When seeking mental health treatment, the first step in the process is a psychological evaluation to help determine the exact nature and extent of the patient’s mental illness. Implemented by highly skilled clinical psychologists, psychiatrists, and family and pediatric physicians, evaluations provide the information necessary to recommend particular interventions, medications, or other treatment options. 

When is a psychological evaluation necessary?

Psychological evaluations are most commonly used for adults seeking mental health treatment, but they are also used to help children with behavioral and emotional problems and potential learning disorders. Psychological evaluations can help with:

  • Identifying the root cause of work, school, or relationship difficulties
  • Assessing a brain injury
  • Pre-surgical or pre-employment screenings
  • Clarifying diagnoses
  • Providing referrals for specialized treatments or therapies

What happens during a psychological evaluation?

Psychological evaluations typically include a variety of components, including formal questionnaires, checklists, surveys, interviews, and behavioral observations. The specific types of evaluation and the depth of the evaluation will vary with each patient, but in general the process usually takes between one and two hours. Evaluations can include:

  • Physical exam: Helps medical professionals determine if a physical or neurological disorder is the cause of mental health issues.
  • Lab tests: Blood work, urine tests, and brain scans can also rule out any physical conditions.
  • Mental health history: Questions will include length and severity of symptoms, any previous psychological treatment, and a family history of mental health.
  • Personal history: Questions will include lifestyle and personal history, as well as any major traumas endured.
  • Cognitive evaluation: Designed to gauge the patient’s ability to think clearly, recall information, and use sound reasoning in order to rule out cognitive disorders.

What happens after an evaluation?

Following psychological evaluations with patients, doctors use observations and lab results to score and analyze the session with preliminary recommendations. Another feedback session with the patient will be scheduled to discuss the results and outline an individualized treatment plan. Doctors might also refer the patient to specialized professionals, and if necessary, schedule a “coordination of care” session with family members, therapists, or physicians to ensure the treatment plan is followed.

How do you know you might need a psychological evaluation?

Psychological evaluations are used to diagnose a wide variety of mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, substance abuse, eating disorders, ADHD, and PTSD. However, many people might be unaware they have an undiagnosed mental health issue, and will struggle needlessly without the benefit of a formal evaluation and treatment. If you or a loved one is experiencing the following signs and symptoms of a mental health disorder, a psychological evaluation is the first step toward a healthier life:

  • Unusual drop in functioning at work or school
  • Withdrawal or loss of interest in daily activities or hobbies
  • Changes in sleep
  • Changes in appetite
  • Difficulty with memory
  • Feeling disconnected
  • Exaggerated or unrealistic beliefs
  • Loss of desire or other mood changes
  • Paranoia or other unusual behavior

Identifying and treating a mental health condition as early as possible significantly improves a patient’s outcomes, especially since many mental illnesses only get worse with time and lack of treatment.

Psychological evaluations in San Diego

If you or someone you love is struggling with mental illness, Pacific Health Systems offers psychological services in San Diego. We offer comprehensive, compassionate psychological evaluations along with a variety of treatment options. We’re committed to helping each patient manage their symptoms and live their best lives. For more information or to schedule a consultation, fill out our contact form or call us at (619) 267-9257.