What Is a Psychological Assessment?

Diagnosing psychiatric disorders can at times be tricky even for mental health professionals.  The reason for this is twofold:

1. Disorders of the mind cannot be measured the way biological disorders can.  There is no “emotional thermometer”, no blood test that can definitively identify dysfunction.  Rather we measure what are known as “constructs”.  A construct is a method of classifying something concepts, like depression, anxiety, psychosis.  Mental health professionals are trained to look for symptoms that can be tell tale signs of a specific “construct” or diagnosis.  This brings up the second way that diagnosing can be tricky…

2.  Many psychiatric disorders that are actually very different, share some similar symptoms.  So being able to differentiate one diagnosis from another becomes extremely important.  Sometimes the diagnosis can be easily identified.  Other times in more complex cases psychological testing can be utilized in order to definitively pinpoint a specific diagnosis. 

Accuracy in diagnosis is logically extremely important, but there are some situations where precision is even more crucial. 

Within the legal system there are situations where being diagnosed with a particular disorder can make the difference between a legal victory or loss, or even guilt or innocence.  In these cases, both lawyers and their clients should be aware of this fact, and only visit a mental health professional skilled in testing and assessment as well as report writing in the realm of forensics. 

Another situation where psychological testing is absolutely crucial is in diagnosing learning disorders.  Often there are small differences between performance in certain cognitive and academic areas that may indicate the presence of a learning disability.  These details CANNOT be detected during an interview or even a classroom observation.  Only certain tests can detect for instance, a discrepancy between visual and auditory processing. 

When a situation such as the examples above call for diagnostic accuracy and precision psychological assessments can be extremely valuable.  Be sure to contact a mental health professional with expertise in this area however, because an incorrect diagnosis or poorly written report will only further exacerbate the presenting problem. 

Dr. Maloff is an expert in diagnosis, testing and assessment for both academic and legal issues.  He conducts these types of testing batteries regularly and is available for consultation at (310) 712-5480.

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