A Guide to Psychological Testing

Psychological evaluations can be a helpful component in obtaining information about an individual's learning style, behavior, or mental health diagnosis. A psychological evaluation may be recommended by a therapist, medical provider, or school staff working with the individual who is looking for a greater understanding of the individual's presenting concerns. Licensed psychologists (Ph.D, Psy.D, Ed.D) or interns under the supervision of licensed psychologists are the only professionals trained to administer and interpret psychological evaluations.

A psychological evaluation may consist of a variety of procedures ranging from standardized tests of cognitive functioning to projective tests of social-emotional functioning. The procedures are administered as part of a comprehensive evaluation, or battery, and should reflect the referral question(s). The tests and/or procedures may require the individual to answer questions, to solve puzzles or problems, or to tell stories. It is important to be aware that individuals cannot “fail” these measures, but rather the measures provide information about an individual’s traits, or relative strengths and weaknesses. The results from these tests are compared to norms of performance based on peers of a similar age group, and oftentimes of a similar education level. In addition to the measures listed above, the evaluator will conduct a clinical interview with the individual and/or parents/guardians. A clinical interview generally consists of gathering information about the present concern(s). Depending on the scope of the evaluation, it also often involves gathering historical and developmental information, and may involve a review of available medical or psychiatric records, to get a more complete picture of an individual. Evaluators may also use self-report rating scales to gain information from the individual, his or her parents, and/or teachers on their perspective of the current issue(s).

Results from psychological evaluations help the evaluator develop individualized recommendations to foster improvements in the area(s) of concern. These recommendations may help individuals and families make informed decision about the treatments or accommodations may be most helpful to the individual. Recommendations may also allow therapists working with the individual to adjust the therapeutic approach or treatment plan, and may assist educators in making adjustments in order to maximize the individual's learning potential in an academic setting.

Though the basic format of an evaluation is similar across types, there are a few different categories of evaluations to be aware of in speaking with providers. Psychological assessments, or psychological evaluations, are the most generic term, and generally cover assessments that include cognitive and personality/projective assessment (which may also be called social-emotional assessments). These general evaluations are typically requested around emotional or behavioral functioning, though they may also provide more broad information about cognitive or intellectual functioning. Psychological assessments are typically requested around questions of differential diagnosis (i.e. helping a clinician better distinguish or understand an individual’s psychiatric diagnosis), testing for more broad learning disabilities or IQ, or as a component of a forensic or risk assessment. Neuropsychological assessments, or neuropsychological evaluations, are typically more specific assessments, aimed at better understanding presenting concerns which are at least suspected to have a more brain-based origin. They may be involved in either helping to determine whether this origin exists, or to understand the effects of a brain-based concern on the individual. These assessments may still involve the same types of measures as general psychological assessments, but may also involve additional measures which are more specific to various aspects of cognitive abilities (i.e., attention, memory, etc.). Neuropsychological assessments are most frequently requested around questions of dementia/Alzheimers, ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorders, organic brain injury (such as Traumatic Brain Injury, substance abuse, stroke or other brain disease), potentially non-organic brain damage (such as prolonged exposure to traumatic events), or more specific learning disabilities such as dyslexia. Though these are two of the more common forms of assessment requested, there are also other types of assessments, such as forensic assessments which are ordered by a court or hospital, or risk assessments around topics such as violent behavior. These may involve some of the same measures as other forms of assessment, in addition to more specific forensic measures, and a clinical interview more focused on subject of that referral.

Many health insurance plans cover a percentage of the fee for psychological testing. However, even in such cases, prior authorization for testing may be needed. If you have questions about coverage, contact your health insurance company to better understand your mental health benefits.

Please see the following resources for more information:

From the American Psychological Association: Understanding Psychological Testing and Assessment

From Psych Central: What is Psychological Assessment?