Psychological Testing: Assessing Clients in Forensic Cases, Important Things to Consider

Once a client comes into a forensic psychologist’s office, one of the therapist’s initial tasks is to assess (test) the client’s mental health—to determine the extent of their psychological and emotional condition.

According to Schultz & Schultz (2010), all proper psychological testing must should to demonstrate the following principles:

  1. Standardization – All procedures and steps are conducted in a consistent manner so that outside factors don’t influence results. 
  2. Objectivity – Subjective judgments and biases are minimized so that results for each test taker are obtained in the same way. This reduces the likelihood that the person administering the test will alter the results in some way.
  3. Test Norms – The client’s score is compared with others from a similar group of people to establish a reference point or baseline for the score.
  4. Reliability – Obtaining the same result after multiple testing demonstrates that the test is truly able to give accurate results every time it is used.
  5. Validity – The type of test being administered measures what it is intended to measure. For example, a test for depression would evaluate a test-taker’s depressive symptoms, i.e. sadness, crying, social isolation.  

In the clinical forensic setting, various tests are utilized to measure symptoms of psychopathology (mental illness).  Some commonly used assessments in forensic psychology include the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory and the Millon Clinical Multiaxial Inventory-IV, as well as the Beck Depression and Beck Anxiety Inventories.

The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) is a standardized psychometric test of adult personality and psychopathology.  Forensic psychologists use various versions of the MMPI to determine the extent of the client’s mental illness as well as to ascertain if the client is malingering (faking bad for benefits) (Butcher & Williams, 2009).

In addition, the Millon Clinical Multiaxial Inventory (MCMI) is a psychological assessment tool that provides information on personality traits and psychopathology, including specific psychiatric disorders outlined in the DSM-5 (Millon et al., 2010) such as Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). These assessments can help a forensic clinician diagnose a client using standardized data that can be compared to other individuals in the population who have similar symptoms.

Additionally, the Beck Depression Inventory and the Beck Anxiety Inventory are easy-to-administer assessments (21 questions) that can help determine a forensic client’s levels of depression or anxiety.  Although a clinician can diagnose a person with a depressive or anxiety disorder without a standardized assessment, the BDI and BAI are useful because they can indicate the level (degree) of depression or anxiety that the client is suffering using standardized normative data.

Used in conjunction with a psychosocial interview (client’s background) and behavioral observations (clinician observes client), psychological testing/assessment is an invaluable tool for evaluating the forensic client’s mental health.  The results from assessment (testing) instruments provide objective information that adds additional credibility to the forensic expert’s findings, diagnosis, and treatment plan. Ultimately, the goal of forensic evaluation and treatment is to help the client recover their mental health so they can live a productive and satisfying life.

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