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Psychological Testing for Depression in Children

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Updated October 17, 2012

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

As a parent, the thought of subjecting your child to psychological testing for her depression symptoms may seem unnecessary, intimidating or upsetting. Surprisingly though, it's some of these easiest testing your child may encounter -- there are no right or wrong answers. The results from psychological testing can reveal a tremendous amount about your child, which helps in identifying a safe and effective treatment plan.

Why Is My Child Being Tested?

If depression is suspected in your child, psychological testing may be used to confirm the diagnosis and determine the severity of her symptoms.

Aside from diagnosing mental illnesses, psychological testing may also be utilized to assess cognitive functioning, academic and school adjustment, achievement and adaptive level, vocational interests, substance abuse, etc. Additionally, psychological testing is often used within schools to determine if a child is eligible for special services.

How Does Psychological Testing Work in Kids?

Psychological testing is appropriate and useful in children because it allows a trained professional to use standardized assessments to make an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan.

Think of a blood test that a physician may order when your child is not feeling well -- it helps to confirm or deny a suspected diagnosis, and helps to determine a treatment plan. Psychological testing works in the same way, except without the needles or blood.

Where Will My Child Be Tested?

When a child is having an issue in school or needs to be evaluated to receive special services, a school psychologist may test the child within the school.

When a child is tested outside of school, usually in a psychologist's office, it is considered a community evaluation. No matter the place of evaluation, the goal is to determine a diagnosis and develop a treatment plan to help your child.

What to Expect

When your child is a minor, parental consent is always needed to test your child. Typically, there will be an initial meeting where parental consent is requested. The testing plan will be explained at this meeting. You might take this opportunity to ask questions, address any concerns, and offer your observations of your child's behavior or any important recent life events (like divorce, loss of a loved one, a move, etc.) that may have impacted your child.

You can prepare your child by explaining the process to her on an age-appropriate level and encouraging her to answer any questions honestly. Allow her to ask you any questions she may have, and answer the best you can. On the day of testing, follow her normal routine.

On testing day, if your child is sick, overly tired or overly anxious, let the assessor know, as this can affect the outcome of the evaluation.

Your child may be given a paper and pencil test to complete on her own, or she may be interviewed or observed by a professional. Parents, caregivers, and/or teachers may be asked for their input or to complete brief assessments as well.

Each assessment will be scored and interpreted by a trained professional. It may take a few weeks to find out the results. Once the results come in, you and your child (if you choose) will meet with the assessor to discuss them. You may also, at times, receive a written report of the results.

Treatment plans and placement options may be discussed at the results meeting or at a later meeting, possibly with additional specialists. If there is a delay between the results and treatment planning meetings, try not to worry. This gap can offer families time to process the results and to think of questions and concerns they may have.

While the thought of having your child evaluated can be intimidating, identifying mental illness or other issues in your child is extremely important. Taking the time to understand the evaluation process and how it can help your child toward recovery can help in relieving anxiety.

Sources:

Gary Groth-Marnat. The Handbook of Psychological Assessments, Fourth Edition. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.; 2003.

Psychological Evaluations: What Every Parent Should Know. National Association of School Psychologists. Accessed: October 29, 2010.

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