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  • Writer's pictureDr. Heather Kuhl, PsyD, LMFT

Demystifying Psychological Testing and Evaluations

Let me take a step back for a minute. Imagine you go to the doctor with recurrent headaches, dizziness, and a fever. When you share these symptoms with your physician he may order blood tests, an MRI, or maybe a neurological work-up. They will gather this data to arrive at a diagnosis and develop a treatment plan to help you return to optimal health. The goal of a psychological evaluation is very similar, to diagnose mental health disorders.

A psychologist starts by conducting an interview to get a thorough history of early development, medical history, academic or occupational functioning, family or social history, among other information depending on the reason for referral. The psychologist then selects a collection of tests designed to measure different skills or abilities including intelligence, academic performance, memory, attention, emotional functioning among many other specific skills. A psychologist may consult with other professionals involved such as therapists, teachers, or psychiatrists.

Once all this data is gathered and interpreted, a detailed report is written with a diagnosis and treatment plan for what steps to take next. This information is reviewed in a feedback session to give the family or individual an opportunity to ask questions, review the findings, and come to a new understanding. This is a comprehensive process but ensures enough time and data to arrive at a proper diagnosis.

And why is this process so important? Many mental health symptoms mimic others, therefore, a thorough understanding of symptoms is crucial to ensure the proper diagnosis. A child who presents with symptoms of ADHD may appear distracted and lost in thought or this may be due to anxiety and excessive worry. Or that child who frequently acts out in class and refuses to do homework may be oppositional and defiant, depressed, or have a learning disorder. Regardless, without concrete data, it can be hard to narrow down or confirm a diagnosis.

Okay so I’ve hopefully de-mystified the process of psychological testing, now to discuss reasons for an evaluation. For children, common reasons for seeking a psychological evaluation may include:

  • Delays in your child’s developmental milestones

  • Difficulty learning, even though a child puts in the time and effort

  • Problems with attention and concentration, such as being easily distracted and having difficulty starting or finishing tasks

  • Emotional concerns such as unusual sadness, worry, or anger

  • Social concerns such as difficulty making or keeping friends, or perhaps a total disinterest in other kids

Adults may seek an evaluation for the following reasons

  • Difficulties with attention and concentration

  • A recent change in your memory, judgment, and mood

  • Concerns about having ADHD

  • Seeking confirmation of a mental health diagnosis that may have been made by a different provider (e.g., Is it depression, is it bipolar disorder, or possibly a personality issue?)

  • Or maybe you plan to go to college and need accommodations on standardized testing or while at university.

Regardless of the question, you have about yourself or your child, a psychological evaluation can be designed to meet your specific needs. Take the first step and call me today at (954) 391-5305 or visit my website today


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