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Mental Health Counseling Assessment: Broadening One's Understanding of the Client and the Clients Presenting Concerns. ERIC Digest.
Assessment has experienced a resurgence in recent years both in the United States and abroad (Piotrowski & Keller, 1992; Watkins, 1994). Some continue to use the terms assessment and testing interchangeably. Both are vitally important to the counseling process (Lambert, Ogles, & Masters, 1992). Yet, assessment is broader in scope than testing. Typically, assessment includes gathering and integrating information about a client in a manner that promotes effective treatment (Cohen, Swerdlik, & Smith, 1992). This can be accomplished by using testing in conjunction with other methods, such as qualitative techniques, behavioral assessments and review of past client records. Testing should not be used as the only source of information about a client (Anastasi, 1992).
Corroborating data from a number of sources helps create a more thorough understanding of the client and his or her presenting concerns. The counselor can then interpret these data and formulate hypotheses related to the client's strengths and weaknesses. Data gathered and the hypotheses formed, thereby, contribute to the creation of an effective counseling strategy. This digest discusses how counselors can use assessment as a continuous process throughout treatment. It also reviews three common forms of assessment techniques which can be used in conjunction with testing.
One commonly used qualitative assessment experience is called, "The Life Line" (Goldman, 1992). The intent of this experience is to help clients reflect upon significant past events which have influenced them. Clients draw a horizontal timeline on a blank sheet of paper. They are then asked to recall past significant experiences, relationships, events or wishes which have influenced their lives, and to plot these along the timeline. The result gives the counselor detailed information about significant events in the client's developmental history.
Similarly, role plays can serve as a qualitative assessment experience. For example, a mental health counselor may ask a client to role play a recent anxiety provoking experience (e.g., an argument with a supervisor, receiving a speeding ticket, etc.). The role play provides the mental health counselor with a sample of the client's behaviors. As the role play is being demonstrated the counselor can query the client regarding possible negative self-talk (e.g., I'm so stupid, he'll never listen to me, etc.). Understanding the self-talk used by a client can help the counselor generate effective intervention ideas. Clients can also practice new counselor-directed behaviors or self-talk (e.g., I'm intelligent, he'll want to listen to me) within the counseling session through role plays.
Another qualitative assessment technique that can provide valuable information is a photograph safari. Depending upon the presenting concerns, the counselor may request that the client bring to the session photographs of the client's family-of-origin or childhood. The counselor and client can jointly review these photographs. Particular attention should be paid to: (a) those present in the photographs; (b) those consistently absent from the photographs (e.g., Are the client's siblings always included in the photographs but the client absent?); (c) common themes of the photographs (e.g., Are all the pictures taken on the family farm? Are pictures only taken during certain holidays?); (d) proximity to significant others posing in the photographs (e.g., Is the client consistently posed beside the client's father? Is the client consistently standing apart from other family members?); and (e) emotions displayed on family member faces (e.g., Does the client consistently pout or appear angry in photographs?). Such qualitative assessment techniques can promote insight for the client and therapeutic direction for the counselor.
Concomitantly, past records link the client's history to the presenting concern. A counselor can gain increased clarity of the immediate concern based upon an improved understanding of previous stressors or transitions leading to the client's current condition. The Counselor can then address the cause(s) of the symptoms rather than the symptoms, themselves.
Cohen, R. J., Swerdlik, M. E., & Smith, D. K. (1992). Psychological testing and assessment: An introduction to tests and measurements. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Publishing Company.
Drum, D. J. (1992). A review of Leo Goldman's article "Qualitative assessment: An approach for Counselors." Journal of Counseling & Development, 70(5), 622-623.
Galassi, J. P. & Perot, A. R. (1992). What you should know about behavioral assessment. Journal of Counseling & Development, 70(5), 624-631.
Goldman, L. (1992). Qualitative assessment: An approach for counselors. Journal of Counseling & Development, 70(5), 616-621.
Lambert, M. J., Ogles, B. M., & Masters, K. S. (1992). Choosing outcome assessment devices: An organizational and conceptual scheme. Journal of Counseling & Development, 70(4), 527-532.
Piotrowski, C., & Keller, J. W. (1992). Projective techniques: An international perspective. (ED 355 273).
Vacc, N. A. (1982). A conceptual framework for continuous assessment of clients. Measurement and Evaluation in Guidance, 15 (1), 40-47.
Watkins, C. E., (1994). Thinking about "Tests and Assessment" and the career beliefs inventory. Journal of Counseling & Development, 72(4), 421- 423.
Gerald A. Juhnke is an assistant professor and Clinic Coordinator in the Department of Counseling and Educational Development in the School of Education at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
ERIC Digests are in the public domain and may be freely reproduced and disseminated. This publication was funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement, Contract No. RR93002004. Opinions expressed in this report do not necessarily reflect the positions of the U.S. Department of Education, OERI, or ERIC/CASS
Title: Mental Health Counseling Assessment: Broadening One's Understanding of the Client and the Clients Presenting Concerns. ERIC Digest.
Descriptors: Behavior Patterns; Client Characteristics [Human Services]; * Counseling Techniques; Counselor Client Relationship; Data Analysis; * Data Collection; Evaluation; * Evaluation Methods; Evaluation Utilization; Personality Assessment; * Psychological Evaluation; Qualitative Research
Identifiers: ERIC Digests
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