In our practice, we frequently receive inquiries from parents, clinicians, and other professionals regarding the significance and value of psychological assessments. This interest arises because we are clinical psychologists specializing in testing. These questions are entirely understandable, considering that psychology encompasses numerous subspecialties. Regrettably, the field often suffers from unclear terminology and jargon, which can perplex clients, families, and professionals seeking answers. (In reality, professionals continuously grapple with the evolving terminology.)
The objective of this blog is to elucidate fundamental concepts within the realm of psychology and shed light on the “who,” “what,” and “why” of psychological assessment. After perusing this article, we anticipate that you’ll attain a more comprehensive grasp of psychological assessment’s basics, the individuals responsible for administering it, the various subspecialties within psychological testing, and the types of testing suitable for you or your child.
Let’s commence by delineating psychological testing, also known interchangeably as psychological assessment or psychological evaluation.
What is psychological testing and assessment?
Psychological testing primarily serves the purpose of gaining deeper insight into an individual’s behavior.
Psychological assessment strives to unveil a person’s strengths and weaknesses, pinpoint potential issues related to cognition and emotional reactivity, and provide recommendations for treatment or remediation.
Psychological evaluations encompass a range of scientifically devised tests and procedures evaluating various facets of an individual’s psychological well-being. These include:
- Interviews: Conversations with the client, caregivers, teachers, and other relevant parties. These interviews enable the observation of social, language, and communication skills.
- Norm-Referenced Measures: Standardized tests benchmarked against specific demographic groups, facilitating comparisons.
- Behavioral Observations: Assessment of the client’s behavior during the evaluation and, ideally, in their natural environment.
- Informal Assessment Procedures: Supplementary information sources like school records, standardized test scores, medical records, questionnaires, and personal documents.
Who can administer psychological testing and assessment?
Formal psychological testing is conducted by licensed clinical psychologists, typically specializing in one of three areas:
- School Psychologists: Experts in youth development within educational and familial contexts, focusing on learning, effective instruction, government regulations, and parenting practices.
- Clinical Psychologists: Versatile professionals addressing intellectual, emotional, psychological, social, and behavioral problems. They delve into mood disorders, anxiety, personality, substance abuse, trauma, autism spectrum, learning disorders, anger/aggression, and risky behavior.
- Clinical Neuropsychologists: Specialized in understanding brain-behavior relationships, especially concerning disorders of the nervous system. They evaluate conditions like dementia, traumatic brain injury, seizures, and neurodevelopmental issues.
What are the different types of psychological testing and assessment?
Aligned with these specialties, psychological assessment falls into three broad categories:
- Psychoeducational Assessment: Often conducted by school psychologists or learning specialists in educational settings. It evaluates intelligence, academic skills, and occasionally emotional and behavioral functioning to identify academic challenges and formulate school-based solutions.
- Psychological Assessment: Typically performed by clinical psychologists in various settings. It encompasses a wide scope, often mirroring psychoeducational and neuropsychological assessments. The goal is to clarify diagnoses and inform treatment, with the scope and cost varying.
- Neuropsychological Assessment: The most specialized type, conducted by neuropsychologists. It delves deeply into specific brain functions, evaluating memory, attention, sensory perception, language, and more. It provides recommendations for addressing identified deficits but is often the most time-intensive and expensive.
What type of psychological assessment does my child need?
Here’s a broad guideline to help you determine the appropriate assessment:
- Psychoeducational Assessment: Recommended for children struggling academically or behaviorally in school, especially if concerns revolve around attention problems, language difficulties, or specific challenges in reading, writing, or math.
- Psychological Assessment: Suitable for those dealing with common mental health concerns, severe psychopathology, mood and behavior regulation issues, or difficulties in maintaining healthy relationships.
- Neuropsychological Assessment: Advisable for individuals with brain injuries, neurological conditions, long-standing learning or executive functioning problems, or limited response to traditional interventions.
“Does my teen need a psychological or neuropsychological assessment?” is our favorite FAQ.
- We find that parents and other professionals refer to psychological and neuropsychological testing interchangeably. This confusion in terms is widespread and problematic within the field of psychology, itself. This issue is not helped by the fact that insurance companies have seemingly arbitrarily identified some tests as “neuropsychological” and some as “psychological.” For example, an IQ test is listed as “neuropsychological” for insurance billing purposes, though neuropsychologists are not the only psychologists who can administer IQ tests.
- Psychological and neuropsychological evaluations are more alike than they are different. They typically both include measures of cognitive, academic, emotional, and behavioral functioning. Clinical psychologists can and do administer many of the same measures as neuropsychologists and, to our knowledge, there are no tests that require specialization in neuropsychology, as opposed to clinical psychology, to administer. Many neuropsychological evaluations we’ve reviewed look exactly the same as psychological evaluations. Clinical psychologists should and do refer to neuropsychologists, however, when there are concerns regarding known or suspected brain damage or neurological dysfunction.
- Relatedly, clinical psychologists and neuropsychologists are also more alike than they are different. As previously mentioned, neuropsychologists often have a graduate degree in clinical psychology and then complete post-doctoral training in neuropsychology/neuropsychological assessment. Both disciplines can assess learning disorders, AD/HD, autism spectrum disorders, and other neurodevelopmental issues. We know plenty of clinical psychologists who also assess things like dementia and brain injuries, they just can’t call themselves “neuropsychologists” because they haven’t completed the formal additional training.
The most important factor in determining the appropriate person to assess you or your child is the psychologist’s experience and their areas of expertise, not their title nor the technical term for the type of evaluation. Ask questions of the psychologist who will conduct the testing before you commit your child or yourself to the process.
To learn more about psych testing in wilderness therapy, listen to Dr. Todd Corelli be interviewed on season 13, episode 164 on the podcast, Stories from the Field: Demystifying Wilderness Therapy.
About the Authors
Dr. Todd Corelli received his Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Brigham Young University and also completed a one-year residency in Pediatric Psychology at Michigan State University Medical School. His extensive experience working with children, adolescents, young adults, and families includes a large private therapy practice working in the community. For the past 18 years, Todd has worked across the country and internationally as an independent consultant for all types of referring professionals. He has worked in a variety of settings, including homes, therapeutic boarding schools, residential treatment centers, and wilderness therapy programs. He is licensed in Utah, Hawaii, Vermont, Idaho, Connecticut, New York, and holds a permit (ability to test) in North Carolina.
Todd Corelli, Ph.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
Dr. Abby Jenkins is a licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in psychological testing. She earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Wisconsin – Madison and her master’s and doctoral degrees in clinical psychology from Temple University in Philadelphia, PA. Abby completed her pre-doctoral internship and post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Utah Neuropsychiatric Institute in Salt Lake City, Utah. Abby has 10+ years of experience providing therapy and assessment services in a variety of settings, including community mental health clinics, wilderness therapy programs, residential treatment centers, and psychiatric hospitals. She is a member of the American Psychological Association (APA) Clinical Psychology (Division 12), the Utah Psychological Association, and the National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs (NATSAP). She is a credentialed member of the National Register of Health Service Psychologists. Dr. Jenkins is licensed as a psychologist in Utah (License #9166547), Idaho (License #202922), and Oregon (License #2959).
Abby Jenkins, Ph.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
Resources for Parents/Clients Wanting to Learn More about Testing
- Sattler, J. M. (2008). Assessment of Children: Cognitive Foundations. La Mesa, California: Jerome M. Sattler, Publisher, Inc.