Jun 17, 2008
Why should I have a private psychological assessment?
I recently spoke with a very happy father. He told me that he was canceling our appointment for psychological testing because his insurance company was going to arrange for him to have his child tested for only $15. And as I wished him well and hung up the phone, I understood why he sounded so excited. Fifteen dollars compared to the cost of a private assessment, well who wouldn’t be thrilled? And if you get an assessment though the school system it is free. Free sounds awfully good compared to expensive private testing, but the problem is that like with many things in life, if it sounds too good to be true to be, it probably is. As a former special education teacher, I have seen some very good assessments done by school system staff, however I also know the limitations of time, resources and even training that can negatively impact the quality of your child's assessment.
So what are you paying for when you invest in a private assessment? You are paying for time, expertise, and information you can trust. One of the first considerations is time. There’s no getting around the amount of time that a psychologist should spend producing a quality report, and ideally it is the psychologist’s time. Some psychologists do not do their own testing, instead they pass you off to a technician after the initial interview. The test administration, consulting, scoring and writing is very labor intensive, and in my opinion, it should be. No one wants to be treated by someone who is in a rush or taking short-cuts. Its worth paying for someone to make your case a priority. A private psychological evaluation should be custom designed around what you want to determine, as well as your child’s strengths and weaknesses. Tests and procedures should be thoughtfully selected, not simply used because they are the only ones you have. It is crucial to find a psychologist (or neuropsychologist) who has many tools at his or her disposal and the expertise to know how to use them.
It is unlikely that a psychologist will make useful recommendations unless he or she takes the time to study how an individual solves a variety of problems in the form of tests, tasks, and even play. When you walk out of a psychologist’s office, you should have a large document in your hand that gives you insight into how your mind (or your child’s mind) works and lays out a plan for what steps to take next. A comprehensive assessment should lead to specific, concrete, recommendations that address educational interventions, therapy, strategies for home, parenting advice, and information to inform medical treatments as appropriate.
When I do a psychological evaluation, I begin by budgeting six hours of ‘face to face’ time with the individual and his/her family. This is as much as three times the amount of time many people spend doing a psychological evaluation. My psychological evaluations resemble the neuropsychological assessments that I was trained to do as in intern at a pediatric hospital in Baltimore. I study the individual’s functioning exhaustively until I’m satisfied that I understand the problem, both what it is and what I can safely determine that it is not. After gathering my data, I start calling everyone I have permission to consult with (physicians, teachers, tutors, even relatives) to get a complete picture of how the person is doing across home, school, and work. I review old testing reports and work samples. Then I set up to work writing your evaluation. I do not fill your name into a template. I do not dictate my reports to a transcription service. I do not cut and paste ‘cookie cutter’ recommendations into the report. Finally, the family and I sit down and have a feedback session, where we talk about the findings in detail and spend time problem solving. I believe this level of care is what every person suspected of having mental health problems or disabilities deserves.
Rebecca Resnik, PsyD - Licensed Clinical Psychologist