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by Dr. Nathaniel R. Strenger
| Children, Teens, Testing and Assessments, Adults, ADHD, Autism, College, Young Adults

Psychological Evaluations are Imagination-Expanders

Group tweens sm

To the kids—and their parents I suppose—summer is for imagination. The days are longer, and the schedule is looser. The mornings and Mondays don’t elbow in with such aggressive oomph. Exams and grades are too far off in the distance to suffocate as they might usually. But kids are well familiar with the dread rolling in come August. The walls close in and that demanding routine snaps back into view. And those kids—and their parents for that matter—lose a little wind from their sails. They lose a little imagination.

Psychological Evaluations are meant for this. They are imagination-expanders.

Yes, the diagnostics, recommendations, academic accommodations, and referrals are important. And they are the natural clinical outcomes of an assessment. But the real purpose of a good psychological evaluation is to reexamine a rigid or confused set of old narratives: “I suck at math because I’m dumb,” “Let’s see how many times he’ll get detention this year,” “What’s the point of even trying?” “No teacher will ever understand me enough to help.” Of course, we question why anyone would hold onto such negative stories with such vigor. But we all do it. Narrower, more rigid stories leave less room for doubt or unfamiliarity. So, they can be strangely enticing. That is why, when the stress of school routines kicks into gear, it is quite natural for the human mind to fall right back into restricted and limited ways of thinking. That’s life in the trenches.

The problem is, when we lack the imagination to think outside those older approaches to life’s challenges, we have a harder time escaping the pesky behavioral patterns with which we feel stuck Trust me, it is as old as Freud.

A psychological evaluation puts these narratives under a microscope and reorganizes them. It identifies those aspects of understanding that can be questioned and redefined. And it confirms those elements that are still useful. What then comes are fresh, new, and creative stories—stories to help understand why this or that keeps happening—practical to parents, schools, physicians, kids, or whomever.

All sorts of folks refer for psychological evaluations: parents, teachers, therapists, pastors, psychiatrists, or curious individuals who feel stuck, disorganized, or confused about the nature of a life problem or how to even begin addressing it.

Why do I freeze up at work but feel so productive at home?

Why does she look like she’s ADHD all the time…except when she’s playing Zelda?

We are still having nighttime accidents; what’s wrong?

Why do I keep running into the same problems over and over again in relationships?

Does my child qualify for autism spectrum, educational, or psychiatric interventions?

What kind of a therapist or clinical approach will help me best?

These are a smattering of the questions welcomed into the evaluator’s office. And it is not uncommon for folks, in their introductory meetings, to speak of the relief accompanying an opportunity to spew all the stories and observations about a problem without concern for it making any sense…yet. The whole point of an individually tailored evaluation is to take all these raw materials and weave them into a story that makes sense, informs a person’s day-to-day-living, and provides practical ideas for growth. That is the fun in it.

Most folks trained to provide thorough psychological evaluations are going to show some similarities in their work. At The Center, here’s how the sequence usually looks:

  1. An initial, 50-minute intake appointment with the psychologist organizes history and any information relevant to the evaluation. It is at that meeting that the specific goals of the evaluation are set, the battery of tests tailored, and the cost is set.
  2. Then, testing appointments are scheduled. Needs range from person to person. But an evaluation typically wraps up in between one and three sessions, each lasting 2-4 hours. The evaluation might include an individualized mix of performance-based activities, questionnaires, observations, and interviews.
  3. Once those testing appointments are completed and all the necessary information is submitted, the psychologist can write up a full report detailing scores, interpretations, and—most importantly—meaningful ideas for new change. These are then provided and reviewed in a final 50-minute session to wrap things up.

The process is thorough, individualized, and creative. And it all serves to take fresh glances at patterns that seem to get in the way of daily life. With the spirit of the summer break, and the impending concerns of the fall ahead, those June, July, and August months are often a high season for these evaluations. We all need a little imagination refresh it seems. This is one way to get it.

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