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Why is psychological assessment important?

Psychological assessment refers to information that is gathered for the purpose of measuring an individual’s mental health or capacity. As discussed in our blog on types of psychological assessment, assessment may involve verbal questionnaires, or be written or activity based. In this blog we will explore the reasons why psychological assessment is important.

To understand presenting issues

Assessments are used to increase a psychologist’s understanding of a client. When a client attends therapy, the first couple of sessions may be spent on gathering information and exploring the problems and symptoms that the individual wants to work on. Verbal and written questionnaires (standardised – with set questions, or more informal) can help therapists comprehend the target areas for sessions.

Assessments are vital to help psychologists pinpoint areas to work on, and to understand the exact nature of symptoms, as well as strengths the individual possesses. Assessments may also be used to work towards a diagnosis.

To save time

When undergoing therapy, clients tend to want time for the therapist to listen, as well as practical strategies to use. Giving enough information for a psychologist to assist can be a lengthy process. Assessments, especially written ones, can be an effective and fast way for psychologists to gather information. This efficiency may mean there is more time to work on treating these issues.

To give structure

Assessments can help provide clarity in the therapeutic process. For example, a psychologist will have standard areas they are assessing in an intake session and will be able to prompt the client for this information. Structure reduces the chance that important information will be missed. Assessments may also help piece together how different symptoms interact, as well as which areas are more severe.

To help diagnose

Psychological assessment may lead to a diagnosis (may need the support of other professionals depending on which diagnosis). A formal assessment to work towards a diagnosis may even be the key reason for seeing a psychologist. For example, some people will see psychologists for the goal of having ADHD or autism assessments, both of which involve standard steps to help measure the individual’s symptoms against diagnostic criteria.

Assessments can also help narrow down the type and cause of symptoms a client is experiencing.

To help assess readiness for therapy techniques

 Psychologists may ask questions (verbally or written) to help them deliver therapy at an appropriate pace. For example, if helping a client work up to a feared activity, a psychologist may ask for ratings of how stressful various steps towards the goal would be. Psychologists may also check in on a client’s distress during therapy techniques and adjust the pace of therapy accordingly. Another type of assessment psychologists frequently conduct is risk assessments, where risk and protective factors are measured to assist in keeping a person/s safe.

To gauge progress

In order to assess therapy progress, psychologists may give clients questionnaires. These assessments can help track wellbeing over time and may help to show whether therapy is working or needs to be adapted. 

To convey information

Mental health can be difficult to report on, and assessments of symptoms can assist in conveying information. For example, assessments of wellbeing from an initial and a sixth session may be taken and reported to a referring GP to show how a client is progressing across time.

Assessments may also be used to convey the significance of mental health issues to other parties (e.g., doctors, schools, other clinicians). For professionals to work together most effectively it is useful to have quantitative, standard measurements of a client’s mental health. This helps practitioners know they are talking about symptoms and severity in a uniform way, and thus understanding each other more clearly. Some organisations, such as schools or NDIS, may be more receptive to providing assistance if formal assessment questionnaires are reported.

To corroborate information and give context

Assessments may be given to more than just the individual client. For example, a child client may be assessed through parent and teacher questionnaires, in addition to self-report. Assessments with multiple parties can gain a broader perspective of a client’s difficulties and strengths. In some assessments, such as a functional behavioural analysis, the setting and context of a behaviour are considered, broadening the psychologist’s understanding of the client.

Limits of assessments

While we have discussed the many benefits of assessments, these tools do come with limitations. Assessments can only go so far in assisting with gathering information. Assessments will not catch the unique personality and strengths of each client, nor will they build rapport between therapist and client.

Additionally, assessments need to be appropriate for the given client (at a length and vocabulary that will feel comfortable for that individual). Assessments are also limited to who completes them. For example, if a client has limited insight, then a self-report questionnaire may not be informative. Or, for a child client, a parent may minimise or overplay particular symptoms based on their own unique perception.


Assessments are an important part of psychological therapy as they assist in gathering and conveying information, as well as help gauge progress, aid in directing therapeutic direction, and may lead to diagnosis. There are, however, limitations around assessments and they cannot replace a strong therapeutic bond between client and clinician. Our team of mental health professionals are trained to assess clients and provide a supportive service. Contact us on 3857 0074.

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