The What & Why of Psychological Assessment

What Is Psychological Assessment?

Evaluations performed by licensed psychologists are the scientifically-based means used to diagnose behavioral, cognitive, and emotional disorders.  In addition, licensed clinical neuropsychologists are the only doctors who are specifcally trained to assess processing problems in various areas such as attention, memory, language, visuoperceptual, and sensorimotor.  

Psychological assessment usually includes a clinical interview with both the child and parent(s) and a battery of psychological, neuropsychological, cognitive, and educational tests.

Interpretation of cognitive testing is almost completely dependent on the level of training of those who use them.   An educational “psychologist”/school “psychologist” with a master’s degree may be permitted by testing corporations to use their tests, but they have not been trained nearly enough to properly interpret most cognitive tests.  What you are really paying for when you hire a licensed clinical neuropsychologist to assess your child is not only their clinical experience with psychiatric diagnoses, but their expertise in interpreting the results.

Similarly, it is critical to keep in mind that tests are only “psychological” if interpreted by a licensed clinical psychologist, and they are only “neuropsychological” when interpreted by a licensed clinical neuropsychologist.  In other words, the labeling of tests as “psychological” and “neuropsychological” is completely dependent on the training of the doctor who interprets them and not because a test manufacturer labels them as such.

In an effort to make as much money as possible, test manufacturers not only sell as many tests as possible to “deep pockets” (i.e. school districts), but they sell software that “scores” and “interprets” for those who aren’t trained enough to do so themselves.  This kind of cookie cutter testing should not even be legal; most parents do not even realize that what they are usually looking at is something that was spit out by a computer program.  Maybe a machine can spot irregularities on physical tests, but cognitive assessment is extremely complex and requires doctoral and post-doctoral training.

I tailor assessment according to your concerns and your child’s presenting problems.  Although assessment is usually intellectual, emotional, or behavioral in focus, it often includes a combination of these areas.  Standardized tests and procedures are used that most children and teenagers enjoy.

Why Psychological Assessment?

Childhood disorders are complex. For example, a child with a learning disability may also have behavioral or emotional problems, language processing problems, and/or attention problems. 

There are many people who call themselves “learning specialists” and the like.  Some can only test academic achievement, some can only test language, and so forth.  Their scope of training is usually narrow, and they cannot assess the “whole child.” Although many can “test,” few can effectively interpret results or diagnose.  In contrast, licensed psychologists are doctors trained to assess and diagnose all areas of cognitive, behavioral, and emotional functioning.

How Are Evaluation Results Used?

When I assess your child, his or her evaluation results are your personal property (this is not true when you enlist governmental agencies to “test” your child).  With very rare exceptions, results are confidential and cannot be shared without your expressed written consent. 

My job is to answer your referral questions. Results may:

  • Confirm or clarify a diagnosis
  • Quantify levels of functioning in various areas
  • Facilitate educational planning
  • Document changes in functioning since prior examinations
  • Reveal compensatory strategies
  • Be used to make treatment recommendations

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