Getting a mental health or substance abuse assessment for court is not something most people have prior experience with. Therefore, if you need an assessment for court, it can be difficult to know what service to use. This blog breaks down the basics of court ordered assessments, to help you make a well informed choice when considering your assessment service options.
- What professional credentials AND experience does the evaluator have?
While professional credentials and state licenses are important it is equally important that the evaluator have substantial experience providing alcohol and drug assessments. First, check the evaluators credentials (see below) but more importantly ask the evaluator about how many assessments they perform each month. Let your gut instinct guide you when they answer this question. If the answer is not clear and without hesitation you may be talking to an inexperienced evaluator or someone who will accept your case simply because they need work. Some individuals purposely attempt to avoid experienced evaluators because of a fear that the evaluator will find bigger problems and make more recommendations. The opposite is actually more likely. Experienced evaluators are usually the most discerning and if functioning ethically, will not over diagnose and over treat you.
You can also learn more about a provider’s reputation in a variety of other ways. You can find a professional clinician’s licensure online listed with the state licensing board. Some states will also list disciplinary actions against the person’s license if they have had a professional problem of some kind. Taking this step will also show you how long the clinician has been professionally licensed for. Second, ask for professional references. Finally, you can look at Better Business Bureau ratings and reviews for a credible complaint history. Be careful when reading google or other online review formats. Look for formats where any consumer complaints have both sides of the story displayed.
- Is the evaluator in private practice or does she/he work for a treatment program?
If the evaluator works in a treatment center, this may or may not create a problem for you. Evaluators in a treatment center may have direct or indirect pressure, or simply a bias, to refer clients to their own Inpatient or Intensive Outpatient treatment programs. There is not only a financial incentive to do so but there may be a general assumption that you have “denial” about an alcohol or drug problem because the evaluator works in an environment where they see psychological denial on a daily basis with substance users and mental health patients. If your evaluator does not work in a treatment center (Intensive Outpatient Program, Inpatient, Partial Hospitalization or residential program) the opposite is often true. The evaluator has no financial incentive to send you to their own program and they usually work in an outpatient setting where they talk with individuals on a daily basis who use alcohol (or appropriate drugs) but do not necessarily have a problem with denial. By the same token a private practitioner who doesn’t understand the benefits of treatment programs or has never worked in such an environment, can sometimes under diagnose or under treat substance use disorders. Ask questions to get at these underlying concerns, be honest, and follow your intuition. If you are feeling “sales pressure” from a clinician you are probably talking to the wrong person. Call another professional to compare notes.
- Does this evaluator fill out a preformatted evaluation form or write a unique report that applies specifically to your situation?
If the evaluator is simply completing a checklist form, the court may view your assessment as unprofessional and assume it was completed in a fast manner to “get this over with” as easily and cheaply as possible. Judges and prosecutors read these reports all the time and can quickly identify individuals who are just jumping through the hoops to get through the system. This strategy can backfire on you. What you want is a professional assessment that also is presented in a professional manner – something that says by appearance and content that you were fairly and professionally evaluated.
- Will you get a chance to see my report before the court does?
Alcohol and drug assessment reports are private health care documents and as such are protected by federal law. Just as you would not release information from your doctor to a third party, you should not release your alcohol or drug assessment without your consent and we advise you to have a full awareness of the information being shared. This is especially important since there is always the potential for human error in the interview or writing of your report. Needless to say, you do not want errors in a report which a judge or prosecutor will potentially be basing decisions about your future on. Be sure you review the report carefully before you release it to the court, your employer, or any other authority. If you disagree with specifics of your alcohol or drug assessment report, speak up, ask questions, and try to resolve any concerns before forwarding your report.
- Will you need to provide a drug test to the evaluator?
Drug tests are often a standard part of a drug and alcohol evaluation and most often are done through a urine screen. There are some cases when a drug test is not necessary. For example, if you are providing frequent drug tests to the court already and can present copies to the evaluator, the additional testing and expense are typically not necessary. Another example is when the offense only involved alcohol, and this is a first or second offense.If you are getting an assessment by a professional via webcam or telephone you won’t have the opportunity to provide a urine sample. In this case, if the evaluator wants to see a urine drug screen result you can simply go to a local lab or hospital who will screen you and document the results. You can then scan/email the results to your evaluator and attach it to the professional report with the evaluators comments.
- Can the evaluator refer you to attorneys or legal professionals who can provide a strong reference about the evaluators professional capability?
You only want to do an evaluation once, so make an effort to check out the professionalism of the evaluator. One way to do this is to simply ask for the names of law firms or legal professionals who are familiar with the evaluators work. If the evaluator is not known by several legal professionals, chances are good that the evaluator will not be experienced at writing up an alcohol and or drug assessment in a manner that the court expects to see and you run the risk of having the assessment turned down.
- What is the cost of the assessment?
This may be an obvious question, but we bring this up here to help provide a frame of reference. You have heard the adage, “you get what you pay for”, and it holds true in the case of alcohol assessments, drug and alcohol assessments, mental health assessments and anger management assessments. If the price is too good to be true you may very well be aggravated when your assessment is turned down for poor quality or lack of appropriate credentials held by the provider. In the U.S. expect to pay over $200 for a basic alcohol assessment that is written in a manner appropriate for court review. The more complex your assessment is the more it will cost. Child custody assessments for example, can involve considerable review of lengthy court documentation, interviews of exs, communication with guardians, etc. Our fees for a professional assessment related to child custody vary with the level of assessment needed to satisfy the court and we allow you to choose the appropriate level after discussion to determine your specific needs. Lastly, if you need an assessment on short notice, expect to pay extra for rush services. Our practice will accommodate short notice and last-minute assessment requests. See our website for specific rush order fees, terms and conditions.
- If there are recommendations, are you free to fulfill those at any service or are you obliged to use more of the evaluators services?
If your evaluator makes professional recommendations as part of the assessment outcome and those recommendations don’t allow for you to use another service, we see this is a major red flag. The most important thing about a recommendation is that it be beneficial to you first, not the evaluator’s organization. For this reason, many people choose to get their initial assessment completed by someone in private practice, where there is nothing to gain by making a referral to their own treatment center or Intensive Outpatient Program. If an evaluator makes a recommendation for outpatient counseling of some type, it is fine if they offer their own services but should make it clear that you can obtain such services with any qualified professional.