Diagnostic Psychological Evaluations

Diagnostic psychological evaluations assess whether an individual appears to have any psychological problems. 

In particular, psychologists assess whether the individual has the symptoms of any specific psychological diagnoses. An evaluation may also describe or explain the general psychological adjustment problems being presented by an individual, in an effort to understand the individual's behavior. Identifying specific problems is a necessary step in the development of a treatment plan. The evaluation determines what type of treatment is most likely to be beneficial.

Diagnostic evaluations can be informal assessments made during the initial interview with a client at the beginning of psychotherapy, or they can be formal procedures involving a structured interview with assessment procedures designed to identify or rule out several possible hypotheses regarding the psychological functioning of the individual. This latter procedure is usually part of a comprehensive psychological evaluation that includes the administration of psychological tests. A comprehensive psychological evaluation may take several hours, or even several days, depending on the problems being assessed, and the reason for the assessment.

Insurance reimbursement requires a psychological diagnosis. Therefore, all psychological treatment (that will be submitted for insurance reimbursement) begins with a diagnostic evaluation to determine the appropriate clinical diagnosis. This assessment includes questions about the problem, your personal and family history, and a review of current life stressors. Psychologists use a variety of verbal assessment measures to determine whether there is evidence of a specific psychological problem. Once psychological problems are identified, a treatment plan can be developed to resolve them. However, the diagnostic process continues during psychotherapy. Psychologists will reassess problems, symptoms, and progress, and review other possible treatment plans.

During a comprehensive psychological evaluation, the psychologist acts like a detective. First, the psychologist develops various hypotheses about your problem, based on the information you present in the interview. Then, each hypothesis is tested by gathering additional information, through structured questions and a review of available information about your past medical and social history. This process will identify specific symptoms that should, or should not, be present, according to each hypothesis. Each competing hypothesis is evaluated to determine how well it explains your current psychological functioning. Finally, the psychologist reaches a conclusion, based on the testing of each hypothesis, which leads to a clinical diagnosis, and a treatment plan. At times, psychologists may also assess whether there is appears to be a causal relationship between the diagnosis and some traumatic event or other life circumstances.