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What is Clinical Assessment?

In order for a mental health professional to be able to effectively treat a client and know that the selected treatment actually worked (or is working), he/she first must engage in the clinical assessment of the client. 

Clinical assessment refers to collecting information and drawing conclusions through the use of observation, psychological tests, neurological tests, and interviews to determine what the person’s problem is and what symptoms he/she is presenting with. This collection of information involves learning about the client’s skills, abilities, personality characteristics, cognitive and emotional functioning, social context (e.g., environmental stressors), and cultural factors particular to them such as their language or ethnicity. Clinical assessment is not just conducted at the beginning of the process of seeking help but all throughout the process.

Clinical assessment is crucial, because first and foremost it helps to determine if a treatment is even needed. By having a clear accounting of the person’s symptoms and how they affect daily functioning we can determine to what extent the individual is adversely affected. Assuming treatment is needed, our second reason to engage in clinical assessment is to determine what treatment will work best as there are many approaches to treatment, which you can see in the ‘Our Therapies‘ section of our website. Of course, for any mental health problem, some therapies will work better than others. Even if several can work well, it does not necessarily mean a particular therapy will work well for that specific client. Clinical Assessment can help the clinician figure out which therapy will be the best fit for both the problem and the client.

Finally, Clinical Assessment helps in establishing whether the therapy or treatment being employed is working. This will involve measuring aspects of the problem (e.g. symptoms, distress) before any treatment is used and then measuring again during, and at the end of treatment.  Knowing what the person’s baselines are for different aspects of psychological functioning will help us to see when improvement occurs. In recap, obtaining the baselines happens in the beginning, implementing the treatment plan happens more so in the middle, and then making sure the treatment produces the desired outcome occurs at the end. As such, clinical assessment is very much an ongoing process throughout the therapeutic process.