How to Understand Your Psychological Evaluation Results and Recommendations
Written by: Vanessa Buonopane, Psy.D.
*This blog post is a follow-up to What is a Psychological Evaluation?
Psychological evaluations can be very scary for many individuals and can invoke a lot of anxiety as individuals wait for their test results. It can also bring relief to many individuals, as they confirm diagnoses they thought might be present. Often times, a psychological evaluation can rule out diagnoses that are not present, but rather, are likely linked to emotional difficulties, such as cognitive concerns that are related to anxiety and/or depression rather than Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
After completing a psychological evaluation, you (the client or the parent of a child client) might be wondering what’s next? Assessment clinicians must “score” the test data and interpret the data prior to providing any sort of feedback/results. The raw scores are translated into standard scores, scaled scores, T-scores, and percentiles, which are the different types of statistics used to compare an individual’s performance to their same-age peers. This is necessary because a sixteen-year-old is going to perform much differently than a sixty-year-old individual. Translating scores based upon population norms is helpful in understanding what is considered neuropsychologically appropriate for that age.
After results are interpreted and written into a report detailing the individual’s performance, the assessment clinician will schedule a feedback session to go over all of the results and recommendations, as well as to answer any questions that the individual might have. The feedback session should include an understanding of what the test results mean and what can be done to help in the future. For instance, if a child is not diagnosed with ADHD, the assessment clinician can help the parent understand why the child did not meet the clinical criteria or testing profile for an individual with ADHD. At times, receiving an unexpected diagnosis or not receiving a diagnosis that was believed to fit the individual’s experience can feel upsetting. The assessment clinician will help the client feel heard and understood even if the client does not agree with the clinician’s diagnostic opinion.
In some cases, the individual can request that another clinician review the data to either confirm or rule out the diagnosis in question. At Orchard Mental Health, our assessment team meets regularly to discuss challenging cases, so it is very possible that the individual is receiving a diagnosis or lack of a diagnosis based upon the clinical judgment and opinions of not just one clinician, but several. Of note, the client is always informed if their case will be discussed with multiple people to maintain their privacy. If a clinician is under the supervision of a licensed psychologist, it will always be stated at the intake appointment along with the clinician’s credentials.
Although some individuals may feel like receiving a diagnosis means that there is something “wrong” with them, this is simply untrue. An evaluation can be beneficial in understanding specific concerns or differentiating between diagnoses; however, an evaluation can also highlight an individual’s strengths and abilities. For instance, an individual with a specific learning challenge might discover that they learn best with visual material compared to verbal material, so the supports around them would be encouraged to play up to the individual’s strengths. In other situations, an evaluation can determine if a recommendation should be made for a child to participate in advanced coursework or gain admission to a private school.
The feedback session is a great time to address any questions that you may have as well. While you may not have any specific questions, there are many parents and individuals who wonder ”what questions should I be asking?” There are no right or wrong questions to ask and questions are highly dependent on the individual and the diagnoses. In many cases, the assessment clinician will provide recommendations or “next steps,” such as recommending therapy, providing the report to the individual’s school or university for formal accommodations, and a variety of techniques and strategies that could be beneficial for the individual’s unique challenges.
Ultimately, an assessment clinician hopes to provide a sense of hope for many individuals no matter the diagnosis. There are some diagnoses with generally poor treatment prognosis (e.g., dementia); however, there are many things that the individual and their family members can do to maintain a good quality of life and find the appropriate resources for ongoing care. Even after the feedback session has come and gone, the assessment clinician is available to answer follow-up questions and can be a useful resource for continuity of care.