There are many different reasons why you might be seeking out a psychological evaluation for yourself, your child, or other loved one. Your doctor might want to have a clearer idea of your depression, anxiety, or sleep difficulties before he or she prescribes medication. You might find your child or yourself struggling in school or work with certain classes or tasks and want to know if you have a learning disorder or attention-deficit disorder, so that you can obtain medicine, occupational therapy, or classroom accommodations. Your therapist might wish for you to have a psychological evaluation to help guide her to the most effective treatment for your particular diagnosis.
What is a psychological evaluation?
A psychological evaluation is an assessment of a client’s mental health or psychoeducational difficulties through a series of tests and interviews conducted by a psychologist or psychiatrist for the purpose of diagnosing and/or providing medication, therapy, or accommodations at school or work.
As a psychologist in graduate school, I was given an extensive amount of training in diagnosing mental illnesses and providing relevant therapy or counseling. A significant part of this training was in performing psychological evaluations. This required knowledge of clinical interviewing skills, the use of highly sensitive testing instruments, understanding statistical methods, evaluating subsequent results, and writing reports. A typical psychological evaluation requires 6 to 8 hours of client testing time, followed by approximately 6 to 8 hours of data analysis and report-writing.
What happens first?
After making an appointment with the psychologist, he or she will usually start with a clinical interview. I like to have a good understanding for the reason for referral and how long the presenting difficulties have been troublesome. I will obtain an in-depth developmental, educational, family, and social history, followed by a detailed history of any mental health difficulties.
Based on this information, I will then select appropriate psychological tests to measure intelligence, achievement in school, attention, learning disorders, personality, and mood.
Some of these tests are more objective, such as the Wechler IQ tests, whereas others are more subjective, such as the Rorschach Inkblot test and the Thematic Apperception Test. If a battery of tests is extensive, we might decide to spread out the testing over two days. It is important to get enough sleep the night before and to do your best on the tests.
What happens next?
After your testing session, I will analyze all of the interview and testing data, incorporate them into a clinical overview, and create a detailed report of the findings. If there are any diagnoses, these will be included in the report, along with recommendations for relevant treatment or interventions. Your report can then be used for a number of different reasons: for your or your child’s school in order to develop accommodations, such as with an IEP or 504 plan, for example, or by your doctor or therapist to select relevant medications or treatment. The report can also be saved and compared to past evaluations to demonstrate changes of symptoms over time.
Feedback session and follow through
When the report is finalized, I will sit down with you and explain what it means and how the tests helped me to arrive at the diagnoses. I will answer any questions you might have. In most cases, you will leave the feedback session with a signed copy of your report to then take to your doctor, therapist, school, or work. It is your report. I will also save a copy of the report in my office under HIPPA-compliant security precautions.
After obtaining your report, it is important to follow through with the recommendations. For example, if you are in college and receive a diagnosis of a learning disability, you will need to provide a copy of the report to the relevant department before a 504 plan can be developed. At CU Boulder, this department is called Disability Services. You might also need to follow up each year and inform your professors of your accommodations. Remember that under the Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of
1973, you are entitled to accommodations if you have impairments or a disability that substantially limits or restricts daily life and/or your ability to perform when compared with the average person who has comparable training, skills, and abilities. Such disabilities include ADHD, learning disorders, anxiety, depression, and other problems.