Psychometric Testing in Mental Health Counseling
As I am in the Mental Health Counseling program I think the two most useful classes of psychometric tests in my future practice will be personality assessments and career assessments. I have a particular interest in personality disorders and their development and so instruments that highlight not only sub-scales related to neuroticism but also to non-pathological personality strengths and propensities will help to inform affective client treatment plans. Also, the bi-directional confluence of career dissatisfaction exacerbating mental health symptoms while mental health symptomology concomitantly prevents the successful career development and decision-making of clients is a dynamic that can be better understood with the use of both personality and vocational assessments. Unraveling this vicious cycle and knowing which clients need vocational direction, which need neuroses symptom management to stay their vocational path, and which clients need both will better inform my therapeutic interventions.
While differing approaches to conceptualizing personality, (i.e. Psychodynamic; Humanistic; Trait, Type, and State, etc.) have resulted in very different tests measuring differing theoretical constructs, no one would disputes that personality, as State Theory defines it, as, “a relatively enduring way in which one individual varies from another,” has large implications for how individuals perceive and navigate the world either successfully or maladaptively. As a Mental Health Counselor measuring such deviations in neurotic behavior from a, “normal group,” by the sub-scales measured in the MMPI personality profile can be an informative diagnostic endeavor. Once this process is complete, the prognosis and most efficacious interventions in helping a client to manage and ameliorate presenting complaints is a matter of using the peer reviewed literature and the growing body of knowledge regarding the detrimental effects of neurotic behavior on global functioning. The Empirical approaches involving criterion groups and factor analysis argues strongly for unifying problematic interpersonal and intrapersonal themes amongst individuals who score highly on similar neurotic sub-scales.
Neuroses aside, personality types, as they are healthily differentiated and measured with tools such as the MBTI allow us to best determine ways to relate to and communicate with clients. To use one example of the dichotomy set up by the MBTI, “type,“ indicator; knowing if we are working with a client that processes most things cognitively (thinking) versus affectively (feeling) can lead us to therapeutic strategies that are more conducive to that individual’s particular personality. Furthermore, we might encourage clients that tend to over-intellectualize or over-emotionally internalize to exercise the neglected aspects of their personalities.
The major weakness of personality testing, particularly projective assessments is the difficulty of accurately administering and interpreting these tests. Many tests will fall outside any particular individual’s scope of competence. A further problem is the departure from the counseling model of holistic wellness toward a medical pathology model that results from certain test usage. This creates a pressing need for us as counselors to meet clients where they are and hear what their concerns truly are. It is not our place to judge and attempt to resolve for every client their narcissistic or hysteric personality tendencies if this is not while they have come to us. We must remain Rogerian style observers but we can suggest that certain personality tendencies may be contributing to their presenting issues and then work collaboratively with them to reduce these. A respect for the client and for universal individuality must remain imminently more important to us than diagnosing and psychopathologizing our clients.
What do you think can be most accurately tested?
In our orientation of working with clients from a holistic wellness approach, vocational frustration can often be the primary impetus behind issues we might relegate to, “personal counseling.” Often an asymmetry between vocational interests, vocational aptitudes, and life values as bolstered or neglected within the work place will exist in our clients. Interest inventories such as the Self-Directed Search or Holland’s Trait and Factor model can direct vocationally unsatisfied clients away from a job and towards a career, or, “calling.” Of course, to assess interest without measuring skill, aptitude, or needed education in regard to a vocational change such as with EAS, or the Wonderlic Personnel Test may lead to equally unproductive results. While interests are a good place to begin, career success is more strongly correlated with actual abilities than with merely interests. Lastly, value tests such as the MIQ, The Salience Inventory, and the Rokeach Values Survey can provide invaluable insight into questions of how to fulfill both career and career-related existential frustrations.
Connecting a client’s general discontent with their vocational frustrations and directing them towards work that will be more personally fulfilling will undoubtedly lead to higher levels of well-being and global functioning. A concerning potential limitation is the over-use of personnel testing. These tests potentially do not allow for intrapersonal change but rather may continue to disenfranchise those people who have had unfortunate work histories. This is of particular concern when vocational batteries are used in job placement, promotion and assignment to special training programs. While the predictive power of these tests has proven strong they undoubtedly neglect to recognize some talented potential human assets. This is probably a result of past Psychological problems from which they may be recovering, past-employment miss-matches, and educational and experiential paucity. Over-dependence on these tests may result in vocational limitations for certain populations.