Assessment for Treatment, Planning, Monitoring and Outcome

In a time when healthcare organizations must (a) provide problem-focused, time-limited treatment, (b) demonstrate the effectiveness of treatment to payers and patients, and (c) implement quality improvement initiatives, psychological testing's capacity to assist in quickly identifying psychological problems, planning, and monitoring treatment, and documenting treatment effectiveness presents many potentially rewarding opportunities.

Importance of Psychological Assessment in Clinical Setting

Identifying and classifying mental illnesses that coexist with primary medical disorders is crucial since there is strong evidence that untreated psychiatric conditions consistently negatively affect the progression and outcomes of medical conditions. Psychological symptoms must be not only present but also present in a specific configuration and frequently for a set minimum amount of time in order to be formally diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder. They must also not be caused by toxins or a primary medical disease process, and certain exclusionary criteria must not apply to the clinical picture.

Even if the patient may have significantly experienced dysphoria and distress, the criteria for a formal psychiatric diagnosis can frequently become murky when a concomitant medical disease is present because symptoms of anxiety and depression might be independent co-morbidities, responses to, substitutions for, or essential features of a whole spectrum of medical conditions. Anxiety and depression symptoms can occasionally merge with the main medical sickness, especially in severe chronic illnesses where the patient's ability to cope and psychological integrity are tested. These psychological distress states are associated with significant discomfort and significantly lower quality of life, although they do not officially qualify as diagnostic entities.

Likewise, it is now up to people with expertise and training in psychological assessment to make the most of this chance to support (and profit from) efforts to control healthcare expenditures. This assignment may be more challenging. Many trained professionals probably only have a basic understanding of how to use test data for organizing, keeping track of, and evaluating the success of psychological interventions. The basic abilities are, therefore, present. However, many highly-trained clinicians and graduate students need to deepen or broaden their testing knowledge and skills to utilize them for such objectives better.

Steps in Treatment Planning, Monitoring and Outcome

In clinical psychology, psychological assessment is used primarily for differential diagnosis, treatment planning, and outcome evaluation. The differential diagnosis uses assessment data to characterize an individual's psychological features and adaptive strengths and shortcomings. In terms of future treatment planning, good evaluation information aids in guiding treatment tactics and anticipating potential barriers to success in therapy. Regarding outcome evaluation, pretreatment assessments create an objective baseline against which treatment progress may be tracked in subsequent evaluations and by which the treatment's ultimate benefits can be appraised. These clinical contributions of psychological evaluation can be utilized throughout each of the four sequential periods of psychological treatment delivery: choosing therapy, planning therapy, executing therapy, and assessing therapy.

Deciding On Therapy − The first stage in clinically utilizing evaluation information is determining if a patient needs therapy and is likely to benefit from it. Accurate differential diagnosis identifies pathological conditions (e.g., depression, paranoia) and maladaptive characteristics (e.g., passivity, low self-esteem) that usually require treatment. An adequate psychological evaluation assists in distinguishing such conditions and characteristics from normal range functioning that does not necessitate professional mental health intervention. Assessment techniques can give useful information about two aspects known to predict whether people will engage in and benefit from psychotherapy: their motivation for treatment and their accessibility to being treated. The level of subjective suffering people feel frequently corresponds to their motivation for therapy. Access to psychiatric treatment is often determined by people's willingness to examine themselves, share their ideas and feelings honestly, and adjust their traditional beliefs and preferred ways of living their life. Information from suitable assessment techniques can offer doctors objective indices of each of these characteristics, which can then be utilized to decide whether to propose and proceed with some therapy.

Planning Therapy − Assessment data 'provide reliable information concerning the severity of a patient's disturbance, the patient's ability to distinguish reality from fantasy, and his or her likelihood of becoming suicidal or dangerous to others, all of which bear on whether the person requires residential care or can be treated safely and adequately as an outpatient. The more profoundly disturbed people are, the more disconnected they are from reality, and the greater their danger of violence, the more it becomes necessary to care for them in a secure setting. Clinical experience and research findings consistently show that moderate and acute difficulties of recent beginnings may typically be successfully treated over a shorter time than severe and chronic disorders of extensive duration. Several psychodiagnostic tests indicate the chronicity and severity of symptomatic and characterological mental and emotional issues, and pretreatment data gathered with these measures can therefore assist doctors in constructing some anticipation of how long therapy is likely to endure.

Conducting Therapy − Appropriately obtained assessment data, particularly the findings of a multimethod test battery, often contain many normal range findings and some signs of notably good personality strengths and very admirable personal traits. At the same time, test results are likely to indicate unique adaptation deficiencies and coping restrictions, particularly in those being examined for symptoms or issues that have caused them to seek professional care. One individual may demonstrate circumstantial thinking and poor judgment; another may exhibit poor social skills and interpersonal retreat; and a third may exhibit significant emotional inhibition with a limited capacity to communicate feelings and feel comfortable in emotionally charged circumstances.

