Every medical treatment begins with understanding exactly what a patient is experiencing.

In mental health, medical tests are known as psychological assessments. They refer to processes whereby a psychologist, psychiatrist, therapist, or other mental health professional uses tools and tests to reach a definitive diagnosis, before creating a treatment plan based on it.

Psychological assessments come in different shapes and sizes, depending on the patient, their symptoms, and health goals. We’ll take a closer look at this process right now, and see how psychological assessment software can improve this stage in the patient journey to well-being.

Psychological Assessments: A Definition

Depending on the case, psychological assessments can either be very comprehensive, or very specific. In the first, a practitioner may aim for a full patients health overview, while the latter may suffice when a patient’s medical issue is already known.

A number of definitions for psych assessment exist, though many of them only scratch the surface of what the process truly is. In short, the consensus used to be that “psych assessment” and “psych testing” are interchangeable. Based on this idea, Anastasi offered this short definition:[1]

A psychological test is essentially an objective and standardized measure of a sample of behavior.

Three years earlier, Dahlstrom (1985) created a more elaborate definition:[2]

As used in psychology, the term test denotes a set of stimulus materials, together with both explicit procedures about the circumstances, manner, and sequence in which they are to be presented to a test subject.

Building on this, Dahlstrom describes proper practice for presenting these patients; specifically, “detailed instructions that the subject is to be given about what he or she is to do with these materials…to draw from the subject a series of actions or reactions by means of which he or she may be typified or characterized in regard to the attribute(s).”

What Do They Involve?

Other similar definitions exist, and while they may slightly differ in the amount of detail they provide, the general idea is that one can refer to “psychological assessment” and “psychological testing” as ultimately being the same thing.

Not everyone agrees with this idea, however. For example:

  • Some practitioners have argued that psychological assessment can include interviewing, physiological recording, behavioral observations, and other methods of individual evaluation besides tests.[3] Moreover, the mental health professional conducting assessments don’t just focus on test scores in order to reach a diagnosis, but also to understand the individual in a broader context, something that cannot be done solely through testing.[4]
  • Elsewhere, The American Psychological Association also makes a clear distinction between psych assessment and psych testing, calling them “two separate but related components of a psychological evaluation.[5].

In the latter definition, testing is defined as the use of checklists, questionnaires, or other standardized tests. All the patients are therefore evaluated in a similar manner, regardless of who is administering the test, or their socio-economic characteristics.

Here, the goal is to measure an individual’s particular particulars to better understand their mental state.

Psychological assessment, on the other hand, is viewed as a much broader concept that can have a variety of components, including psychological testing.

As the APA notes, it’s down to a mental health practitioner to determine what information is relevant to a patient’s case – making them responsible for choosing patient-relevant assessment methods.

Psychological Assessment Methods

For therapists and other mental health professionals, the purpose of a psychological assessment is to better understand patients, thus improving the identification of patient symptoms and leading to more accurate diagnosis.[6]

The methods they use to achieve this, therefore, matter a great deal.

Typically, one or more of 4 main components can be involved in psychological assessment:[6]

  1. Norm-Referenced Tests
  2. Interviews
  3. Observations, and
  4. Collateral Sources.

Norm-Referenced Tests

Psychological tests aim to provide measurement, which is why most of these tests are standardized, and not altered based on the specifics of the individual. In fact, the only variations they may present have to do with the underlying issue the patient is facing.

They are commonly referred to as “norm-referenced” because test content is based on a clearly defined norm group. A patient’s test score can then be analyzed to see how much they deviate from that norm group or fit into it, thus allowing the mental health professional to gather insight into their patient’s case.

Interviews

Other valuable information about the patient can potentially be gathered through interviews. These interviews are generally less structured than tests and give the patient a chance to express what they are feeling/experiencing in their own words.

