How Does a Psychological Evaluation Work?

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A psychological evaluation, or psychological testing, is a thorough process of assessment and screening administered by a psychologist. The methods used for the evaluation will depend on your or your loved one's needs.

The role of the psychologist doing the evaluation is similar to a detective looking for clues to solve a mystery. The more clues that can be identified, the more information you'll have to understand what's going on and decide what options are best suited to help them.

A psychological evaluation should be considered in cases where there is uncertainty about the reasons you or someone you love is having problems with mood, behavior, or learning.


A psychological evaluation, which is always performed by a licensed psychologist, can be used to diagnose a variety of mental health conditions or illnesses that impact memory, thought processes, and behaviors, including:

A psychological evaluation can help determine the following:

  • The severity of symptoms of depression or anxiety
  • The presence of a learning disability
  • Academic strengths and weaknesses
  • Root causes of emotional problems
  • Positive and negative coping styles
  • Reasons for aggressive behavior
  • Information about how you view the world
  • Issues or conflicts you may be struggling with
  • Insight into your personality style


There are four primary types of psychological evaluation, including:

  • Assessment of Intellectual Functioning (IQ): An assessment of intellectual functioning, or IQ test, measures a person’s cognitive abilities and provides a score that is intended to serve as a measure of an individual's intellectual abilities and potential. There are two primary measures to test a person’s IQ: intelligent tests and neuropsychological assessment.
  • Behavioral Assessment: A behavioral assessment is used to assess a wide variety of behaviors and emotions. It's particularly useful when it is unclear what might be causing problematic behaviors or symptoms.
  • Clinical Interview: A clinical interview is a tool that helps psychologists make an accurate diagnosis of a variety of mental illnesses. There are two common types: structured clinical interviews and clinical diagnostic interviews.
  • Personality Assessment: A personality assessment will allow your psychologist to learn about the genetic, environmental, and social components of your personality so they can figure out the best way to treat you.

In addition, psychological testing may be part of assessments of aptitude or achievement in school, career or work counseling, development of management skills, and career planning.

How It Works

A psychological evaluation may consist of a series of formal or structured psychological or neuropsychological tests as well as clinical interviews designed to identify and describe emotional, behavioral, or learning problems.

Psychological assessments may be written or given orally, or administered via a computer. They may involve a series of questions to determine how often you or a loved one experience certain symptoms, or you may be prompted to choose statements that best describe how you think, feel, and behave.

Depending on the test, the process can take several hours to a full day, and may be completed during several different sessions.

Where to Get a Psychological Evaluation

While a psychological evaluation can provide valuable information, it can also be time-consuming and expensive. Since the number of tests needed often varies, it may be worthwhile to have an initial consultation with a psychologist to find out what tests are recommended and the overall cost and time involved.

Sometimes the best way to get this testing completed is through the school district for a student evaluation, or as part of the initial assessment process when a person is placed in a residential treatment program.

Other settings where a psychological evaluation may be done include:

  • Emergency departments
  • Home care services
  • Inpatient units (following hospitalization)
  • Nursing homes
  • Long-term care facilities
  • Outpatient facilities, such as office-based practices or intensive outpatient programs
  • Prisons

A Word From Verywell

A psychological evaluation can be an important tool in helping get a better handle on the problems you or your loved one is having. It may be helpful in providing detailed information to determine a proper diagnosis and formulate a comprehensive treatment plan. Mental illnesses are treatable, and early intervention is key to managing symptoms and living a fulfilling life.

If you or a loved one are struggling with your mental health, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

2 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Psychological Association. Understanding psychological testing and assessment. 2013.

  2. Drill R, Nakash O, DeFife J, Westen D. Assessment of clinical information: Comparison of the validity of a structured clinical interview (the SCID) and the clinical diagnostic interviewJ Nerv Ment Dis. 2015 Jun;203(6):459-62. doi:10.1097/NMD.0000000000000300

By Kathryn Rudlin, LCSW
Kathyrn Rudlin, LCSW, a writer and therapist in California specializes in counseling and education for teenagers with mothers who are emotionally disconnected.