What to Expect During a Psych Evaluation
A psychological evaluation, also called a psych eval, is an evaluation designed to help understand the state of your mental health, with the questions asked often guided by the specific issues you have been dealing with. It is frequently an important and early step when working with a mental health professional to help them better understand you and guide the rest of your care.
The questions you’ll be asked aren’t generally “hard” in the traditional sense, although some may ask you about things related to stresses and traumas you’ve experienced, which some people find triggering.
You shouldn’t try to prepare for these tests by thoroughly researching the questions you’ll be asked ahead of time and trying to find the “right” answer. This can affect the accuracy of your test results. Even if you want to appear healthier than you actually are, experts have said that preparing ahead of time can often backfire and make a patient appear to have more problems than they do due to the inconsistent pattern it can create in their answers.
What Can Be Learned During Psych Evals?
Psych evals are tools to measure and observe a patient’s behavior patterns, helping to lead a mental health professional to the right diagnosis and course of treatment. Evaluations are used to answer many important questions a patient and their loved ones may have about their mental health and behavior, including these:
- Why have I been struggling in school?
- Why do I have difficulties in interpersonal relationships?
- Why am I depressed, unhappy, or otherwise feel emotionally stunted?
- What is drawing me to unhealthy behaviors, such as drug use?
The actual answers to these questions, even if they’re the same question, can (and generally will) be different depending on the patient. For example, learning disabilities can cause struggles in school, but so can other mental health conditions, such as ADHD.
This is what makes these evaluations so helpful. It helps take issues non-experts notice and then allows an expert to narrow down the most likely causes of those problems, so the patient can better understand themselves and begin to get help.
Common Questions to Expect on Psych Evaluation Tests
Because preparing too thoroughly ahead of time can negatively impact the results of a person’s psych evaluation, we are only going to talk fairly broadly about the types of questions you can expect to be asked.
We really need to emphasize that it’s important not to try and skew your evaluation. It is a simple series of questions that, if you answer honestly, will give you the best chance of a correct diagnosis and getting the proper treatment.
Screening questions are generally broad, meant to quickly screen an individual for a variety of mental health conditions. These are often asked in the form of a questionnaire.
Screening-type assessments are fast but incomplete on their own. They can’t diagnose a person with any particular mental health condition. They are instead primarily focused on helping a mental health professional see specific areas further tests should focus on.
These questions dive deeper into a patient’s mental health. They are asked to help a mental health professional build a formal diagnosis of any mental health problems if they are present. The evaluator will try to focus their questions on confirming if a patient meets the criteria for a given mental health condition as outlined in official diagnostic manuals, such as the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).
Symptom & Outcome Monitoring Questions
This category of questions is focused on checking the state of a patient’s mental health — monitoring the outcomes of a patient’s diagnosis and treatment, so that adjustments can be made if necessary. Symptoms are reevaluated to look for new symptoms as well as improvement or worsening of previously reported symptoms.
Who Performs These Evaluations?
Many different people can potentially give a psych evaluation, including psychologists, licensed mental health counselors, clinical social workers, and other people with the appropriate mental health credentials.
When talking to a new mental health treatment professional, one of the first things they will often do is perform an evaluation of their mental health, just to reconfirm what is in their mental health records and look for any changes. This is especially true if the person hasn’t spoken to a mental health professional in a long time (or ever).
The legal specifics of who can evaluate individuals and interpret the results of evaluations vary by state. If you’re unsure, you can usually find out quickly by researching your state or just by asking a licensed mental health professional in your area. This professional can usually refer you to the right person if they can’t evaluate you.
You cannot self-evaluate, at least to the degree that it would be called a “psychological evaluation.” While some online tests may be available and have some use in helping people understand mental health issues they may be dealing with, it’s important to see a mental health professional if you want to establish a proper diagnosis and work on building an evidence-based treatment plan.
For reasons already touched on, it’s also important not to look up professional evaluation materials and try to self-evaluate using those materials, as this will both be ineffective and may skew later results when you talk with a mental health professional. Testing materials designed for professionals to use will be much more complex and require more training to use than tests designed for people to take themselves.
What the Results of a Psych Evaluation Mean
Usually, the person who evaluated you will explain what they learned from your evaluation, at least once they’re confident in their determinations and have had time to look over your answers.
In some cases, someone else may interpret the results, as administering psychological evaluations takes less training than properly interpreting the results of that evaluation. You won’t have the training to fully interpret the results of your evaluation yourself, although we encourage you to ask questions about what you’re told if you’re confused or something doesn’t sound right.
Ideally, the results of your evaluation will either help you get a diagnosis for the mental health problems you’ve been experiencing, or it will at least highlight areas for you and your treatment professionals to explore more thoroughly.
When it comes to evaluations related to drug use problems, an evaluation can help identify whether you qualify as having a substance use disorder (SUD), why you may be drawn to use drugs, if you have any co-occurring mental health conditions on top of your addiction, and more. Make sure to be honest on these tests. Answers to all of these questions can help further guide your treatment and get you the best care for your personal needs.
- Can Licensed Mental Health Counselors Administer and Interpret Psychological Tests? (July 2022). The National Board of Forensic Evaluators.
- Psychological Assessment Tools For Mental Health. Psychology Tools.
- Psychological Testing in the Service of Disability Determination. (June 2015). Board on the Health of Select Populations.
- Understanding Psychological Testing and Assessment. (August 2022). American Psychological Association.
- Psychological Testing and Psychological Assessment. A Review of Evidence and Issues. (February 2001). The American Psychologist.