Psychological tests and assessments provide virtually unlimited opportunities for measuring and explaining human behaviors. Counselors and marriage therapists rely heavily on the results of psychological tests and assessments, as they seek to uncover the hidden facets of clients’ psychological problems and develop effective interventions. However, when it comes to counseling, the difference between psychological tests and assessments must be thoroughly analyzed. Additionally, psychologists, counselors, and marriage therapists must be aware of the principles of psychological test application and assessment usage in different counseling situations.
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The term “psychological test” is defined in a variety of ways. Cohen, Swerdlik and Sturman (2013) describe psychological testing as “the process of measuring psychology-related variables by means of devices or procedures designed to obtain a sample of behavior” (p. 2).
Kaplan and Sacuzzo (2012) provide a simpler definition of a psychological test, defining it as a set of measures to estimate and evaluate behavioral characteristics of human beings. Psychological tests always imply the use of some checklists or questionnaires, which are mostly norm-referenced (American Psychological Association, n.d.). However, the decision to use a particular test should be based on a thorough consideration of the client’s personal and environmental factors, since the same test may have different benefits and imply different costs for every other patient (Meyer et al., 2001).
Counselors and marriage therapists use psychological tests in a variety of ways. Basically, psychological tests enable counselors and marriage therapists to elicit information related directly to the client’s problem (Kaplan & Sacuzzo, 2012). This information is to be used as the basis for developing effective psychological interventions. It is interesting to note that psychologists sometimes survey themselves to estimate and describe the general patterns of psychological test usage. Such surveys were first conducted in 1935 and 1946 (Camara, Nathan & Puente, 2000). As of today, counselors spend a lot of time in testing- and assessment-related activities (Camara et al., 2000). The use of psychological assessments becomes more common.
Unlike psychological tests, assessment is the process of collecting psychology-related information to perform a psychological evaluation with the help of interviews, tests, case studies, observations, and other measurement procedures (Cohen et al., 2013). To put it simply, assessment is a process intended to describe the client’s cognitive abilities, confirm or refute the initial impressions caused by the client on the counselor or marriage therapist, identify and manage the client’s therapeutic needs, or provide helpful information in the differential diagnosis of challenging emotional or behavioral disorders (Meyer et al., 2001).
Counselors and marriage therapists may use psychological assessments to monitor the progress of treatment over time (Meyer et al., 2001). APA (n.d.) suggests that psychological assessments can be used to determine and/or confirm the presence of a psychological disorder or identify the skills and capabilities needed to preserve the client’s marriage. Marriage therapists and counselors need psychological assessments, because they often provide the only way to understand the cause of the client’s problem. It is possible to say that the use of psychological assessments reflects the fundamental ethical principle dictated by the American Psychological Association, according to which all psychologists must act for the benefit of their clients and in their best interests (Meyer et al., 2001).
Psychological tests obviously differ from psychological assessments. Typically, the objective of psychological testing is to obtain some basic numerical information about the client’s ability or behavioral attribute (Cohen et al., 2013; Kaplan & Sacuzzo, 2012). By contrast, psychological assessments are developed and used to evaluate the client as a holistic personality and arrive at the best intervention decision that will eventually benefit the client (Cohen et al., 2013). Psychological tests and assessments differ by process and the role of evaluator.
In terms of the former, tests can be administered individually or in groups, whereas most assessments are individualized by nature (Cohen et al., 2013). Assessments most often focus on the process, whereas tests are used to simply measure a specific behavioral attribute (Cohen et al., 2013). The role of evaluator varies, depending on the context: in testing, evaluators are of secondary importance. In assessments, evaluators are key to the quality and effectiveness of the entire process, from selecting the most suitable tests to interpreting their results (Cohen et al., 2013).
Finally, evaluators do not need any specific skills to administer tests. However, they need to be well-educated and trained to use assessments and interpret their results (Cohen et al., 2013). Tests will simply generate a set of scores, but assessment will result in the development of a logical problem-solving intervention to explain and answer a referral question (Cohen et al., 2013).
Chapter 2 of the textbook provides a detailed review of the history of psychological tests and assessments. The four types of tests mentioned by Cohen et al. (2013) include: personality tests, self-report tests, projective tests, and culture-specific tests. The history of personality testing spans the whole 20th century. Today, personality tests are used widely to evaluate clients’ problems, behavioral characteristics, and devise strategies to improve their emotional and cognitive wellbeing. Self-report assessments represent a specific type of psychological assessment, when clients themselves provide counselors and marriage therapists with assessment-related information (Cohen et al., 2013).
Such information can be provided through a diary, a self-report measure, or in a question-answer format. Another type of psychological assessments is represented by projective tests, “in which an individual is assumed to project onto some ambiguous stimulus his or her unique needs, fears, hopes, and motivation” (Cohen et al., 2013, p. 44). The stimulus used can be anything, from a photograph to an inkblot (Cohen et al., 2013). Finally, culture-specific tests are designed to be administered solely among the members of a specific culture (Cohen et al., 2013).
To conclude, psychological tests and assessments have numerous similarities and differences. Their objectives and outcomes differ considerably, presenting counselors and marriage therapists with a challenge to select the most suitable form of communication with the client. At the same time, only when used together, psychological tests and assessments allow psychologists to see the complete emotional and cognitive picture of the client, his/her strengths and weaknesses (APA, n.d.).
Therefore, apart from being aware of the differences between psychological tests and assessments, counselors and marriage therapists must also know how to use them together for the benefit of every client. They must have the knowledge and training needed to interpret their results. The data derived from such assessments and tests will inform the best direction of communication between the counselor and the client. Because counselors are ethically obliged to act in the client’s best interests, such combinations of tests and assessments will shape the basis for achieving the desired intervention and treatment outcomes.
APA. (n.d.). Understanding psychological testing and assessment. Web.
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Camara, W.J., Nathan, J.S. & Puente, A.E. (2000). Psychological test usage: Implications in professional psychology. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 31(2), 141-154.
Cohen, R.J., Swerdlik, M.E. & Sturman, E.D. (2013). Psychological testing and assessment: An introduction to tests and measurement. New York: McGraw- Hill.
Kaplan, R. & Sacuzzo, D. (2012). Psychological testing: Principles, applications, and issues. Boston: Cengage Learning.
Meyer, G.J., Finn, S.E., Eyde, L.D., Kay, G.G., Moreland, K.L., Dies, R.R….Reed, G.M. (2001). Psychological testing and psychological assessment: A review of evidence and issues. American Psychologist, 56(2), 128-165.