Psychological evaluation, or clinical psychological assessment, is often requested by psychiatrists or other treating professionals, or sometimes by family members or patients themselves, to help confirm a diagnosis, sort out a complicated clinical picture, or understand a person’s behavior. Psychological evaluation can save effort, time, and money by taking an in-depth look at the outset of treatment to help determine what is most important to treat; or by taking a deeper look when treatment has been ineffective, or has stalled, to see what change of direction would be more productive. Good psychological assessment, however, does more than arrive at a diagnosis. It provides understanding of the unique personality configuration of a patient, the patient’s coping patterns, strengths and weaknesses, risk factors, and the therapeutic approach that is most likely to be helpful.
Psychological tests and validated interviews provide objective assessment of a person’s symptoms and personality functioning. Tests are usually interpreted actuarially, comparing a test-taker’s pattern of responses to those of persons with known symptoms or personality traits. However, tests can never be used by themselves for diagnosis, and integrating information from testing, interview, behavioral observations, records, and collateral sources is an art as well as a science. Giving feedback about an evaluation is a clinical intervention; receiving feedback is often an anxiety-provoking experience, and making evaluation feedback positive, helpful and therapeutic requires sensitivity and skill.
Psychological evaluation has been a specialization in my work, with extensive training in the administration, interpretation, and application of psychological tests, as well as in validated diagnostic interviewing. At UCLA’s Neuropsychiatric Institute and Hospital, I evaluated inpatients and outpatients, and taught interns, fellows, and residents about psychological assessment. Since being in full-time private practice, I’ve continued to offer psychological evaluation for clinical, industrial, and forensic purposes. While I do not regularly use psychological testing in evaluating my own patients’ treatment needs, it is an option for additional information about diagnosis or treatment strategy, or to assess progress.