Overview of Therapeutic Assessment

What does research show about Therapeutic Assessment?

    Finn and Tonsager (1992) conducted the first controlled study of Therapeutic Assessment with a group of college students awaiting psychotherapy at a university counseling center. The students were randomly assigned to either supportive nondirective counseling (n = 29) or a brief Therapeutic Assessment consisting of an initial session, MMPI-2 test administration, and summary/discussion session (n = 31). The two treatments were matched for duration, each being two clinical sessions, and the groups were equivalent at baseline in terms of self-reported symptomatic distress and self-esteem. Immediately following the interventions, students in the Therapeutic Assessment group reported increased self-esteem relative to the comparison group (Cohen’s d = .38). At a two-week follow-up, the Therapeutic Assessment group reported substantially less symptomatic distress than the control group (d = .36) and the improvement in self-esteem had increased (d = .46). The assessment group also showed more hope about their ability to tackle life problems than did the controls (d = .96).

    Newman and Greenway (1997) essentially replicated Finn and Tonsager’s results in Australia—albeit with somewhat smaller effect sizes--and improved on their design by having both groups take the MMPI-2, not just the Therapeutic Assessment group. (The control group received MMPI-2 feedback after the research follow-up was completed.) Again, improvements in self-reported symptomatic distress and self-esteem were noted in the group participating in the brief Therapeutic Assessment.

    Ackerman, Hilsenroth, Baity, and Blagys (2000), using a modified version of Finn’s method, compared clients receiving a Therapeutic Assessment to those receiving a traditional psychological assessment in terms of the therapeutic alliance they developed with their clinician and the likelihood they would follow-through on treatment recommendations. Clients receiving the Therapeutic Assessment rated their sessions as more vulnerable, powerful, deep, special, and full, their relationship with the assessor as more positive, and they were more likely to follow through on a recommendation for psychotherapy (33% vs. 13%) than clients receiving a traditional non-collaborative psychological assessment. Hilsenroth, Peters, and Ackerman (2004) showed that the positive effects of Therapeutic Assessment extended into psychotherapy following an assessment, with those clients receiving a collaborative assessment rating their alliance with their therapists significantly higher than did those clients who received a traditional assessment.

    Tharinger, Finn, Gentry, Hamilton, Fowler, Matson, Krumholz, & Walkowiak (2009) studied 14 children (age 12 and under) and their maternal caregivers as they underwent 8-session Therapeutic Assessment. Following the assessment, both children and mothers reported less symptomatology and a more positive family environment, and mothers felt more positive and less negative about their children. Both children and mothers were highly satisfied with the experience of Therapeutic Assessment.

    In summary, research findings to date suggest that Therapeutic Assessment impacts clients more positively than traditional psychological assessment, that Therapeutic Assessment is a promising brief intervention in itself, and that Therapeutic Assessment is effective with both adult and child clients.