Evaluating Therapy − Psychological assessments give useful information for tracking the course of therapy and determining its effectiveness. For this potential advantage of assessment to be realized, assessment data must be acquired from patients prior to the start of therapy. In addition to assisting in identifying treatment targets and long-term therapeutic objectives, pretreatment data give an objective baseline for comparison with the results of later evaluations. Periodic reevaluations can then reveal if the therapy is making a difference, how near it has fulfilled its objectives, how the emphasis of ongoing treatment should be altered, and whether a termination point has been reached.

Measures and Tools Used

The measures examined here are outcome measures intended to assess symptomatic distress over the entire spectrum of psychological distress, not just as screening measures for "caseness" (although they may be used in that capacity). This makes the question pertinent to our discussion. The SCL-90-R and BSI are sensitive to various symptomatic presentations, from moderate loss of well-being with little to no clinical implications to morbid distress states to symptoms typical of formal mental disorders. These tools are sensitive to a wide range of psychological distress states and the results of therapies intended to ameliorate or change these conditions, in addition to perhaps aiding in operationalizing diagnostic status.


The SCL-90-R is a 90-item survey of self-reported symptoms. The Hopkins Symptom Checklist, which originates from various older exams like the Cornell Medical Index, was the examination from which it most immediately emerged. The SCL-90-R instrument's prototype was originally reported in 1973, and its final iteration was finished two years later. The inventory assesses psychological symptoms and distress in nine primary symptom dimensions and three global indices. The global indicators are the positive symptom total (PST), the positive symptom distress index (PSDI), and the global severity index (GSI). According to the SCL-90-R, somatization, obsessive-compulsive disorder, interpersonal sensitivity, depression, anxiety, hostility, phobic anxiety, paranoid ideation, and psychoticism are the main symptom aspects. The overall distress status was intended to be summarized by the global measures, which each offer a slightly different viewpoint.

The SCL-90-R's short form, the Brief Symptom Inventory (BSI), comprises 53 items. The same nine symptom dimensions and three global indices as its longer sibling, it was similarly finished in 1975 and represented psychological discomfort and dysfunction. The BSI was created for measurements with less time than the usual 15 minutes needed to perform the SCL-90-R. However, because of the strong correlation between SCL-90-R and BSI scores, the shorter test is frequently used, even when there are no time restrictions.

The BSI-18 has most recently been introduced to this comprehensive set of measurements. The BSI-18 is an 18-item variation of the BSI, as suggested by its name. The instrument is made to be used as a screening tool for psychological discomfort and disorder in both medical and community populations, with an outcomes measure coming in second. The BSI-18, however, differs from its predecessors in that it only assesses three of the series' regular nine symptom dimensions: Anxiety (AXN), Somatization (SOM), and Depression (DEP).

A multidimensional clinical rating scale called the Derogatis Psychiatric Rating Scale (DPRS) was created to serve as the SCL-90-R/BSI for clinicians. The first nine DPRS dimensions correspond to the nine self-report instrument symptom components. The scale includes eight additional variables crucial for accurate clinical interpretation but cannot be accurately self-reported.

The SCL-90-R and the BSI as Treatment Outcomes Measures

The ideal outcome measure would exhibit high sensitivity to various therapeutic approaches. It would show sensitivity to change across the entire spectrum of psychological dysregulation, from mild dysphoria and disaffection in community populations to severe psychopathology in institutionalized individuals. A psychological test must be able to capture the test respondent's status in useful clinical terms in order to be most useful as an outcome measure. Because the notions that psychological tests seek to operationalize (such as sadness, anxiety, and quality of life) are intangible, test results alone are insufficient to convey real-world status. Meaningful interpretation of a patient's score or change in status is made possible by well-developed representative norms, which are a necessary component of good psychological outcomes measurements.


A special collection of quick, multidimensional test tools for evaluating psychological symptoms and psychological distress includes the SCL-90-R, BSI, BSI-18, and their corresponding clinical rating scales. Their effective usage in countless published clinical and outcomes research studies covering various applications offers persuasive evidence of their validity, utility, and dependability. These test instruments are strongly recommended as broadly effective measures of clinical status and change due to their sensitivity to pharmacological, psychotherapeutic, and other treatment interventions, as well as to variations in psychopathology and psychological distress states that are clinically significant.

Updated on: 14-Feb-2023


Kickstart Your Career

Get certified by completing the course

Get Started