• Megan Johnson, Ph.D.

What is psychological assessment?

Psychological assessment, or testing, is a formal way of capturing a picture of what is going on with a person psychologically. Assessment can help clinicians clarify diagnoses and get to the root of a client’s problem. Psychologists are trained to translate your symptoms into diagnoses. But this tells you little about the underlying causes of what your are experiencing or how to address it. Assessments can be used to fill in these gaps and answer these questions. Unlike other medical professionals, psychologists are not able to run lab tests such as drawing blood or taking x-rays to examine the underlying causes of symptoms. Therefore, they use assessments to better understand what is going on internally with a person.

It can be helpful to think assessment results as a map of your psychological functioning. Therapy is an investment, so it’s helpful to have a roadmap before you start your journey.

Oftentimes, assessment is conducted at the outset of treatment in order to get a clear picture of a client’s diagnosis, strengths, and goals. It can inform the treatment and help provide clarity for both the clinician and client. Assessments are also sometimes conducted during the course of treatment either to monitor progress or better understand roadblocks to progression. In addition to clarifying a diagnosis and establishing a treatment plan, assessments also highlight your strengths so that they can be used to your advantage.

How do I know if and when I need an assessment?

We recommend completing an assessment before beginning therapy. An assessment will provide diagnostic clarity and reveal what may the underlying causes of your complaints. Additionally, your assessment will identify your relative strengths, which will be beneficial in treatment planning. Other times assessments may be recommended are:

Around major life transitions such as marriage, divorce, starting a family, medical procedures, etc.

You are considering making a career change.

You are interested in going to college or graduate school.

You are feeling stuckin therapy.

You have tried many things and are still struggling.

You feel stagnant in your career.

You cannot keep up in work or school.

You are interested in receiving accommodations at work or school.

You are considering going to rehab or getting sober from drugs and/or alcohol.

You have heard several diagnoses from different doctors over the years.

Your functioning in some domain has noticeably declined.

You find yourself repeating similar patterns in interpersonal relationships.

You or your health care providers suspect you have a cognitive or neurological disorder(i.e., ADHD, learning disability, concussion/traumatic brain injury, dementia, etc.)

What should I do to prepare for my testing session?

All assessments will include a formal informational interview where the clinician will gather background information. Most assessments come in the form of paper and pencil tests. You will be asked to answer questions about your feelings and preferences. You may also be asked to respond to various questions in which your performance will be evaluated, such as with cognitive testing that can answer questions about job performance or neurological functioning. Some assessments are very short and consist of a series of questions that can be answered in a couple of minutes. Other assessments will take a few hours to complete. Your clinician will choose the appropriate tests for answering the question that you and your other healthcare providers are asking.

Prior to your testing session, your clinician will let you know how long you can expect the testing to take. There will be frequent breaks in order to stretch, eat, drink water, and use the restroom. It is essential that you get a good night’s sleep the night prior to your assessment session so your clinician can get the most accurate picture of your current functioning. If you are feeling nervous about your assessment, please be assured there is nothing to fear. During the interview and when answering test questions, there are no right or wrong answers. Psychological assessments are not like tests in school in which you can pass or fail, but instead they seek to describe your current functioning.


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