This type of data is viewed as subjective, so it’s not fit for measurement like in the case of psych testing.[7]

However, the information from interviews can be equally valuable to an overall assessment, as therapists can:

  • Communicate directly with their patients
  • Observe their reactions
  • Note their choice of words when talking about a particular subject, and
  • Evaluate their overall demeanor.

Observations

In some cases, particularly when the patient is a child, it’s important to observe their behavior in a natural setting, where the patient feels comfortable.

This can help acquire more accurate data. In a clinical setting, the patient may not present the same forms of behaviors as they would normally. For instance, a child with behavioral problems in school might not show any signs of it a psychologist’s office – they may, in fact, behave themselves all through the course of the interview/session.

Because of this, it’s imperative for the child’s behavior to be observed in an environment where not only do they feel more comfortable but also where they may add to the issue.

In these cases, mental health professionals might observe a child at school, monitoring their responses to certain environmental triggers or stimuli, as well as their potential role in any perceived behavioral issues.

Collateral Sources

In some cases, therapists may include collateral sources in a psych assessment.

These sources can include important individuals in a patient’s life, such as family members, spouses, close friends, etc.

This method is especially important if the patient is dependent on these individuals, for example, if they are unable to care for themselves because of a disability and therefore rely on others for everyday help. In this case, the therapist may talk to the patient’s primary caregiver to get additional information about their client’s behavior and feelings.

Psychological assessment is important to a patient’s well being – it effectively defines how their treatment is designed and implemented.

Though other components of psych assessments also exist, these are the most common ones to be employed through the process.

On their own, none of these 4 components have the ability to give an accurate depiction of the patient’s case, and a diagnosis made solely from one will most likely not be accurate.

This is why psych assessment is so important to a patient’s well being – it effectively defines how their treatment is designed and implemented. Because of this, it’s imperative that assessment methods be relevant to each unique patient.

Psychological Assessment Software

These days, technology is more integrated into the world of mental health than ever – from mobile apps to fitness software and beyond. It’s not just the administrative task that can be streamlined through the use of psychological management software that can handle scheduling, billing, and storing digital patient files.

Some technology, such as teletherapy software, can even be integrated into treatments.

But how might that look for psychological assessment processes?

How It Works

One obvious application has to do with the psych testing component, which could potentially be done in a digital landscape. Norm-referenced tests, for example, could be disseminated online, where patients can take the time to fill them outside of a clinical setting, in a place where they feel more comfortable.

The benefits of online tests aren’t just on the patient’s side. Human resources no longer have to be spared in order to administer this test – the patient can do so themselves, at home, with the help of a family member if needed, and with just a few clicks. The results can then be automatically sent back to the mental health professional for analysis.

When data is digital, it is easier to store, can be kept more secure, and therapists have the ability to analyze them better. This can save a lot of valuable time for mental health professionals.

Looking Into The Future of Psychological Assessment Software

As for how technology can be applied for other psychological assessment methods, the expanding presence of virtual reality (VR) technology may change the landscape of certain psych assessments.

While the practice isn’t yet used everywhere, some research has shown that assessments from virtual systems correlate with the results of traditional assessment measures in individuals with ADHD.[8]

As VR technology itself improves and becomes more accessible, it’s possible to see virtual systems more integrated into the psych assessment process.

For instance:

  • Like video therapy, virtual reality can potentially create environments where the mental health professional can observe a patient’s reactions/expressions, without having to go offsite.
  • Others believe VR might also offer an improved approach to exposure therapies.[9] Such technologies can allow individuals to repeatedly experience problematic situations and learn, with the help of their mental health specialists, how to overcome or handle such situations.[10]

Where traditionally based in role-play, exposure and behavioral therapy has been far from a perfect solution, depending on the patient’s ability to stay in character and treat the play as a real-life situation. With VR, such exercises could be more effective in teaching patient positive behaviors.

Should You Use Software for Psych Assessment?

So far, a majority of psychological assessment software is focused on providing digital psych testing, and do not offer more comprehensive solutions to this process.

