There are generally two distinct reasons that an individual seeks psychological testing and/or a full psychological evaluation. The first reason is that they have been "ordered" by a third party (the courts; their employer; a state agency,etc.) to undergo a full assessment of their psychological functioning. Usually this order includes some questions that the outside party wants answered such as whether the person has a psychiatric disorder that would impair their ability to parent or whether they are competent to stand trial. These are some examples of a Forensic Psychological Evaluation. For additional information about the kinds of forensic evaluations that I conduct, please see my other website: dustyhumes.com.
The second purpose of a psychological evaluation is what I refer to as a Therapeutic Evaluation. This is an psychological assessment conducted at the request of either the client themselves, their family, or members of their treatment team. The focus of a therapeutic evaluatation is to get a better understanding of the person's functioning in order to determine what factors might be acting as obstacles to them moving forward in the world. Usually these kinds of psychological evaluations are requested when the person has been in therapy which has not been effective or when they appear to be "stuck" and unable to meet the expectations of persons in their age group.
Following is a case example fo a person referrred for a Therapeutic Evaluation (This is, of course, a composite of material from different cases and does not refer to a particular individual.) Michael C. was referred for a therapeutic evaluation by his parents who were worried that their son had not progressed since leaving college. He had attended a state university, studied business, and had performed well as a student until the last year when his grades declined for no apparent reason. He graduated at age 22 and is now 26 years old. Since the time of his graduation, he has had a number of jobs, some of which were fairly well-paid and in his area of study. However, again for reasons that are unclear, he either lost or quit every job within the first six months. He is now delivering pizza, a job well below what would be expected with a degree in business. He isolates himself and frequently does not respond to phone calls or emails from his family. When they ask him what is going on, he tends to be vague or evasive. They have suggested that he get some counseling, but he has been resistant, saying that he is not "crazy" and does not need therapy. At the time of the referral, the parents are paying most of his bills as his job is not enough to support himself, but they are not willing to do this indefinitely. The questions posed to the evaluator is: What is keeping Michael from being successful and moving on in his life? What should the parents do in terms of financial support for their son? And what would be the recommended treatment plan for Michael?
Persons such as "Michael" are often described as young people who have "failed to launch" in that they are not keeping up with their peers in terms of employment, independence, peer relationships, or self-care. Undertaking a Therapeutic Evaluation can be a way for the family and the adult child to both get some direction so that the young adult can begin to move forward in their life.
As an adjunct faculty member at the University of Texas at Austin, I supervised graduate students in psychological assessment and I have been conducting Therapeutic Evaluations for nearly 20 years. If you are interested in learning more about this type of evaluation, please contact me by email or phone and we can discuss whether a Therapeutic Evaluation is the right next step.