The idea of a “psychological evaluation” might sound unfamiliar or mysterious. If you’re unsure about psychological evaluations and when they might be helpful, this blog entry is for you. It is no secret that many people experience mental health difficulties. Sometimes, these issues may be straightforward (say, feeling anxious due to a big life change) and others may be more complicated (such as coping with childhood trauma and its effect on your current relationships). Nowadays, most people approach their primary care doctor with these concerns, who may either prescribe medication or give them the phone number of a trusted therapist. While medication and therapy can be appropriate treatments for mental health issues, there are times when something more is needed.

A psychological evaluation is a diagnostic tool, much like taking X-rays or blood tests to examine physical issues at a deeper level. The evaluation consists of several psychological and personality tests that are backed by research and statistics. Your scores are compared to others to see where you fall on a range of traits and symptoms. Again, this is similar to medical tests, in which your results are compared to a “normal range” (such as blood sugar level). In addition to the psychological tests, evaluators use information gained from the clinical interview and from other sources (such as your therapist or medical provider). All of this information is put together to understand the full clinical picture.

Not sure if a psychological evaluation is right for you (or your child)? Here are some examples of situations when an evaluation would be helpful:

  • “I’ve been in therapy my whole life and have been diagnosed with everything you can think of – anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, ADHD, borderline personality disorder. I’ve tried all kinds of medications and nothing seems to work. I want to know what’s really going on.”
  • “I’ve kind of wondered for a while if I had this disorder and now I just want to get it tested and know for sure.”
  • “I keep having problems in relationships and I don’t know what I’m doing wrong. Even friendships are hard. I know I have anxiety and depression, but my therapist says there’s probably something more and I should get an evaluation.”
  • “I’ve never really had any issues before but lately I’ve just been feeling ‘off.’ Something’s just not right and I’m always in a weird mood. It’s starting to affect my work and my marriage, and I feel like I should find out what’s going on.”
  • “My child has been really emotional lately. She’s always been a bit dramatic, but lately she’s having major mood swings and every day is a battle. My friends say I should just put her on medication, but I want to know what’s going on first.”

If any of these scenarios sound familiar, you would likely benefit from a psychological evaluation. If you’re not sure if an evaluation is the right choice for you or your child, most evaluators are happy to talk it over with you. An evaluation should only be done if you and the evaluator both agree it’s a good option, and you (or your child) are comfortable with the decision.