Have you ever taken a questionnaire in a mental health clinic or hospital? What about while you were in school (grade or college)? Were you suspicious of what the questionnaire was for, why you had to take it, and what could be learned about you once you take it? If so, you are not alone. Millions of people are suspicious about questionnaires, especially those in mental health settings. Most people are shy, while others are reluctant to give truthful information. In fact, many mental health settings have incorporated the use of questionnaires in psychiatric evaluations as a way to gather more information about a potential patient.
As a therapist, I have seen multiple questionnaires, assessment tests, mental health evaluations, and personality tests. Sadly, most individuals taking them do not understand why they are taking them, being asked the questions they are asking, or even, what they are. As a result, the individual taking the test never sees results, asks questions about the test or questionnaire, and is in the dark about what is on their mental health file regarding the questionnaire or test. There are 5 important questions that all of us should ask when given a questionnaire or test in a mental health settings:
1. What is the cultural validity and reliability of the questionnaire? Reliability and validity are important concepts in the field of research because they help us determine whether the test or questionnaire can be believed and used to tell us truths about mental health, personality, etc. For example, suppose you are taking a questionnaire about narcissism and the results come out to mean that you are highly narcissistic and self-centered. You may wonder how researchers came to this conclusion using a test. So you look a bit deeper by researching how valid (whether the test measures what it claims to measure) and reliable (consistent) the test or questionnaire is. A test is said to be reliable when it consistently provides the same answers. If the questionnaire does not provide consistent answers (if the individual taking it answers correctly), the test is not reliable. Even more important, however, is cultural reliability. This basically means that the instrument’s research history should include ethnic minorities and that questions are sensitive to the needs, thoughts, behaviors, and lifestyle of ethnic groups. If not, the test can mis-represent the truth for these individuals.
2. What is the research behind this questionnaire? All tests and questionnaires have been approved by a “scientific” research group who have done studies using the test/questionnaire and found it to be valid and reliable. But to make matters simple, you don’t have to understand research or science to know that the research behind a test or questionnaire is weak. Ask the person giving the test/questionnaire what the research is or Google it. Is the questionnaire well researched? Is is accurate?
3. Why have I been given this questionnaire? Most questionnaires/tests are given in mental health settings to help clinicians understand what a patient needs, how they view the world, how they view other people, how they view mental health needs, etc. Most mental health professionals give questionnaires in hopes of understanding a “hidden” personality or quality not obvious in sessions.
4. Will this remain on my “record” forever? Most questionnaires go into an individual’s file, but once services are transferred to another agency, questionnaires usually don’t get read or aren’t as important. For some agencies, questionnaires tell a lot about a person, while in other agencies, questionnaires are supplemental and may or may not be taken seriously.
5. What has/will this questionnaire show you about me? Most mental health professionals, including myself, would feel uncomfortable discussing this because some questionnaires reveal very disturbing information. For example, there is a test/questionnaire known as the MMPI – Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, which focuses on personality traits. Some MMPI’s come back with results showing narcissism, sociopathy, or other disturbing personality traits. It can be difficult to discuss these things. But you can still ask.
If you or a loved one is an individual taking questionnaires in mental health settings, you have the right to ask why you are taking it and what the results are. However, due to HIPAA in the U.S (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996), some doctors can request that you not see the results of your questionnaire or maybe see parts of it and not all of it. You have the right to ask questions about it and even ask to see results. But keep in mind that mental health professionals can prevent you from seeing all or some of what is on a mental health profile. Despite what you are able to review, just knowing that you have the right to ask about your questionnaire results is power enough.
As always, feel free to contribute your thoughts, always welcome.
I wish you the best