Many clients call our practice for psychological testing services, often at the recommendation of someone else, such as a school counselor or physician. Most of the time, a client knows that they need answers about what is going on academically, behaviorally, socially, and/or emotionally, but they’re not clear what “psychological assessment” is or how the process works. The answer to that question depends on what kind of assessment you or your child need.
Here at FamilyFirst, we conduct a full range of psychological assessments that answer questions about academic performance, intelligence, information processing, behavioral problems, development, emotional difficulties, and social functioning. Our evaluations are very thorough and individualized. In other words, we assess the problems you are concerned about, but we often look at nuanced areas of functioning that relate to those problems. For example, if you are concerned about your child having a reading problem, we will evaluate his reading skills, but also look at skills that contribute to reading such as visual processing and visual attention.
So what can you and/or your child expect when you come in for testing? First you will have an intake interview, during which a clinician will ask about the history of the problems, family history of similar or related problems, and general level of functioning of the individual and family. If the assessment is for a child, then the psychologist will have parents and teachers complete questionnaires in order to gain a broader picture of functioning across contexts. Often these questionnaires will be given to parents at the intake appointment.
On the day or days of testing, the client will work one-on-one with a psychologist, who will administer measures according to the assessment questions. Parents do not stay in the room with their children during testing, as this jeopardizes the validity of the testing. Parents can remain in the waiting room if their child needs to ‘check-in’ during breaks, or parents can drop their child off and pick up later if that is deemed age-appropriate.
Our academic, intelligence, and other cognitive tests are very different from what would be given at school. We use individually administered tools that are designed for the purpose of psychological or psychoeducational assessment. Social and emotional measures involve novel tasks and questions related to perceptions and personal experiences. Some tests we use are paper-and-pencil format, but most are not. So the experience of testing usually feels unfamiliar, and that is how it should feel.
Testing can be skewed by practice, rehearsal, or pressure to perform well. Therefore, we encourage parents to help their children feel comfortable with the testing process by letting them know there are no pass/fail expectations, and that this will not be like a school exam. Psychological assessment can be interesting for the client, but can also be tiring and frustrating at times. During testing meetings, we allow examinees to bring snacks, take breaks when needed, and ask questions about the process. The psychologists here strive to help the examinee feel comfortable and do their best.
Melissa K. Hunt, Ph.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist