What is a psychological evaluation or assessment?

Has your son or daughter’s teacher recommended that they be assessed for ADHD? Have you ever thought you were depressed or anxious, but just weren’t sure? Maybe you’ve been in therapy or counseling for some time, and feel like you’ve hit a wall. It sounds like a psychological evaluation might be helpful.

A psychological evaluation, or what we refer to in the field as psychological testing, is a battery of tests that helps the clinician to better understand what and how the client understands and deals with emotions, others, thoughts and the world. Sometimes testing will answer specific questions, like “do I have ADHD?” or “why do I always expect the worst to happen?” Psychological testing can be equated to blood testing or blood work. Doctors will often recommend you get blood work done when there is a concern about nutrient deficiencies and disease. It can provide valuable insights to what is affecting your body, from the inside, and that may be less apparent from the outside. In psychology, our form of blood work is psychological testing.

As a psychologist, I have found psychological testing helpful as it provides a thorough understanding about how one thinks, feels, perceives and works with information. This data can be invaluable in therapy. Sometimes psychological testing is required for school accommodations because of issues related to ADHD, anxiety or ODD. Other times therapists or psychiatrists might need a more definite diagnosis that is supported by objective findings. For example, a psychiatrist or PCP may be uncomfortable prescribing a stimulant medication before having a definite ADHD diagnosis, or to determine a possible treatment regimen for a bipolar disorder. In each of these cases, psychological testing can help to get the treating clinician more information, which can help their confidence in prescribing a certain treatment.

If you are interested in or have been told to seek psychological testing, give us a call or send us an email, and we will determine if we be of help!

Mindfulness, a primer

There is a lot of buzz today about mindfulness. You may hear about it in the media, and if you’re connected with a therapist or PCP, you may even have heard about it from them. A quick google search for the keyword “mindfulness” returned 213,000,000 results, far more than the 108,000,000 for CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) and many more than the 23,900,000 for the term DBT (dialectical behavior therapy), from which the therapeutic use of mindfulness has grown. Mindfulness, in essence, is the state of being in the present. Not the future. Not the past. The here and now. When you are mindful, you are focusing you attention to the present. A fun way to approach mindfulness is adopting a curious perspective, examining the present as though it is something entirely new and unique. More on this later.

We are finding that you can receive a lot of benefit from practicing mindfulness. Research has linked mindfulness to an increased ability to manage stress, better work-life balance, and benefits to mental and physical health. Recent research has also shown a connection between mindfulness practices in the workplace and improvements in attention and focus, with some benefits proposed for more short and longer-term use or practice. Further, a large analysis of current research literature indicates that mindfulness-based therapy (MBT) can be effective when used to treat anxiety and depression, and really do support the use of MBT in therapy. It is important to note, that in comparison to other treatment methods, MBT still has a way to go. More research is needed to further validate it; this is happening, and the potential outcomes are promising.

I use mindfulness as a part of my practice, and many have reported finding it helpful to deal with their symptoms coming from anxiety and depression. However, it is not an easy practice, and many have also reported that it can be difficult to engage in. It is also not a panacea, and just like most things, won’t “cure” your problems immediately. When used in the course of therapy, mindfulness practices can become a powerful tool in your toolbox. Working together with a therapist, you might find ways that MBT can be helpful. Dr. Ashley will be creating some videos on mindfulness, which you might also find helpful in deciding whether you would benefit from scheduling an appointment with us.

A good ole' sit & think

I started thinking about this topic while I was rocking my youngest son back to sleep this morning (5:50AM). While rocking back and forth in the glider hoping that my son would go back to sleep long enough that I could have a dream, I started to envision all of the things I needed to do today. Church, cleaning, paperwork, taking care of the kids, taxes, mortgage, the nature of string theory and how it could relate to the human mind... In my early 20's this kind of processing would have required two, maybe three, cups of dark-roast coffee. Alas, this was not to be in my morning. Instead, my son looked up at me, eyes wide, as if saying, "I'm ready to go, why aren't you?" The silence we enjoyed together was ended by his near-toddler egging and grunting. "Time to go," it meant.

As much as I would have preferred for my son to have willingly fallen back asleep, there is a silver lining to our quiet time together. I believe it is pretty well accepted that we live in a noisy world. Cars, airplanes, music, construction...all noises most of us experience on a daily basis. This is a modern phenomenon, though. Imagine 100's of years ago when we did not have the same level of noise. What would you experience at night? Silence. Today, when we experience that it can be somewhat uncomfortable and unsettling. Where did the noises go? Why aren't there cars driving down my street, or the noise of my neighbors yelling in excitement? Did something happen? 

Some research has linked the experience of noise, or noise pollution, in the office and community, to increased stress, sleep loss, and psychological symptoms, but not with psychiatric disorders. Interestingly, it also leads to increased levels of chatecholemine secretion - this is a hormone that is helps us respond to stress (think fight or flight). Scientists and clinicians have been aware of this for awhile now. The research on this subject is amazing - noise pollution, coming in the form of airplane and jet noise, has an impact on children's neurodevelopment, and can lead lower reading scores and slower development of cognitive and language skills!

Now, I am not saying that you should cancel your plans to visit New York City next summer. Rather, as a psychologist in clinical practice, I would encourage thoughtful exploration of the amount of time you, and your family, spend in quiet thought and exploration. Do you have the television on as soon as you and the kids get home up until dinner, and even during? Try to see what it is like without it on. For a long time I had gotten used to having the news on 24/7 - it helps me focus and provided useful distractions during my years in school. I know it can be hard to make such a shift. The television can become a part of the family, always there when you need it. If this is the case, try a week without it, and instead turn on the radio. "Alexa, play my 'keep my mind off the fact I am not watching the latest episode of Game of Thrones' radio." 

Although it may seem small, the importance of adapting to this change is significant. Thanks to advances in technology, any show that I want to watch is available to me. Type it in online, or enter the channel number into my remote, and voila, my desire is satiated. This is also known as instantaneous gratification - the opposite of our childhood archnemesis, delayed gratification (actually a hero). For children especially, the development of the ability to delay gratification can lead to positive outcomes in school and in life. The same can be said for us as adults. Our ability to delay gratification is synonymous with impulse control. Having media and electronic stimuli available nearly everywhere really may not promote the development of impulse control. The practice of sitting with our thoughts, without acting, without avoiding, without judging, even, is tough. Yet, doing so can be good for our health

As I finish writing and researching this post, the sun is now up. My youngest son has now eaten his way through his breakfast. I have not gotten back to sleep. I am grateful for that. I was given this gift of extra time with my son that I otherwise would not have. I look forward to see what other aspects of my day this will change. 

Give it a try, today, tonight or tomorrow. Spend some time in thought. In silence or quiet. One of the shows my oldest son loves is Sarah and Duck. In it, Sarah, the main character, and duck, her pet, spend time in thought. They call it, "sit and think." I would encourage you do the same. Give yourself the time and space to have a sit and think of your own. See what happens.

For some more information and helpful tips on mindfulness, consider scheduling an appointment with us.