What is a Psychiatric Evaluation?

A psychiatric evaluation is a process by which a mental health professional evaluates the emotional, psychological and behavioral health and the developmental stage of an individual with the goal of providing a diagnosis or assessing the status of an existing diagnosis. This process can vary from patient to patient, depending on age and the symptoms present.

A psychiatric evaluation is a medical process conducted by a medical doctor (the psychiatrist.) The doctor will assess a patient’s physical history in addition to behavioral and cognitive histories. After the evaluation, the doctor will provide the patient with a psychiatric diagnosis and make recommendations for ongoing intervention. As a medical doctor, the psychiatrist may prescribe appropriate medications for the management of a condition. The psychiatrist may also provide therapy or analysis after an evaluation or refer the patient to a psychotherapist for therapy.

Structure of the Psychiatric Evaluation

The structure of a psychiatric evaluation varies from patient to patient and condition to condition. For one, the age of the patient affects the structure of the process. Children and adolescents, for example, require different tests or scales, while an elderly patient may need dementia-specific evaluation.

While the structure can change, there are some core aspects used in most psychiatric evaluations:

  • Taking a patient history
  • Documenting the history of the problem
  • Taking a family history
  • Taking a developmental history
  • Taking a medical history
  • Performing a mental status exam
  • Performing a physical exam

The psychiatrist may also supplement these core procedures with scales that are designed to assess specific disorders, such as the Positive and Negative Syndrome Scale for assessing psychotic disorder or the Beck Depression Inventory for assessing clinical depression.

The Difference Between Psychological Evaluation and Psychiatric Evaluation

Psychiatrists are medical doctors and psychiatric evaluations are medical procedures. Psychiatrists also take a different, holistic approach to the treatment of mental illness. Having run their medical assessment of a patient’s psychiatric health, they would then focus on the pharmaceutical and biological treatments appropriate for diagnosed mental health disorders.

Psychologists are not medical doctors, but can also assess a patient’s mental health through a psychological evaluation. This process focuses on the behavioral, psychological, and sociological aspects of a patient’s mental health and does not assess physical health. A psychologist might use psychological tests during a psych eval, including the WISC or the Millon Clinical Multiaxial Inventory, with the goal of providing a comprehensive behavioral analysis of a patient’s presenting problems.