If you are researching how to find a court-ordered mental health assessment or psychological evaluation, the terms can get confusing rather quickly. While these words may seem similar, they are, in fact, two different evaluations. 

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 between mental health assessments vs. psychological evaluations.

What is a Mental Health Assessment?

This assessment is conducted by a licensed 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 more…

The assessment screens for just about anything found in the DSM-5 manual 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.  

The professional evaluator produces a report for those involved in legal proceedings. The evaluator will ask questions about your: 

  • History
  • Family of origin
  • Overall physical and mental health
  • Occupation
  • Relationships
  • Hobbies
  • Overall satisfaction with your life

After the interview, the evaluator will provide information about your mental health and make any recommendations for treatment if appropriate. They will also share helpful mental health resources.

Who Requests Mental Health Evaluations?

Mental health evaluations are often requested by: 

  • Prosecutors
  • Defense attorneys
  • Plaintiff’s counsel
  • Judges 
  • Probation Officers

Mental health assessments are usually provided by master level clinicians like counselors and social workers. 

What Is a Psychological Evaluation?

Psychological evaluations are similar to a mental health assessment, but they go into much more depth into your cognitive and mental health, particularly how your personality manifests in daily living and relationships.  

The evaluation may include discussion points such as: 

  • Family, social, and medical history 
  • Substance use history
  • Other key areas of a person’s life

These topics can unveil: 

  • Possible signs of mental health and cognitive disorders
  • How a person navigates through the world and relationships with possible mental health and cognitive disorders
  • A client’s coping mechanisms

Compared to a mental health evaluation, 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 history, and it is often a lengthy process (and potentially a high-conflict situation) to get all information available and interview any parties 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. 

Who Conducts Psychological Evaluations?

Psychological evaluations are often conducted 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. We strongly recommend using them only if they are regularly working with courts, something which is relatively rare.

Why Are Professional Mental Health Assessments and Psychological Evaluations Important? 

Mental health assessments and psychological evaluations are important to the court process. It helps legal professionals understand your mental health and psychological profile, which may have bearing the incident leading to the legal charge, or your present ability to be self-aware about the incident. 

If you’ve been requested to seek either of these evaluations, it’s important to follow the guidelines provided by the authority. If you are unclear about whether you have been directed to get a mental health assessment or a psychological assessment the person who originally gave you the direction should be able to make it clear for you. You might also want to check any original documentation you may have received to see specific terms used in the order or request. 

Doing so will ensure you receive the help you need to navigate the court process as smoothly as possible. They can even be used in your defense. 

How Do I Know Which Option Is the Best for My Needs? 

If it isn’t clear which assessment you need for court, you should directly ask the authority who asked you to get the evaluation or assessment. If they don’t seem to be sure, we will be glad to ask for you. 

Get on the Right Path Forward with New Directions

For guidance on the type of assessment you need, contact us with the requesting authority's contact information. 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