Selecting a Pyscologist to Asses Your Child (or Yourself)

Selecting a Psychologist to Assess Your Child (or Yourself)

When selecting a professional to provide a valuable service, you must make a choice that fits you. Like other professionals such as doctors or lawyers, some psychologists will be a better fit for your child’s needs (or yours) than others. There are *many* factors that may influence the fit. You can optimize your chances of working with the right professional if you consider a few aspects ahead of time.

Be as clear as you can about what you are hoping for from the assessment and the professional relationship. Is it merely a diagnosis you need? Or, are you looking for someone to explain everything to you in-depth? Are you going to be the main ‘consumer’ of the report, or are you asking the psychologist to write a report for the school or your physician? If the main audience isn’t you, are you clear on exactly what the school (or other stakeholders) needs? If not, clarify with them before deciding who to work with.
Form your referral in terms of questions for which you would like answers. Then, aim to find people with the most expertise in answering those questions. Not all psychologists have the same assessment background and training.
It would be well advised to talk to two or three psychologists before making your selection. However, it can be challenging to create that list of three possibilities (or more).
Here are a few considerations that might help:

Ask your child’s school if they know of any psychologists whose reports they have found especially helpful in programming to meet a child’s needs.
Ask friends or family members who may have been in similar situations, if they know or have heard of any psychologists with the right type of expertise (e.g., cognitive/academic/processing, social, emotional, behavioral, etc.) *see TYPES OF ASSESSMENT DOCUMENT**
If you have a pediatrician or family physician who you trust, ask them if they have seen any well-written psychology reports that they found helpful in their work.
Use the Psychologists Association of Alberta Referral Service. This website allows psychologists to pay an annual fee so that they can list their services and describe the areas of their expertise. Be careful that you are paying attention to what they do and don’t provide. The referral service does not, by itself, tell you for certain the depth or breadth of the psychologist’s background.

Once you have a list of people to talk to, you will want to feel comfortable in professional interactions. If you want to ask questions before booking an appointment, will they return a call? If you want an in-person consult, can it be arranged? If you prefer to text or email communication, can that work for the individual? You should ‘vet’ your psychologist at least as thoroughly as *anyone* you think you might leave your child with for a while. Do they seem to have a temperament that will be a natural ‘fit’ in the situation?
You need to be comfortable in asking questions of any psychologist with whom you plan to work. Do they set you at ease? Are they prepared to answer whatever questions you put to them?
What questions might help you to know if the person truly has the qualifications you are looking for? It’s hard to ask someone questions, which they will answer honestly without looking “bad.” It doesn’t work to ask someone questions in a way that will put them in a strong defensive position. You can ask questions like these, though:
“What is the most recent professional learning or coursework you’ve had in the topic of (whatever type of assessment you are looking for)?” More newly qualified candidates can explain their up-to-date degrees and what they’ve been doing since being registered. Those with more experience will be able to share conferences, workshops, or even books and journals they’ve read recently.
“What portion of your practice do you estimate is devoted to this type of assessment?” There is no right answer, but you can ask follow-up questions to get a sense of the degree to which they truly are experts in this field.
You might ask: “Was your initial training in counseling or assessment or both?” If the answer isn’t ‘assessment,’ you can ask follow-up questions to find out if they have switched into doing more assessment, or if they do assessments occasionally as a side part of their practice. Few and far between though they may be, you do need to watch out for a practitioner who thinks they can do a bit of assessment now and again because they did take that one course ‘back in the day.’
It’s perfectly acceptable to ask the psychologist why they would be a good person to assess your child in these circumstances. Someone confident in their skills and abilities is likely to be able to ‘sell’ themselves to you a little. They can explain their excellent communication skills, or report writing, or the ability to work with school personnel or explain things in a meaningful way to you. Moreover, they can tell you about how they go about making sure students are comfortable and ready to give their best effort in an assessment situation. How the psychologist comes across to you when asked what they are good at, may tell you a great amount.
But most importantly,

Ask the psychologist if they can give you some examples of the types of suggestions that they might make depending on assessment results. It’s important to ask if they are evidence-based and could provide you with the evidence that supports the recommendations that they make. For example, if a psychologist is assessing a student with reading difficulties, there is an extensive body of scientific knowledge about how children learn to read and what instruction struggling readers require. Are the psychologist’s recommendations based on that body of knowledge? If they can’t provide you with some up to date references, you may wish to go to the next name on your list.
Finally, is the psychologist clear with you about all obligations you will have to each other? Are they reasonable and clear about their billing policies, booking, and cancellations, payment terms, etc.? This will be a professional relationship, and you can expect all financial and record-keeping aspects to be handled accordingly.