What Is a Psychiatric Evaluation?

A middle aged African American woman sits on a couch across from a councillor holding a clipboard. They sit in an urban office area.

FatCamera / Getty Images

What Is a Psychiatric Evaluation?

Psychiatric Evaluation

A psychiatric evaluation is a clinical interview that comprises the first visit to a psychiatrist. Its purpose is to formulate working psychiatric diagnoses.

A psychiatric evaluation is essential to help identify the disorder and help you get the best treatment for your condition. A professional and certified psychiatrist conducts a psychiatric evaluation. If a child is being evaluated, their parent or guardian is required to be there.

Types of Psychiatric Evaluations 

There are three main types of psychiatric evaluations. Below is a breakdown of each one.

Emergency Evaluations 

An emergency psychiatric evaluation is ordered when it needs to be done immediately for your protection.

Before the assessment is done, a physician will first have to rule out other medical reasons for your symptoms. If no other reasons can be identified, you’ll be referred to a psychiatrist.

There are multiple reasons an emergency psychiatric evaluation might need to be conducted. The most common include: 

  • A person is exhibiting violent behavior towards themselves or other people 
  • A person is highly agitated and confused 
  • A person is hallucinating
  • A person is threatening self-harm or exhibiting suicidal behavior 
  • A person has a history of drug abuse and is exhibiting symptoms of a mental health condition 

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

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

General Psychiatric Evaluations 

A general psychiatric evaluation is ordered when there’s suspicion that you have a mental health condition. During the assessment, your medical and family history will be reviewed.

A person’s family history is relevant with many mental health conditions as some disorders are passed down through genes. Some lab tests might also be ordered to rule out other medical conditions. 

Clinical Consultations 

If you’ve been exhibiting mental health condition symptoms, you can request a clinical consultation.

If a loved one is exhibiting concerning behaviors that indicate the need for psychiatric attention, you can request a clinical consultation on their behalf. The person undergoing the evaluation will be informed that it’s going on. 

How a Psychiatric Evaluation Is Conducted 

During the evaluation, your psychiatrist will ensure that no other physical conditions are causing the symptoms that made you come in for an assessment. A typical psychiatric evaluation session could take between 60 and 90 minutes. However, the specific duration differs from person to person.

You’ll be asked a series of questions to help the psychiatrist understand why you’ve decided to come in and what symptoms you’ve been exhibiting.

If you have a history of drug or alcohol use, it’s essential to disclose this to your psychiatrist. They will also take any family history of mental health conditions into consideration. The questions will vary from your treatment history to developmental and social history.

Some of the questions you can expect to be asked during an evaluation include:

  • Do you have any history of substance abuse? 
  • Has anyone in your family committed suicide?
  • Do you have a family history of mental illness? 
  • What was your childhood like? 
  • Do you have any history of being abused? 
  • Have you had any significant medical conditions or surgery in the past?
  • Do you have panic attacks? 
  • Have you been struggling to fall asleep or stay asleep? 
  • Have you ever been diagnosed or treated for any mental illness? 

Many of these questions can feel invasive or intrusive. However, it’s essential to answer them honestly and accurately for an exact diagnosis to be made. 

The American Psychiatry Association (APA) provides a guideline for how evaluations should be done. Your mood and anxiety levels will be reviewed when the evaluation is first done.

Your trauma history and psychiatry history will also be reviewed. Next, you’ll be assessed for any substance use or abuse. The APA also recommends that your psychiatrist determine whether you have any suicidal intent or ideations. You’ll also be evaluated for any aggressive behavior. During the evaluation, your psychiatrist will likely involve you in decision-making.

How to Prepare for a Psychiatric Evaluation 

You are not expected to do much to prepare for a psychiatric evaluation. Before going in for a psychiatric evaluation, you should do some self-preparation. The first thing to do is to confront your feelings. Write down what you’ve been feeling and what symptoms you think you’ve been experiencing. Also, note any medication you’ve been taking and any past visits you’ve made to the doctor.

Before booking a psychiatric evaluation, another thing to think about is what it will cost. Your health insurance might cover it in some cases, so you should check with your provider. If your insurance doesn’t cover it, you will have to pay out of pocket. Some psychiatrists will let you negotiate the fees or provide a payment plan to help you ease the financial stress. 

Psychiatric evaluations are structured like conversations. During the evaluation, your psychiatrist relies on you to help them help you. 

What to Expect During a Psychiatric Evaluation 

During a psychiatric evaluation, you’ll be asked a series of questions by your psychiatrist. Depending on what symptoms you have, some lab tests might also need to be carried out in some instances. After this is done, your psychiatrist will diagnose if your symptoms match any mental health conditions.

Some mental health conditions that you could be diagnosed with include: 

  • Anxiety 
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Depression 
  • Eating disorders
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

You might feel nervous or anxious during an evaluation. It helps to remember that the psychiatrist is there to help you find a solution to your problem. 

Who Might Need a Psychiatric Evaluation 

Anyone who has been experiencing or struggling with symptoms of a mental health condition should get a psychiatric evaluation. Sometimes, you might not notice any changes in your mood or behavior, but your friends and loved ones might have.

They might request a psychiatric evaluation on your behalf in such a case. Some common symptoms a person with a mental health condition might experience include: 

  • Sudden and sometimes violent mood swings
  • Severe insomnia 
  • Loss of appetite 
  • Feeling disconnected from the people and things around you 
  • Exhibiting unusual behavior 
  • Becoming paranoid 
  • Hallucinating 
  • Suddenly losing interest in activities, you once enjoyed 
  • Experiencing unexplainable memory loss

What Happens After a Psychiatric Evaluation 

After an evaluation, your psychiatrist will develop a diagnosis that best fits your symptoms. They will discuss your diagnosis with you and what you can expect in the weeks, months, and years to come. They will also develop a treatment plan designed specifically for your needs. The treatment plan will typically include a combination of medication and psychotherapy.

If you are not satisfied with your psychiatrist’s diagnosis or treatment plan, you can ask for a second opinion from another healthcare professional. 

Was this page helpful?
5 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. John Hopkins Medicine. Comprehensive Psychiatric Evaluation.

  2. National Institutes of Health. Common Genetic Factors Found in 5 Mental Disorders. March 18, 2013.

  3. The University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine. Elements of the psychiatric assessment.

  4. Practice guidelines for the psychiatric evaluation of adults, third edition. In: The American Psychiatric Association Practice Guidelines for the Psychiatric Evaluation of Adults. Third Edition. American Psychiatric Association; 2015.

  5. NHS UK. Mental Health Assessments. April 2, 2019.