If you are researching how to find a court-ordered mental health assessment, mental health evaluation, or psychological evaluation things can get confusing rather quickly. These terms sound similar but they aren’t. Of course, you don’t want to show up in court with the wrong type of evaluation and you don’t want to pay for more than you need. Here’s a crash course on the differences.

Mental Health Assessment also known as a Mental Health Evaluation

This assessment is provided by a licensed mental health professional and seeks to give a good broad overview of your mental health including screening for depression, anxiety, substance use disorders, PTSD, attention deficit, phobias, and just about anything found in the DSM-5 manual which is used by mental health professionals.  Mental health assessments are generally going to be briefer than psychological evaluations and cost about one third to one fifth as much.  Mental health evaluations are often requested by courts, probation offices, and child protection agencies who are about to close or dismiss a case, but they would like to document the fact that they at least took a look at your mental health as assessed by a licensed mental health professional.

Counselors and social workers usually provide mental health assessments rather than psychological evaluations. Regardless, we recommend you use a counselor,  social worker or psychologist that has an established track record of working with courts and submitting reports in legal contexts. If a licensed professional wants to do a report for you but they don’t typically work with courts it may be more trouble to you than it is worth since their reports may be obviously lacking in front of a judge, opposing attorney, prosecutor, or probation officer. If your report is lacking, you may be perceived as trying to cut corners and hurt your standing in the courtroom. 

Psychological Evaluations

Psychological evaluations, on the other hand, are similar to a mental health assessment, but they go into much more depth with regards to your mental health and particularly how your personality manifests in daily living and relationships.  Psychological evaluations, for example, look much closer for “personality disorders” (e.g. narcissism, paranoia, sociopathology, etc.).  A “psych eval” report generally takes double the time to accomplish, produces a report 3-4 times as lengthy, and costs from $1500-$3000 depending on local norms and the context of your case.  If you need a psychological evaluation for a child custody case it is going to be on the higher end of this cost. This is because most evaluators will be concerned about getting a well-rounded story and it is often a lengthy process (and potentially high conflict situation) to get all information available and interview any parties who may be opposing you. A mental health assessment may be sufficient in a child custody context but be sure to clarify what is needed with your attorney or the court. 

Psychological evaluations are often provided by forensic psychologists.  This is an individual with a doctoral level of education who regularly submits in-depth evaluations to the court or testifies as an expert witness in courtroom proceedings.  Counselors and social workers (typically masters level education) can also provide a psychological evaluation, but they do need to have the proper training and we strongly recommend using them only if they are regularly working with courts, something which is relatively rare.

What if You Aren’t Sure Which One You Need

If it isn’t clear which assessment for court you really need, you should directly ask the authority who asked you to get the evaluation or assessment.  If they don’t really seem to be sure we would be glad to ask for you.  Simply contact us and share the contact information for the requesting authority. If you need a different court-ordered assessment,such as an alcohol assessment or drug and alcohol evaluation, you can check our menu of available assessments or call us anytime to see if we can be of assistance. If you would like to begin a mental health assessment or evaluation for court now please click here. 

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