments and between different individuals. 

           At Matone Counseling and Testing, psychological testing is usually a three appointment process. During the first appointment, which can be conducted in person or virtually, you will meet for a clinical interview. The clinical interview serves to gain an understanding of the broader context of your symptoms, including your past and present symptoms. During the second appointment, you will meet in person with a psychologist, spending a few hours taking the various assessments and tests. In your third appointment, your psychologist will review their report with you in detail. The report will include things like test results, treatment recommendations, and a formal diagnosis.

How much does it cost?

Without insurance, out of pocket costs can be in the range of $2000 – $4,000. However, Matone Counseling and Testing is one of the few practices in the area that contracts with most major insurance plans for evaluations. This is part of our mission to make quality services more accessible for you. In-network costs vary dramatically depending on insurance benefits and we’ll check your benefits prior to scheduling so that there are no surprises. 

By Kevin Ross

Kevin is a staff writer and clinical intern pursuing his Master’s in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. He is particularly interested in helping those with a history of trauma, as well as the distinct mental health issues faced by men.