What is a psychological assessment?

A psychological assessment is an in-depth conversation with an expert. The aim of the assessment is to gain a deeper understanding of a person’s strengths, needs, and things that have happened in their life. Psychological assessments often take place as part of a wider family court process, such as child care proceedings or pre-proceedings.

Types of

psychological assessment

There are lots of different types of assessment that might be required by the court. This is to help them make the best decision about what help and support is needed for the family, child, or person being assessed.

Assessments can be for individual adults, children, or entire families and other key people. They are not like a test or an exam that you pass or fail – they are all about helping people. Let’s look at the different types of psychological assessment that might take place…

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Psychological assessment

A psychological assessment will consider the whole person and their history and experiences, as well as their thoughts, behaviour, reactions, and abilities. Psychological assessments are carried out by clinical psychologists or counselling psychologists who specialise in using certain tools and methods to get to know people and gather information and data about how they experience life. Sometimes psychological assessments can be useful in gaining a picture of someone’s mental health and whether they might have certain mental health conditions.

psychiatric assessment

Psychiatric assessments

A psychiatric assessment might be used in care proceedings and pre-proceedings when there is a complex medical history for one or more of the people involved in the process, or there is a high level of risk. This might be suggested by the medical records, or it might be due to another reason. These assessments are carried out by qualified psychiatrists who are medically trained to consider mental health and function.

Private psychiatric assessment

The difference between

a psychologist and a psychiatrist

While there are similarities between psychologists and psychiatrists, there are key differences too, and it’s helpful to know these, especially in the context of a court assessment. Both psychiatrists and psychologists are highly trained clinical professionals who specialise in mental health, and who must hold a registration with a professional body. Both can diagnose mental health conditions. Psychologists and psychiatrists often work together in the same team to provide different types of specialist knowledge from their respective disciplines.

So, if they both study the mind and how it affects our wellbeing and behaviour, what’s the difference?

One of the key differences is that psychiatrists are medical doctors, and they can prescribe medication. As physicians, psychiatrists deal with biological factors and processes that affect mental health and functioning (how well we can do everyday things). Psychiatrists can provide therapy but only if they have taken additional training as this is not included in their mandatory training.

Psychologists are specifically trained in the social, emotional, developmental, and environmental factors that affect mental health and wellbeing. Psychologists do not prescribe medication, but they do diagnose and treat mental health conditions using a variety of therapies. Many psychologists have the title ‘Doctor’, and you might see these letters like DClinPsy or PsyD after their name.

Private psychiatric assessment

Forensic assessment

A forensic assessment looks at a person’s mental state with a focus on their ability to do things like stand trial or take legal responsibility for themselves or other people. They can also look at any risks there might be around the person. Forensic assessments are usually done by mental health experts such as a psychologist who specialises in forensic matters. Forensic mental health assessments are similar but with a strong focus on a person’s mental health, rather than other aspects listed above in relation to the courts.

Forensic psychological assessment aren’t tests you can revise for – they look at a person’s mental health, logic, reasoning, and attitudes to consider the way they’d approach certain matters.

It’s possible for the court to request a forensic psychiatric assessment as well as, or instead of, a forensic psychological assessment.

forensic assessment

The difference between a

psychological forensic assessment and a forensic psychiatric assessment

A psychological forensic assessment looks at someone’s mental state in relation to legal issues, and covers matters such as anxiety and depression, substance use, risk factors, criminal intent, parenting, and if a person could be considered dangerous.

A forensic psychiatric assessment looks at someone’s capacity to cause serious harm to other people, usually related to a diagnosed mental health disorder of some kind. It may also assess the possibility of them being harmed by another person as a result of their condition. Forensic assessment of all kinds will include recommendations for helpful next steps.

psychological assessment

Parenting capacity assessment

The term parenting capacity means someone’s ability to be a safe and reliable parent, and a parenting capacity assessment looks at exactly how capable or able someone is to do this. Parenting assessments for court are a way of looking at someone’s approach to raising their child or children to inform the decisions that get made about the family.

Parenting assessments in care proceedings are an important way for the court to find out how easy or difficult someone finds it to meet their child’s needs. The court might need this to help them consider whether or not to take a child into care, or what other options might be helpful. It will take into account practical things and also emotional and personal things that help or hinder someone’s ability to meet their child’s needs.

parenting capacity assessment

I am undergoing a parenting assessment...

How will I be assessed?

It’s important to know that parenting assessments are not about being the perfect parent. Every family and parent will have their own way of raising children, and an assessment isn’t about seeing if someone’s doing it the “right way” as there isn’t only one good or perfect way to parent. Rather, it is about how parents raise their children thinking about what is good or safe enough.

