Do I need a psychological evaluation?

The path to mental health is different for everyone. You can start the process by talking to a psychiatrist, clinical psychologist or psychotherapist.

A psychological/psychiatric evaluation may be required based on several factors. If you have been referred for such an evaluation or have a loved one with this indication, then you probably have questions about what exactly a psychological/psychiatric evaluation is and what you can expect.

There are several types of psychological/psychiatric evaluations, including:

  • General psychiatric evaluations
  • Emergency psychiatric evaluations
  • Psychological evaluations

The purpose of assessments varies depending on:

  • Who requested the assessment
  • Why the assessment was requested
  • The role the psychiatrist/psychologist will have in patient care

Who am I?

Psychological assessment is a path to self-discovery. Psychological testing can seem intimidating, but it's designed to help you.

Psychologists administer tests and assessments for a wide variety of reasons. Children who struggle at school, for example, may be given aptitude tests or tests for learning difficulties. Tests for skills such as dexterity, reaction time and memory can help a psychologist diagnose conditions such as brain damage or dementia.

If a person is having problems at work, school, or in personal relationships, tests can help a psychologist understand whether they may have problems with anger management, interpersonal skills, or certain personality traits that are contributing to the problem. Other tests assess whether clients are experiencing emotional disturbances such as anxiety or depression.

The root cause of a person's problems is not always clear. For example, if a child is having trouble in school, does he or she have a learning disorder such as dyslexia? An attention problem, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or autism? Impulse control difficulties? Psychological tests and assessments allow us to understand the nature of the problem and find the best way to address it.

Think of a mental health evaluation like any other medical test,where the goal is to evaluate the patient, correctly diagnose their condition, and recommend a treatment plan. Read below about the different types of psychiatric/psychological evaluations. 

A psychological evaluation, or psychological testing, is a thorough evaluation and screening process administered by a psychologist. The methods used for assessment will depend on your or your loved one's needs.

The role of the evaluating psychologist is similar to that of a detective looking for clues to solve a mystery. The more clues that can be identified, the more information you'll have to understand what's going on and decide what options are best to help you or your loved ones.

A psychological evaluation should be considered in cases where there is uncertainty about why you or a loved one is having problems with mood, emotions, behaviour, or coping skills.

A psychological evaluation, which is always performed by a licensed psychologist, can be used to diagnose a variety of mental health conditions or disorders that affect memory, thought processes, and behaviours, including:

Alzheimer's disease



Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Autism spectrum disorders

Bipolar disorder


Psychological trauma

Intellectual disability

Neurocognitive disorder

Personality disorders



Substance use disorder

Eating disorders


A psychological evaluation can help determine the following:

Severity of symptoms of depression or anxiety

The presence of a learning disability

Academic strengths and weaknesses

Root causes of emotional problems

Positive and negative coping styles

Reasons for aggressive behaviour

Information about how you view the world

Problems or conflicts you may face

Insight into your personality type


Types of psychological assessment

There are four main types of psychological assessment,including:

  1. 1. Assessment of intellectual functioning (IQ):

An assessment of intellectual functioning, or IQ test, measures a person's cognitive abilities and provides a score that is intended to serve as a measure of an individual's intellectual abilities and potential. There are two main measures to test a person's IQ: intelligence tests and neuropsychological assessment.

  1. 2. Behavioral assessment:

Behavioural assessment is used to analyse a wide range of behaviours and emotions. It is especially useful when it is not clear what might be causing problematic behaviours or symptoms.

  1. The clinical interview

The clinical interview is a tool that helps psychologists diagnose a variety of brain diseases. There are two common types: structured clinical interviews and clinical diagnostic interviews.

  1. Personality assessment:

The personality assessment will help determine the genetic, environmental, and social components of your personality so that you can better understand yourself and find the best way to treat yourself.

In addition, psychological testing may be part of aptitude or school achievement assessments, career or personal counselling, management skills development, and career planning.

How is the assessment carried out?

A psychological assessment may consist of a series of formal or structured psychological or neuropsychological tests, as well as clinical interviews designed to identify and describe emotional, behavioural, or adjustment problems.

Psychological assessments can be written, oral, or computer-administered. These may involve a series of questions to determine how often you or a loved one experience certain symptoms, or you may be asked to choose statements that best describe the way you think, feel, and behave.

Depending on the test, the process can take a few hours to a full day and can be completed during several different sessions. 

Where to get a psychological evaluation

Although a psychological evaluation can provide valuable information, it can also be time-consuming and expensive. Since the number of tests required often varies, it may be helpful to have an initial consultation with a psychologist to find out which tests are recommended, the total cost and time involved.

Also, psychological assessment can be an important tool to better manage the problems you are experiencing. It can be helpful in providing detailed information to determine an appropriate diagnosis and formulate a comprehensive treatment plan. Mental disorders are treatable and early intervention is key to managing symptoms and living a fulfilling life 

What is a psychiatric evaluation?

During a general assessment, a psychiatrist will interview you. The interview may vary in length depending on the complexity of the diagnosis and your situation, as well as your ability and willingness to work together to develop a treatment plan.

The psychiatrist may also review your medical history, physical examinations, previous diagnostic tests, and any other relevant information, either from the source who referred you for an evaluation or from your general health care provider.

The purpose of a general psychiatric evaluation is to determine whether a psychiatric diagnosis is present that requires treatment, collect data to support a diagnosis, create a treatment plan, or assess the need for immediate intervention. The assessment can also serve to identify any long-term problems that require special follow-up and attention.

What is an emergency psychiatric evaluation? 

An emergency psychiatric evaluation is usually required if a patient is in distress and needs immediate medical attention. For example, if you have unwanted thoughts, feelings, or impulses that are intolerable and interfere with your daily life, an emergency psychiatric evaluation may be necessary. Behaviours such as violence, self-harm, and threats of harm/self-harm to yourself or others also warrant an emergency psychiatric evaluation. Additionally, an emergency psychiatric evaluation may be recommended if you are unable to care for yourself, exhibit bizarre or confused behaviour, or experience intense distress.

The purpose of emergency psychiatric evaluations is to assess and enhance the your safety and the safety of others. A provisional diagnosis—that is, an initial diagnosis that may later change in light of future data collected about your condition—can be used to explain what is causing your behaviours. This could include an existing, known medical condition or substance use.

The psychiatrist may talk to your family members or other people in your life to get an accurate medical and behavioural history, especially if you are cognitively impaired, agitated, or psychotic at the time of the evaluation. If you have existing treatment providers, they can provide information from previous assessments.

Your psychiatrist will then determine the need for further evaluations and identify any precautions necessary to reduce potential risks to your health or those around you.

For example, a brief assessment might be performed to determine what type of medication is best for a known diagnosis or condition. The psychiatrist can also determine if you are capable of consenting to treatment decisions, evaluate any specific signs or symptoms that indicate a mental disorder, provide a diagnosis, and recommend further evaluation or treatment. This information could be provided to the party requesting the assessment.

Like any other medical exam, psychiatric evaluations are used to create a comprehensive plan of care to treat mental disorders and behavioural problems.

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