There are many different assessments tools that Psychologists can use to help you answer the big question – “Who am I?”
I will introduce these to you now so that you can determine if you’d like to give any of them a try:
#1 – Psychiatric Assessment
Many Psychologists will take a clinical history during the first session, which is usually the assessment phase of therapy. They may typically start off with your presenting issue, or the reason that you came to treatment. They will ask when this issue began and if you’ve experienced similar or other problems in the past. They will ask about other current psychological, emotional or physical symptoms that you may be struggling with. They will then see if you’ve had previous treatment before, how you found it (helpful or unhelpful and why), and if you are on any medication or suffering from any medical condition. They will then briefly go into your family history, occupational and educational history, ask about your interests and hobbies, and the main supports and relationships in your life. The assessment phase then typically ends with clarification of treatment goals and a collaboratively decided upon a plan to help you address your presenting problem and achieve your treatment goals. This process may occur in only one session or could be spread out over multiple sessions so that a more in-depth history can be collected. Psychologists are likely to revisit these issues at various points during the subsequent treatment. However, the information obtained during this assessment is usually enough for Psychologists to get a good sense of who you are, what you struggle with, and what treatment may help you achieve your goals, address your concerns, and improve your quality of life.
#2 – Self-Report Personality Assessment
There are three self-report questionnaire based personality assessments that Psychologists may give to you in session if it is essential to be thorough and accurate in determining who you are, what you struggle with, and what your diagnosis may be (if you have one). These are the 567-item Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI-2), the 344-item Personality Assessment Inventory (PAI), or the 175-item Millon Clinical Multiaxial Inventory (MCMI-III). These Personality Assessments have good psychometric properties, meaning that they are reliable, valid and useful, and also have questions in them to determine if you are lying or portraying yourself in an unrealistically positive or negative way. They are time-consuming to fill out and score up, however, so it is essential to determine if it is worth the cost for the extra accuracy that it may bring in helping you to figure out who you are.
Another self-report questionnaire that can be given in session to determine what you are struggling with is the Young Schema Questionnaire, but this is likely to be only used if you are undergoing Schema Therapy. This is a longer-term type of therapy that is recommended for clients that haven’t benefited as much as they would like from traditional Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).
There are also free personality assessments that can be accessed on the Internet. My personal favourite and one that I like to recommend as a homework task for clients who want to find out more about themselves is the IPIP-NEO, based on the five-factor (Extraversion, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, Neuroticism & Openness to Experience) personality model. There is a short-form (120-item) and a long form (300-item) version, but I usually recommend the short-form, as it produces similar findings in less than half the time. What I like about the IPIP-NEO the most is that it gives you a percentile score on 30 different facets of personality and compares how you see yourself to how other people of the same age from the same country and of the same gender see themselves. I then typically get clients to bring and share their responses if they would like to, which then provides me with a much higher understanding of who they are, how they see themselves, and why they may struggle with the things that they do. I believe that it is much better and more comfortable to accept the client for who they are and help bring out the best in them through treatment rather than force them to change into something that maybe doesn’t suit their natural temperament or personality style. It also helps me to overcome any cognitive biases that I have so that I can better empathise and accurately resonate with the clients that I see.
I have also sometimes recommended the Meyers-Briggs Type Inventory, and this can be good for determining what career may be suitable for you. I personally don’t find it as useful, because it categorises everyone into one of 16 personality types, which isn’t much more than the 12 different star signs. I have a similar issue with the DISC personality assessment (4 types) that is often used in business settings or the Enneagram of Personality (9 types). Other people swear by their accuracy and usefulness in helping us to understand who we are and why we do what we do, so please feel free to check them out and see for yourself if you are interested.
#3 – Projective Personality Assessment
The two primary projective tests used by Psychologists include the Rorschach Inkblot Test and the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT). These tests aim to further clarify what may be going on in someone’s subconscious or outside of their awareness by assessing how they interpret vague or ambiguous inkblots or pictures. Because they are deliberately ambiguous, it is thought that what the individual says is actually their subconscious processes being projected onto the images. There are structured ways for these tests to be administered and scored so that the interpretations become more valid and accurate. However, the descriptions are still in many ways subjective, and the same client responses may be interpreted in different ways by different Psychologists, or even by the same Psychologist depending on who the client is. I, therefore, believe that projective tests can be useful, but only alongside other clinical information or forms of assessment so that a complete picture of the client can be determined. Other projective tools or pathways to mental processes that can be utilised within or outside of therapy include any creative form of expression, including drawing, painting, writing, sculpture, music, dance, and even dream interpretation and analysis. The interpretation of these forms of expression is even more subjective than projective tests but can provide a nice window into who we are if we are willing to free associate and delve deeper into figuring out the potential meaning inherent in the things that we think about and do.
To summarise, a Psychologist can definitely help you to figure out who you are and why you do things, and they are provided with a lot of training to do so. Friends and family can give us useful feedback, but remember that even Psychologists aren’t allowed to assess or treat their friends or family because they are likely to be too biased in the work that they do. There are some great books out there on Personality, as well as the free tests on the Internet that have been mentioned above. The more specific, thorough and scientifically validated the personality assessment is, the better, more accurate, and more useful it is likely to be, but this can be both time consuming and costly. The IPIP-NEO is a great place to start if you are merely curious but not willing to spend any money just yet.
Once we have figured out who we are, it is the time to move onto the next big questions – “What is important to me, and what do I want to do?”
Dr Damon Ashworth