This includes their attitudes and values about child care and raising a family, how they find the realities of parenting day-to-day and when times get tough, and what they find difficult or challenging, such as things that might get in the way of them being a safe and reliable parent. Parenting assessments also take into account someone’s own experience of being parented and what family life was like for them as a child.

parenting assessment

Cognitive assessment

A cognitive assessment is a way of measuring someone’s thinking abilities. It is a type of test that looks at things like problem-solving, memory, processing, reasoning, and language skills. If a cognitive assessment is required, the expert will ask questions about someone’s strengths, the things they find difficult, and their education, and their work history. They will also ask about their health and wellbeing, and medical history. They may also ask the person to complete different tasks, attempt some puzzles, or answer knowledge questions.

cognitive assessment

IQ assessment

IQ assessments for adults are used interchangeably with cognitive assessments. The term IQ stands for intelligence quotient, and it measures someone’s thinking capacity in terms of how far above or below the average they are, compared to their peer group. There are many IQ tests out there and many ways to determine how ‘intelligent’ someone is, so although IQ assessments are among the most well-known types of cognitive and psychological assessment, there are a number of approaches to assessing someone’s thought patterns and processes and an expert may or may not choose to use a standard IQ test when conducting an assessment.

IQ assessment

Capacity assessment

An assessment of capacity determines someone’s ability to use and understand information in order to make a decision, and to communicate that decision to other people. Several factors might affect someone’s capacity, including learning difficulties, illnesses such as dementia, certain mental health conditions like bipolar or schizophrenia, or events such as a significant brain injury. Drug and alcohol misuse can also affect someone’s capacity to make a decision.

It’s important to note that having capacity doesn’t necessarily mean that someone will make a decision that others agree with. It is about their right to make decisions for themselves if they are mentally capable of doing so, even if that decision turns out to not be in their best interest. An assessment of capacity will respect someone’s personal wishes and beliefs and look at whether they understand the reality of their decision and the consequences the decision might have, regardless of what they are and whether other people agree with them or not.

capacity assessment

Global assessment of functioning

A global assessment of functioning looks at how well a person can do everyday activities. This could include assessing someone’s communication, social and daily living skills, or their ability to work or engage in education. An assessment of functioning focuses specifically on how a difficulty or condition (such as a mental illness or learning disability) impacts on that person in terms of their day-to-day life. A person’s global functioning score can be used to help the court think about how able they are to function overall.

Global assessment of functioning

Family assessment

A family assessment considers the child or children in a family as well as other key people such as parents, siblings, other adults who may be present like grandparents, aunties and uncles, or other important people in the child’s family. The person meeting with the family will likely use a child and family assessment framework of some kind to make sure everybody is taken into account along with all the important issues that a court may wish to find out about. Sometimes assessments take place at a family assessment centre, but a lot of times they can be done in your home or in a place provided by the local council.

family assessment

Parent and child assessment

A parent and child assessment is exactly what it sounds like – it looks at the relationship between a parent and their child, and how each of them experiences the other. For the parent, the expert might look at issues such as how they feel about bringing up their child, how they respond to their child’s needs, what their own experiences of childhood were like, their mental health, what they find challenging or difficult about being a parent, and how they feel they have bonded to their baby or child. The expert might also look at difficulties or issues such as any drug or alcohol use, or whether there is a history of abuse, neglect, or adverse (difficult) experiences such as social issues, family breakdown, or poverty that might make things harder.

For the child, the expert might look at how well they are developing and growing up, what life is like for them at home and at school (if they go), the way the child interacts with things and people around them, and how they respond to and experience their parent.

Overall, a parent and child assessment can give the court a good picture of the relationship and bond between the two and help to consider what sort of support might be useful as the child moves through their young life.

parent and child assessment

Attachment assessment

Attachment is the process by which human beings form emotional bonds with one another. It is a natural process that begins before we are even born, and it continues when we are tiny babies, all through childhood, and beyond – a classic example is the bond that we would expect to see between a baby and their mother. We all have our own attachment style, which develops in line with early childhood experiences of how the people taking care of us responded to our needs.

Sometimes, things happen that make it difficult to form safe and healthy attachments to other people. Attachments that we do have can sometimes be interrupted or damaged, or not look like we’d hope them to. Lots of different things can disrupt attachment, such as the death or imprisonment of a parent, or the presence of abuse or neglect in the family. This might be reflected in a person’s attitudes, experiences, or behaviour in relation to others.

attachment assessment

The difference between

an attachment assessment and an assessment of attachment style

A court could require an attachment assessment, or an assessment of attachment style. An attachment assessment looks at someone’s ability to form healthy emotional attachments to other people, particularly caregivers. It might consider whether someone has a history of childhood or complex trauma (difficult events and experiences that impact how easily someone can form attachments to others). An assessment of attachment style looks specifically at the way a person forms those attachment bonds to other people, and their responses, feelings, and behaviour around their experiences of other people.

attachment assessment
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