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The Therapeutic Assessment Article by Dr. Hill

When a client comes to Parker Collins, they enter a clinic that has been organized as a trauma designed, multicultural, feminist, professional, whole family supportive, and clinically focused treatment program. We practice a respectful and empowering approach and use assessment and treatment methodologies that have been proven to be effective. These guiding principles include engaging clients with a therapeutic assessment, which is an approach to diagnostic assessment and psychological evaluations that is a somewhat unique and often a refreshing and empowering experience.

The practice of therapeutic assessments has been validated by research and clinical experience and differs from traditional top down and intense data gathering “behind the curtain” approach that is somewhat common in the mental health community. A therapeutic assessment starts with being respectful and clinicians believe what clients say. The clinician and client form a collaborative team and work together using the lenses of trauma, multicultural respect, and feminist empowerment. The result is the assessor and the client power differential is minimized to create a collaboration focused on understanding the client’s experiences and challenges, while exploring helpful pathways for change and healing. Clients are involved in the entire assessment process; from developing goals for the assessment, exploring symptoms and possible underlying etiology, validating assessment results, and developing treatment plans that have empirical support to be effective for treating trauma related disorders.

There is a lot of talk and writing in the mental health community about being trauma informed. At Parker Collins, we take that approach a number of steps forward to create assessment and treatment offerings that are trauma designed. A trauma designed approach incorporates a vast amount of current research that guides the use and interpretations of the diagnostic and test result data. All clinicians at Parker Collins are trained in formal programs designed for assessment and treatment of trauma disorders including: therapeutic assessments, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), Acceleration Resolution Therapy (ART), Adaptive Internal Relational (AIR) Network, and other models. These models are powerful and effective, but different. Not all models work for all clients and our therapeutic assessments are designed to not only help clients better understand themselves, but also to help recommend which of the available treatment models are appropriate in order to provide safe and effective healing.

The therapeutic assessment is spread out over time, which is much different than a traditional marathon, all testing in one day, hard push common to psychological evaluation practices. Spreading the assessment timeframe out allows the clinician and client to have time to assess risk of emotional and trauma triggering disruptions, including possible suicidal ideation symptoms. The respectful and supportive approach also creates time for processing and managing triggered emotions, traumatic memories, or other symptoms that can pop up during assessments. Time and support for managing triggered symptoms helps clients get back to a grounded state that is needed for safe and effective test administration.

When diagnostic interviews and test administration are complete, the therapeutic assessment model continues to be organized as a collaboration between the clinician and client when trying to make sense of the data. Research shows that the vast majority of mental health disorders are associated with trauma experiences, and an empowering approach is used to recognize that trauma symptoms are not something that is wrong (pathological) in a client, but rather reflects that trauma is something wrong that the client experienced.

The goal of this collaborative and empowering approach isn’t a diagnosis. While diagnoses are determined, the goal is to provided helpful explanations and recommendations that help the client and clinicians better understand the client’s symptoms and experiences and to find solutions. Clinicians use a strengths-based approach to guide treatment recommendations and provide empowering feedback to clients. Throughout the process, the attitude of the assessor is to be helpful, create a positive collaborative experience, and remain respectful. The ultimate goal of a therapeutic assessment is to help clients take the first step into effective healing and recovery from the challenges that clients experience because of their trauma and related symptoms.