What is a Psychological Evaluation?
Hello and welcome to our blog! My name is Dr. Vanessa Buonopane and I am a clinical assessment psychologist at Orchard Mental Health. I am part of the testing team at QOP, where I primarily assess individuals of all ages for various neuropsychological concerns, including Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), anxiety, and depression. I am also certified to provide gender-affirming care, as well as conduct evaluations prior to major surgeries and procedures.
If you are a parent or an adult wondering if you have some sort of neurodivergence, a psychological evaluation might be able to help you find answers. An assessment psychologist conducts a series of “tests” to understand an individual’s cognitive and emotional functioning. In some cases, an assessment psychologist can assess academic skills and motor functioning too. While brain imaging (e.g., MRIs and CT scans) can show the structure of the brain, the tests in a psychological evaluation show the function of the brain. These tests can help us determine diagnoses and can aid in treatment planning.
Often, parents begin to notice their child is experiencing difficulties in school at the end of a grading period and want to be proactive about helping their child get back on track. They might notice that their child is having difficulties learning or paying attention in class. Sometimes, parents have seen emotional and behavioral issues persist for years and just had no idea about the clinical utility of a psychological evaluation. In other cases, many adults have experienced significant executive functioning challenges during the pandemic or even since childhood, and they want to understand what the underlying cause could be.
Each patient’s circumstance is unique and a series of tests (often referred to as a “battery”) is selected based on the needs of the patient. Every assessment will begin with a clinical interview (also known as an intake) and a review of any records provided. Most batteries typically involve cognitive measures that assess verbal skills, visual spatial abilities, working memory, and processing speed. There may also be executive functioning and attention measures, in addition to learning and memory tasks. Because assessment psychologists often want to know if any socioemotional concerns are present and possibly contributing to cognitive complaints, patients can often expect to see questionnaires assessing for mood, anxiety, severe psychopathology, and, in some cases, trauma. Patients can expect the evaluation to last between four to six hours, depending on their specific needs.
Before I start any evaluation, I explain to my patients that “testing is not the same as the types of tests you might take in school where you have to study. My tests are not ones you can study for and, unfortunately, I cannot tell you the answers to any of the questions. The only rule I have is that you try your best. This evaluation is not invasive and I am not hooking you up to any machines. I will simply ask you a ton of questions and have you complete a variety of tasks to understand how your brain works. From there, I can determine if there are any diagnoses that you might meet and what to do moving forward.” I allow each person to ask any questions before, during, and after the evaluation.
When you go to the doctor to have blood drawn, you might get your results back within a few days. Unfortunately, a psychological evaluation simply cannot be completed in the same timeframe. There is a lot of thinking (and often research) that goes into each case, meaning it could take between two to three weeks to complete a psychological evaluation report. Many times, individuals request a psychological evaluation expecting to receive school or work accommodations following the evaluation; however, an assessment psychologist can only recommend accommodations and do not have any authority in the school or work setting. If you or your child needs accommodations to perform successfully, it is the assessment psychologist’s job to provide the evidence for those needs based on the individual’s performance. In any case, the results can provide answers and relief for many individuals, and the individual will typically be given recommendations to follow-up on to address their concerns.