Psychological Assessments – from Confucius to Modern Times

Psychological Assessments - from Confucius to modern times

If you are one of the many thousands of people who suffer from test anxiety here’s some good news.  Psychological tests are not the kind of tests you can fail. They are simply assessment tools used by psychologists to gain additional insight into who you are and how you function.

Assessments like these have been in use for decades. In early China, at the time of Confucius (551–479 BC), testing was done to gauge the proficiency and knowledge of those applying for advanced studies or official positions. This type of testing was called Imperial examination. It was in Europe during the 18th and 19th century that rather unscientific and unorthodox methods of personality specific assessments came into popularity. These were soon replaced, expanded upon, and standardized.

Why psychological assessments?

Most of us are familiar with an IQ test or a personality test, but there are many more psychological testing tools. Depending on the type of data collected from a test one of the primary reasons for obtaining the results is to establish a baseline for normalcy. As used here, normalcy is nothing more than a generalized comparison of the shared traits and behaviors we all have. When someone is tested and found to be outside the range of these normalcies there usually are problems that exist.

There are several other valid reasons for the use of psychological assessments, including the identification of both strengths and limitations that a client may face. There are tests used to measure for almost any form of issue, functioning, or mental health diagnosis. These can range from depression scales, bipolar scales, level of functioning, geriatric, children and many more scales. If a psychologist has a question about someone’s ability to function, he or she can usually find a test instrument to learn more.

Types of Psychological Assessments

Most psychologist will recommend psychological testing before starting therapy. The assessment will give them some insight into the type of problems you are facing and help structure the therapy in more efficient manner. Yet, even if you are in therapy there may come a point in your treatment that additional information about how you function becomes important. If so, your therapist may request that you undergo an additional assessment or test. The actual psychological testing is usually conducted by an assistant (called psychometrist) with the interpretation of the scoring left to your therapist. Depending on the number and type of assessments requested you may be given a test to take on your own at home or will be asked to schedule test time with the psychometrist.

In today’s digital age a significant number of tests are now conducted via computer. This in no way compromises the findings or your confidentiality. Remember, it is the interpretation of the data that has meaning.

Most psychologists will rely on these four categories of psychological assessments:

  • Clinical Interview: Usually this is the assessment done at the time of your intake before actually beginning therapy. Included is a current medical history, presenting problems, family history, and other assessments that will go into the development of your therapy.
  • Assessment of Intellectual Functioning (IQ): Depending on the reason you are in therapy, this assessment can play a critical role in evaluating your level of functioning. In addition to presenting a kind of cognitive picture of your mind there are additional sub tests that can be administered.
  • Personality Assessment: This is another popular assessment tool. Here you can discover the personality traits that make you who you are. If you find certain traits that are holding you back from being the person you want to be here is where you can identify them.
  • Behavioral Assessment: Your behaviors are often direct links to why you behave in the ways that you do. Along with those behaviors that you manage well there are other behaviors that I refer to as out of control behaviors. These behaviors can range from the annoying to the dangerous.

Generally, there are four methods used for conducting testing:

  1. Norm-Referenced Testing: These include the standardized tests and assessments such as the MMPI, IQ tests, giftedness tests, and personality tests.
  2. Interviews: Not unlike your initial interview prior to beginning therapy, periodically your therapist may ask you to participate in a series of questions and answers aimed at gaining additional information.
  3. Observation: This should be an ongoing part of your therapy.
  4. Informal Assessments: Again, included as a part of therapy.

Again, it is important for you to keep in mind that any assessment or tests should be done with your permission as well as your receiving a pre agreed upon report of the findings.

Using Results of Psychological Testing

As you go through therapy, your therapist may have a whole bag of tools that they call upon for help. Other than their education, training, and skills the use of assessment and testing may well be their most important tool. How do these work in real life? Let’s take a look.

Doctor X, a noted psychologist is seeing Mary. Mary suffers from major depression with periodic suicidal ideation. Doctor X is concerned for her safety and is wanting to find out about the link between Mary’s depression and her suicidal thoughts. For the next several weeks he asks Mary to keep a log of her feelings. Over time the log shows a strong correlation between her depression, the thoughts that triggers for those episodes, and her feelings of hopelessness. It is from this data that the doctor can help Mary find ways to cope when it is most critical.

Any controversy regarding the use of these tools are in two areas. First, there is the ability of the interpreter of the data to correctly extract the information. A second concern, is in response to recent horrific events and the use of these tools to predict human behavior. While the value system behind the practice of psychology balks at this use those concerned with the ability of behavioral health to serve us continues ask “why not?”

The final goal of psychological testing or assessments are their validity and reliability. When met these two goals can provide often missing yet important data effecting the successful ongoing treatment of a client.