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Types of psychological assessment

Psychological assessment may be one component of therapy or may be the primary goal of seeing a psychologist. Assessment may refer to verbal, written or activity-based questions that help measure an aspect of an individual’s thoughts, feelings, behaviour, or capacity. Assessments may be somewhat informal, such as semi-structured interviews, or they may have to be delivered in a very particular and standardised manner. Read on to learn about the different types of psychological assessments.

Assessments to gather information

Psychological assessments are often used to gather information. The assessment may be verbal, such as a structured or semi-structured interview. Or, the assessment may be written, such as self-report questionnaires or questionnaires given to the parents and teachers of a child client.

Assessments of risk

An important type of psychological assessment is risk assessment. In order to keep clients and others safe, psychologists may ask questions through verbal and/or written means to assess risk of harm. Suicidality and self-harm are commonly assessed during therapy and are monitored given these factors may change. Psychologists are trained to assess and minimise risk and may use standardised questionnaires for this purpose. Risk assessments not only give some measure of a client or others’ risks, but also measure protective factors. An accurate assessment of risk informs a safety plan and helps the psychologist further understand their client.

Assessments to work towards diagnosis

Assessments are of key importance in working towards receiving a mental-health diagnosis. There are standard tests for ADHD and autism that psychologists may administer to support the diagnostic process. Assessments may involve written items as well as verbal content and activities. For psychological assessments to be accurate, they must be administered by trained professionals who are able to correctly run the assessment as well as score and interpret the test results properly.

Assessments may also provide information about an individual’s cognitive capacities, such as memory or intellect. For example, a psychologist might run an IQ test to formally assess intelligence. Psychologists may also assess for learning difficulties such as dyslexia. The assessment process involves multiple steps including selecting the correct assessment/s to utilise, gathering information from multiple sources to provide context to the assessment, running the test in a strictly standardised manner, scoring the assessment accurately, interpreting test results, and conveying results in writing and verbally to multiple sources. Recommendations are often made in these reports.

Assessments to gauge progress

Another type of assessment tool psychologists may use involve questions designed to gauge progress. This may include questions about symptoms in the past week, such as using the Depression Anxiety Stress Scales (DAS) to track progress of wellbeing. Feelings of satisfaction with each session may also be assessed to help talk about how therapy could be improved.

Assessments may also be used to monitor what therapeutic interventions are most appropriate. For example, if a client is working through a set of feared goals, then an assessment of their fear in response to varied stimuli will help pinpoint the pace of therapy.

Use of assessments

With so many types of assessments to use, psychologists must enact clinical judgment to decide what to measure and how. Psychologists may use broad assessments at the start of therapy to narrow down the target areas and pinpoint presenting issues. Assessments such as written questionnaires can help clarify an understanding of client difficulties and how these factors interact.

Assessments may also be used to extend or confirm a clinician’s judgment of a client’s symptoms. In certain cases, assessments may be required for third parties to access funding, or to work towards a diagnosis. Psychologists will also use assessments to assess and monitor risk, and to keep track of progress during the course of therapy, as described.

Barriers to assessments

The assessment process is not always straightforward. With any measurement tool there will always be some ‘noise’ – factors that are not intended to be measured but influence the results of the test. For example, a child’s IQ results could be influenced by their fatigue levels or their engagement during the testing process. Other barriers to assessing an individual may include hesitance to disclose information, or difficulty understanding the language of the test. Psychologists aim to be cognisant of these barriers, and work to minimise them where possible. This may mean running testing across multiple time points to reduce fatigue, selecting the most appropriate assessment, and using verbal questions and further enquiry to fully understand the individual. Even with these precautions, the limits of assessments must be considered.

Complexity of assessments

One advantage of assessments is that they can gather a lot of information in a relatively short time. This is especially true of written questionnaires which can screen for multiple issues much more rapidly than through conversation. By measuring this information efficiently, therapy time can be used more effectively. Assessments may also pick up information that may not arise without prompting.

Assessments help guide therapy by enabling client symptoms and goals to be identified. In addition, assessments help quantitate constructs, meaning that information can more easily be communicated to health professionals and invested parties (schools, NDIS, etc.) if needed. Quantitative results mean progress is more able to be gauged.

There are, of course, limitations to the assessment process. Assessments cannot replace a strong therapeutic relationship between psychologist and client. Assessments are also only as good as the assessment tool. Even well-designed assessment tools may not be comprehensive or specific enough at times. The complexity of mental health also makes it difficult to measure constructs. Thus, the role of listening and understanding unique client experiences in therapy is vitally important.


In summary, running assessments is an important way that psychologists gather information about clients. There are various types of assessments, including written, verbal, and activity based tools. Types of assessments include assessments designed to gather symptoms information and work towards diagnosis, assessments that measure progress, and risk assessments. While assessments are a useful part of psychology, the limits of these tools and the complexity of working with an individual should always be considered. If you would like to learn more about the types of assessments offered at Young Minds, call us on (07) 3857 0074.

What are the types of psychological assessment What are the types of psychological assessment

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