Clinical Interviews are the primary method of gathering psychological information and no assessment is complete without one. Interview vary from completely unstructured approaches in which the clinician follows the story told by the individual to structured interviews in which specific questions are asked in a precise order. However, most interviews lie somewhere in-between these extremes. The core of a clinical interview is history gathering, focusing on the development of the person and on the development of the presenting problems. The depth to which this history is explored depends on the nature and context of the evaluation.
Mental Status Examination is often conducted as part of the clinical interview or may not even be directly addressed if the clinician is able to assess the mental status of a patient from observation alone. A mental status is a means of assessing the person's current thought processes, emotions, and interpersonal qualities. An individual's mental state can impact the rest of an evaluation and provides a clinician with a gauge to qualitatively assess and interpret data from other areas of an evaluation. The mental status can also provide clues to areas that may need to be addressed in follow-up sessions or outside referrals.
Objective Personality Tests are paper-and-pencil self-report inventories that consist of true-and-false or multiple choice questions. They come in a variety of forms, from lengthy measures of global functioning, such as the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI-2) and the Personality Assessment Inventory (PAI) to short measures focusing on specific concerns, such as the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI-II). Generally no more than one global measure is included in a clinical battery and this measure often forms the core of such a battery. Furthermore, global measures are available in a number of different forms that can be used with different age groups.
These measures often have strong psychometric properties and are interpreted by comparing them to data gathered from a population sample that is considered the norm. The degree to which this comparative population is truly the norm has implications for accurate interpretation and this is one of the reasons that measures such as these are continually revised. For example the original MMPI was normed on a 1950's population that was no longer reflective of the current United States census, resulting in a re-Norman when the MMPI-2 was developed.
Projective Personality Tests are a diverse set of tools. The commonly used approaches include inkblots (i.e., the Rorschach) in which the individual must describe what is seen in a given inkblot, story-telling tests such as the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT) in which stories are told regarding a series of pictures, word association tests, and drawing tests such as the Draw a Person or the Kinetic Family Drawing. These measures are often used as supplements to objective tests, with the Rorschach one of the most frequently administered measures.
These tests are controversial in their psychometric properties, and most clinicians define them as clinical tools rather than tests. Interpretations are often based on clinical judgement with only minimal objectivity. A notable exception is the Rorschach, for which admirable attempts have been made toward objectifying this test. However, projective measures are commonly employed and, in the hands of a skilled clinician, found to yield clinically relevant ideograph data that could not be assessed using other methods.
Aptitude Tests are measures specifically designed to assess an individual's cognitive and intellectual functioning. These tests can be divided in two sub-categories: intelligence tests and achievement tests. The former measure a person's intellectual functioning in terms of their ability to to learn and provide information in the form of an IQ, while the latter measure what a person has learned and provide information in terms of grade equivalents. As with other psychological measures, these tests can be lengthy and comprehensive or short screening measures. Commonly used intelligence tests include the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale - III (WAIS-III) and the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children - III (WISC-III), while major aptitude tests include the Wechsler Individual Achievement Test (WIAT) and the Wide Range Achievement Test (WRAT).
The historical antecedents of modern day testing, these tests are considered the hallmarks of psychometric strength. Yet, controversies abound regarding their use: How does one define intelligence? Is IQ an accurate measure? Are intelligence tests fair to minorities?
Specialty Measures include any number of tests designed to address specific questions. These types of tests may compose a battery unto themselves (e.g. the special neuropsychological tests that make the Halstead-Reitan) or may be specialized instruments that supplement other measures (e.g. measures designed to assess for deception in forensic evaluations or tests designed to answer a specific legal question)
Psychological Assessment is a science based on objectively measuring characteristics of human behavior. In order to do so, psychological measures must meet certain criteria to be considered objective measures. A complete discussion of psychometric theory is beyond the scope of this brief exploration, but the following characteristics are important to consider:
Norms are used as a reference against which psychological test data is interpreted. They consist of the test performance of a standardization sample that is reflective of the general population under consideration. Without normative data, the information obtain regarding a person is meaningless. Norm provide a means of assessing a person's relative standing in comparison to others. There are various types of norms that serve specific purposes, with the two most common types presented here: