It's About Them

Young People … Our Greatest Resource

What is a Psychological Assessment? Part One


I’ve often wondered what makes up a comprehensive psychological assessment and how conclusions, diagnoses and recommendations are drawn from it.

There are a number of ways to conduct such an evaluation; none of them represent the right or wrong way to do it. When I was doing a lot of testing, I followed a format that worked well for me. It’s lengthy, so we’ll break it into two parts, one here and one in the next post.
PART ONE: Conducting a Comprehensive Psychological Assessment
A good and comprehensive psychological assessment can take a lot of guesswork out of treatment and interventions. It can also alert parents and teachers to issues that had been hidden. More than anything, however, a good evaluation provides a snapshot of a youngster as he sees himself and his circumstances. Because of the structure of the assessment (and the skill of the examiner) spontaneous, unique and valuable information often is obtained for the very first time.
What follows are what I see as essential components of a comprehensive psychological assessment.
Review of Available Records and Reports: This could include school records, medical reports, other assessments, and any additional information that could help us get a total picture of this youngster and his behavior.
Interviews with Parents and Teachers: This can be done in writing or in person. My concern here is not everything a child has said or done since birth, but rather what the parent(s) and teacher(s) select as their primary concerns. These can differ greatly from adult to adult. I am not a fan of checklists; the information from them is often unclear. I would prefer these adults take out a sheet of paper and tell me in their own words their concerns regarding this youngster. Consequently, they almost start with the most important impressions first, and work down from there. That is very helpful.
Perceptual-motor Assessment: I prefer to start with this one because, early on, it’s easier for a youngster to “do” something rather than “say” something. It’s a good rapport-builder. I’m usually not all that interested in the scores on instruments like the Bender Visual-motor Gestalt Test or the Goodenough-Harris Drawing Test. I am more interested in the subtle patterns of oppositional and defiant behavior that can surface on these instruments.
Assessment of Intellectual Functioning: IQ testing is critical. (If this information is already available, I don’t see a need in putting a child through it again.) Intellectual assessment not only establishes a youngster’s cognitive “horsepower,” but identifies strengths and needs, as well as learning styles. It also establishes a baseline for a youngster’s abilities to exercise insight, because strong insight connects well with the capacity to change. (This isn’t always an asset, as in the case of an extremely bright child who knows how to work adults.)
Assessment of Academic Functioning: Here’s where we attempt to settle the issue of academic potential versus actual performance. This could be called the diagnosis of will versus skill. This portion of the assessment can help determine if academic difficulties play into a youngster’s behavior.
Projective Assessment: This one drives bright, defiant youngsters crazy because they know they’re being evaluated, but they can’t discern “correct” answers, nor can they pick up on the direction or purpose of the instrument. (I still use the old tried and true Rorschach inkblots, plus sentence completion and thematic instruments.) Projective assessment is a great way to gain a ton of information about perception and behavior without the child even knowing it.
Diagnostic Interview: This one is the very heart of the assessment. A good interview not only collects valuable information in the child’s own words (extremely important), it lets the youngster consider issues he feels are important. This can make all the difference in terms of gaining the youngster’s cooperation and input regarding goals for treatment. Questions in the interview cut across all aspects of the child’s day-to-day life, and even include questions like: “If you could give your parents a message they would hear clearly from you, what would it be?” Through the years, I’ve received some very interesting answers to that question.
In Part Two: Interpreting a Comprehensive Psychological Assessment

James D. Sutton, EdD, CSP

Consulting Psychologist/Certified Speaking Professional
PO Box 672, Pleasanton, TX 78064
(800) 659-6628 Email:

May 17, 2011 - Posted by | Counselors, Educators, family, Uncategorized


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