It may be because, apart from testing, other components of psych assessments rely on a therapist’s patient observations and interactions with them. While increasingly more e-therapy solutions are being proven effective, valuable and even more engaging, some practitioners believe these components are still more effective offline.

Behavioral Health Systems with Testing Features

As for psych testing, there are some clear benefits to adopting software that can streamline the process. Testing capabilities are often an inbuilt feature of many larger behavioral health systems.

These suites, in turn, are designed to help practices with an array of tasks such as:

  • Digital intake forms
  • Informed Consent
  • Appointment Scheduling
  • Sending reminders
  • Integrated messaging features, e.g. instant chat or videoconferencing, and
  • Handling cancellations and rescheduling.

Mental health professionals can use these applications to create digital files on their patients and store all relevant data they have of them, including information gathered through psychological assessment. This allows practitioners to save time on paperwork and visualize all their patient data holistically, therefore leading to a better mental health treatment plan.

However far it has come though, most digital clinical solutions can’t handle all the necessary steps required in psychological assessment – at least not at this moment.

It’s virtually impossible to know how technology may step in and change the process of assessment, but so far mental health specialists still need to handle at least part of its components offline, in a traditional setting.

Final Thoughts

At this moment, the process of assessment is mostly aided by technology. Some psychological management software has integrated solutions for psych testing, which in turn allows for easier patient data storage and review, but as we’ve noted in the beginning, testing and assessments aren’t the same things at all.

It seems other components of psych assessments still rely on traditional mental health practices to be administered, while technology may only play a part in allowing therapists to review the results easier. There’s still a big area of development for psychological assessment software.

Psychological assessments, while moving slowly into virtual care models, are still mostly done in a traditional setting. Technology has been rather slow to break through its walls, but with new and improved VR technologies underway, it remains to be seen if we’ll witness a drastic change in the way a person’s psyche is analyzed.

References

  1. ^ Anastasi, A., & Urbina, S. (1997). Psychological Testing (7th Ed.). NJ: Prentice Hall/Pearson Education.
  2. ^ Dahlstrom, W.G. (1985). The development of psychological testing. In Kimble, G. & Schlesinger, K. (Eds.) Topics in the History of Psychology. (p. 63). NJ: Springer Science & Business Media.
  3. ^ Goldstein, G., Allen, D. N., & DeLuca, J. (2019). Historical perspectives. In Handbook of Psychological Assessment (pp. 3-27). MA: Academic Press.
  4. ^ Sweet, J. J. (1991). Psychological evaluation and testing services in medical settings. In Rozensky, R. H., Sweet, J. J., & Tovian, S. M. (Eds.). (2013). Handbook of Clinical Psychology in Medical Settings. (pp. 291-313). Springer, Boston, MA.
  5. ^ APA. (2020). Understanding Psychological Testing and Assessment. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/helpcenter/assessment
  6. ^ American Psychiatric Association. (2016). Practice Guidelines for the Psychiatric Evaluation of Adults. 3rd Edition. VA: American Psychiatric Association.
  7. ^ Carless, S. A. (2009). Psychological testing for selection purposes: a guide to evidence-based practice for human resource professionals. The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 20(12), 2517.
  8. ^ Parsons, T. D., Bowerly, T., Buckwalter, J. G., & Rizzo, A. A. (2007). A controlled clinical comparison of attention performance in children with ADHD in a virtual reality classroom compared to standard neuropsychological methods. Child Neuropsychology, 13(4), 363.
  9. ^ Powers, M. B., & Emmelkamp, P. M. (2008). Virtual reality exposure therapy for anxiety disorders: A meta-analysis. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 22(3), 561.
  10. ^ Freeman, D., Reeve, S., Robinson, A., Ehlers, A., Clark, D., Spanlang, B., & Slater, M. (2017). Virtual reality in the assessment, understanding, and treatment of mental health disorders. Psychological Medicine, 47(14), 2393.

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