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Difference Between the Psychological Evaluation and Therapeutic Process

Updated: Jul 11, 2021

One of the most difficult aspects of #specializing in #immigration #evaluations is receiving this call from clients: "How long are your letters? I had one done somewhere else but it was only one page and now I need to do another oner?" It is heartbreaking to hear the disappointment and sadness in the callers’ voices as they ask this question. Unfortunately, this can be a common scenario given the lack of #awareness regarding the difference between the #therapy and #psychological #evaluation process. There are significant differences between the #time, #focus, #purpose, and #documentation associated with #psychotherapy and a #psychological evaluation.

Therapy is an #ongoing process that requires the client to attend several sessions, generally once a week, until therapeutic #progress has been made. The focus of therapy is to address clients’ symptoms and improve their overall psychological health and wellbeing. Therapy can be beneficial for people experiencing anxiety, depression, posttraumatic stress, substance use, family conflict, and other concerns. Therapy provides a space for people to #process their #emotions, #discuss their #problems, #receive #support, and #develop #adaptive #coping #skills. After clients receive therapy they can request documentation which is usually a one page treatment summary. A treatment summary generally notes the length, focus, and outcome of therapy.

In contrast, a psychological evaluation is a time limited process conducted for the purposes of answering specific questions and used as a #diagnostic tool to #recommend future #treatment. A psychological evaluation can be effectively conducted in one #session. Psychological evaluations can be conducted to #assess #cognitive #ability and #personality traits; to assist with #legal, #forensic, and immigration cases; and to #diagnose #neuropsychological #disorders, #attention #deficit, and #learning #disabilities among other reasons. Psychological evaluations are accompanied by #comprehensive psychological #reports which are several pages long. In general, psychological reports note the purpose of the evaluation, the #methodology of the evaluation, the client’s background history, the client’s current psychological #functioning and any applicable #diagnoses, test results, summary, #prognosis, and recommendations based on the results of the evaluation.

The best way to ensure clients' needs are met is by learning and speaking the psychological language. When a client has a clear sense of the type of immigration case they are involved with, and the type of documentation required, they are able to schedule the appropriate psychological service. The best case scenario is a caller stating the following: “I need a psychological evaluation for a hardship waiver case;” unfortunately many clients are overwhelmed with the immigration process and will instead say something like “my attorney sent me to get a letter from you.”

In conclusion, the following “prescription” or referral form can be provided to clients in order to assist them with the psychological evaluation process:

p.s. Because the number of sessions a client has worked with me is often questioned during immigration cases, I include a paragraph in my evaluation reports regarding the difference between therapy and an evaluation. My reports also note the American Psychological Association’s position on dual relationships, which is a topic for another article.

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