Shedding Light on the Value of Psychological Assessment: An Interview With Dr. Judy Ho

Effective treatment of mental health disorders relies on developing a clear and precise picture of a person’s unique psychological makeup. This is not only to establish an accurate diagnosis, but also to understand how to create relevant and meaningful therapeutic experiences that allow you to flourish. At Bridges to Recovery, the person responsible for drawing that picture is Dr. Judy Ho. As a highly skilled clinical psychologist specializing in neuropsychological and psychodiagnostic evaluations, Dr. Ho conducts comprehensive clinical assessments that serve as the foundation of treatment and enhance the self-awareness of clients. Through thoughtful analysis of each person’s psychological testing results, she contributes to the design of personalized treatment plans that address their individual needs in a way that speaks to them.

The assessment process begins in the first week of admission and draws on a range of sophisticated diagnostic tools to examine the symptoms, personality, and cognitive function of each client. This broad-spectrum testing strategy allows for a holistic, comprehensive, and multidimensional understanding of each person’s struggles, optimizing diagnostic clarity while also shedding light on how to structure treatment for the best outcomes. In this interview, Dr. Ho shares her insights on the assessment and treatment planning process at Bridges.

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Assessing Symptoms

The first stage of the assessment is devoted to evaluating the acute and chronic symptoms clients are experiencing. Rather than relying solely on self-reporting, standardized psychological testing offers Dr. Ho a more objective path to understanding a client’s presentation, allowing her to tease out the specific relationship between symptoms and diagnosis.

The value of having a standardized assessment is that they allow us to get to some of the subtle nuances and differences between different types of symptoms. For example, attention problems may be a symptom of ADHD, but could also be a symptom of depression, anxiety, or substance abuse. Testing has the ability to distinguish what type of attention problem it is and determine if it’s one that fits within an ADHD presentation, or within another type of disorder. We do an assessment of all the different symptoms that a client could be experiencing because we want to make sure we get to the right diagnosis.

Examining Personality Factors

Once symptomology evaluation is completed, the next assessment phase focuses on personality traits that inform diagnosis and shape the way mental health disorders are experienced. Personality characteristics that can be harnessed to promote both short and long-term recovery are also identified.

We assess for different types of personality factors that are present in the person’s life constantly, as opposed to [short-term psychological symptoms during periods of distress]. Personality factors are long-lasting and sometimes these can present risk factors for different types of mental illnesses, or they can serve as protective factors that the client can use to develop individualized coping skills to reduce the severity of their symptoms and protect themselves from relapse. It’s important for us to understand how their personality traits influence risks of developing certain types of symptoms, as well as how these traits can be used to bolster their mental health functioning.

Cognitive Function Testing

The final assessment stage is devoted to cognitive function tests to further explore opportunities for creating effective, tailored treatment that expand the potential for healing.

We develop a comprehensive view of how clients function cognitively, how they go about solving language-based and spatially-based problems, how they form and retrieve memories, how they perform on creative versus logical tasks, and how they perform on attention, concentration, calculation, and reaction time tasks. We want to understand their strengths and weaknesses. When patients are experiencing an episode of mental illness, it’s very hard for everything to be about their weaknesses and what they’re doing wrong. Being able to understand their strengths is important because then we can provide interventions that are less taxing for them and help them to feel efficacious. Understanding their strengths gives us a way of designing interventions that rely on their cognitive assets, allowing us to teach them individualized coping skills that they can use easily and practically during times of distress.

This phase of testing is also instrumental in clarifying symptoms that may arise from multiple sources to ensure accurate diagnosis and to discriminate between cognitive deficits caused by mental health disorders, neurological disorders, or substance abuse, and to direct more detailed assessments if true cognitive concerns are detected.

The cognitive tests give us a way of making sure we’re not missing anything when putting together their diagnostic picture. Sometimes what looks like a symptom of depression or anxiety is actually linked to a brain-based cognitive problem or organic impairment caused by long-term substance use. The cognitive tests allow us to make sure that any related diagnoses are being addressed and treated.

Psychological Assessment Feedback

When the assessment process is complete, Dr. Ho arranges a feedback session with the client and their primary therapist to discuss the results of testing and answer any questions the client may have. For many, this is a profoundly illuminating experience that deeply augments self-understanding and gives clients great insight into their psychological state. Dr. Ho agrees. “It’s an opportunity for them to learn about themselves and what has led to some of their problems, and to learn proactive ways to improve their life.” Clients are also provided with a written report of test results, analysis, and recommendations for treatment after their time at Bridges.

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Tailoring Treatment

The results of Dr. Ho’s assessments also function as a roadmap for tailoring the individualized treatment plans Bridges to Recovery is known for.

If it’s not individualized, you’re not really addressing the problem. If you have a physical illness and, instead of getting exactly the right medication for that illness, the doctor’s just prescribing everything that might work and hoping that one of them will hit—that not only will frustrate the person going through treatment, but it can at even be detrimental. Individualized treatment provides relief in the shortest amount of time possible and increases motivation because you see the changes and want to continue to work on yourself.

By understanding each client’s clinical needs, psychotherapeutic and pharmacological interventions can be chosen to relieve symptoms in a targeted fashion to maximize efficacy. Additionally, the personality traits and cognitive strengths of the client are thoughtfully analyzed to ensure that interventions are structured in a way that encourages engagement and allows them to flourish. For example, somebody who is language-inclined is likely to find verbally-oriented interventions like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy a naturally therapeutic practice, as they invite the use of their natural gifts. Meanwhile, art therapy can provide unique benefits to perfectionists, creating a space “where they can let go of expectations of perfectionism and challenge their sense of having to be accurate and precise.” By participating in modalities that speak to you and allow you to draw on your innate talents, preferences, and propensities, you can achieve more rapid healing and inner tranquility.

Transforming Lives At Bridges

The comprehensive psychological assessment and personalized treatment offered at Bridges to Recovery allow us to deliver the highest level of care to guide our clients towards emotional and behavioral wellness and unlock each person’s potential. Led by Dr. Ho’s assessments, our clinical team creates true and lasting transformations in the lives of our clients and instills the skills and insight needed for ongoing wellness. Through thoughtfully implemented interventions selected based on individual challenges and strengths, our clients leave us with newfound confidence, stability, and the drive to achieve their goals.

I see a lot of good outcomes at Bridges. I see people who feel they are more equipped to deal with their lives than when they came in. It’s really neat to see how they change.

Bridges to Recovery offers innovative, modern residential treatment for people suffering from mental health disorders and co-occurring substance abuse and eating disorders. Contact us for more information about how we can help you or your loved one on the path to healing.