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Testing, Assessment and Evaluations

Categories of Psychological Assessment

Even under the best of circumstances, getting tested by a psychologist or other mental health professional can be a nerve-racking experience for many. There are a ton of rules and information associated with these various protocols that you don’t need to understand beforehand. However, a general understanding of the basic categories of psychological assessment is liable to reduce the amount of confusion and apprehension you feel.


Mental Health Assessments: This a short-form test that is administered in the face of acute symptoms or other high-risk situations. First-responders, ER personnel, primary care physicians, as well as coaches and athletic trainers are all people commonly trained and called upon to administer a mental health assessment.

There are a couple common examples that serve multiple populations, including the mental status exam and mini mental state exam. But there are also depression, anxiety, and ADHD screening tools—among many others—that are commonly used by doctors and other professionals to determine whether to make a mental health referral. Compared to complex testing administered in a clinical setting, these assessment tools are fairly crude, but they can also be a life-saving resource by identifying people who may need immediate medical attention and hospital-level care.


Psychological Evaluations: These are what most people tend to think of when they imagine getting tested by a psychologist. More than likely, you’ll have a brief interview with the psychologist and then take a battery of tests that measure any number of cognitive, emotional, and behavioral faculties. These evaluations can open doors to public assistance and/or guide treatment plans toward better mental health outcomes.

Often, by not always, these evaluations are authorized and conducted in coordination with various state agencies. The Department of Workforce Services (DWS) may want to know if a mental health condition makes someone unable to work or what skills development program may be needed to gain employment. The Department of Child & Family Services (DCSF) may want to know if an individual is a fit parent or capable of becoming a fit parent. The Division of Services for People with Disabilities (DSPD) may want to know if an intellectual disability is the underlying cause of a child’s developmental delays.


Neuropsychological Assessment: Similar to a regular psychological evaluation, a “neuropsych” assessment uses sophisticated protocols to provide greater detail and context for psychological impairment. For example, an elderly person who was recently in a car accident is experiencing symptoms of early-stage dementia. Using a neuropsych assessment, a psychologist may try to determine if the cognitive impairment is more likely due to a brain injury suffered during the accident or the actual onset of dementia. There is often a good amount of cutting-edge research and test development that goes into these assessments. There are also advanced clinical skills that the psychologist must possess to validly administer and ethically conduct this type of assessment.

That said, the referral mechanism for these assessments—in Utah and around the country—is far from perfect. While a highly trained psychologist understands the benefits and complexities of these types of assessments, it’s usually social workers and case managers who are tasked with deciding whether or not to authorize a neuropsychological assessment.


Try Your Best, but Try not to Worry

If you do find yourself in a situation where you need to take a psychological test, there are no tricks. Simply try to stay calm and focused. Give it your best, but don’t get upset if it feels like you’re getting a bunch of answers wrong. Everybody is supposed to get at least some of them wrong, and the goal of these tests is accuracy not the inflation or deflation of one’s ego.