Introduction to Psychological Testing
In our practice, we get a lot of questions from parents, clients, and other professionals about value and reasons for psychological assessments and testing, and what the difference is from testing, assessment, and counseling, etc. These questions are understandable, as psychology is a huge field with many subspecialties. At times, the terminology and jargon make it hard for clients, families, or professionals to understand.
If you or a family member has been referred for psychological testing, you probably have some questions about what to expect. Or you may have heard about psychological testing and wonder if you or a family member should be tested. Psychological testing may sound intimidating, but it’s designed to help you. The intent of this blog is to help define some basic terms and to clarify the “whos,” “whats,” and “whys” of psychological assessment.
Let’s start with defining psychological testing, which is interchangeably known as a psychological assessment or psychological evaluation. In many ways, psychological testing and assessment are similar to medical tests. A good example is if a patient has physical symptoms, a primary care doctor may order X-rays or blood tests to understand what’s causing those symptoms. The results of the tests will help inform develop a treatment plan, just as the results of psychological assessment will.
Why Would Someone Need Psychological Testing?
The testing process can include both formal/normative tests and assessments, which are then interpreted by a trained and licensed mental health professional. Depending on the presenting concerns, a set of tests will be chosen, as well as a clinical assessment. Testing provides a thorough documentation of the client’s history, symptom timeline, and impact on functioning. It provides a framework for addressing a client’s issues and a better understanding of how therapeutic intervention/counseling can be most helpful.
Psychological testing can reveal underlying mental health or learning problems that are either not observed or are underreported. Testing can often put these pieces together with those that are observed and diagnosed to complete the puzzle. Psychological testing often gets to the root of a mental health or learning problem sooner than psychotherapy or it can confirm a suspected problem seen by a physician, teacher, or counselor sooner rather than later.
The testing is an assessment of the individual’s current functioning, so it can often provide information about how the individual is managing strong emotions, like anger and fear, and it can often shed light on the individual’s difficulties with emotional management. Interpersonal skills are assessed by the projective tests and by observation and interaction with the client.
If a child is struggling in school, psychological testing and assessment can help identify a specific disability, and allow the child to receive proper accommodations. Children can also be assessed when behavioral issues or issues with impulse-control are present in the home or school environment. Testing reports can be beneficial to allow schools or other professionals to be a partner in interventions.
Psychological testing can also help differentiate specific disorders within a family of disorders in order to formulate appropriate goals for the client in consideration of a more specific diagnosis. For example, a person suffering from anxiety may choose psychological testing to narrow their disorder to Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, or a phobia. This can help optimize the benefits a client receives during therapy. As well as assist their prescribing doctor or provider in guiding treatment. Psychological testing is also one of the tools used to diagnose ADD/ADHD, impulse control difficulties and oppositional defiant behavior.
Sometimes, in instances of legal cases, psychological testing can be used to determine whether a person is fit to stand trial, or if they are psychologically/emotionally competent. Psychological testing can sometimes be helpful in determining a person’s parental capacity.
What is Psychological Testing?
- The main purpose of psychological testing is to gain a better understanding of a person and her/his behavior.
- The goals of psychological assessment are to better understand a person’s strengths and weaknesses, identify potential problems with cognitions, emotional reactivity, and make recommendations for treatment/remediation.
- All types of psychological evaluations measure an individual’s functioning at a specific point in time and provide a “snapshot” of a person.
- Almost all psychological testing is administered by a licensed mental health professional and is a formal process that requires extensive training and expertise.
- Psychological testing is not one single test, but a series of scientifically developed tests and procedures that assess various aspects of a person’s psychological functioning. Types of tests and procedures include:
- Interviews – Unstructured or semi-structured conversations with the client, caregivers, teachers, and other individuals familiar with the client. Interviews allow observation of social, language, and communication skills.
- Norm-Referenced Measures – These are tests that are standardized (“normed”) over clearly defined groups with representative characteristics of age, gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, or other features. These tests allow us to compare the client we are assessing with a broader “normal” group (e.g., comparing this teenager with the “average” teenager).
- Behavioral Observations – Observing the client’s behavior during the assessment and, when possible, in his or her natural environment such as the classroom, home, playground, etc.
Informal Assessment Procedures – These adjuncts supply supplementary information to support formal test procedures and may include things such as school records, standardized test scores (SAT/ACT), medical records, informal background questionnaires, and personal documents.
What’s the benefit?
One major benefit of psychological evaluations is the ability to inform treatment planning for adolescents, their parents, and treatment providers. For instance, for teens experiencing mental health challenges, such as depressed mood and anxiety, an evaluation can assist therapists to better understand personality and emotional functioning patterns. They can then create and fine-tune goals for treatment, select effective intervention strategies, and address coexisting issues that may serve as barriers to treatment. Evaluations can also identify alternate or additional intervention services, such as family or group therapy, social skills support, behavior intervention, executive functioning training, and tutoring.
In summary, psychological can be beneficial in a number of ways. The evaluation results can serve as a roadmap, helping the client to successfully navigate their lives at home and/or school, and better understand themselves. Evaluations can also help to secure necessary accommodations and support services as children or adolescents’ transition.
Would You Like Additional Guidance in This Area?
Apple Counseling can help!
Jennifer Anderson, MA, LPC-S offers psychological assessment services for both adults and children, ages 6-17 years old. Jennifer has extensive experience and training in conducting psychological assessments and testing. She prides herself in providing the most thorough assessments in order to provide clinically appropriate diagnoses and individualized treatment recommendations. Call us today to schedule a testing intake!