Psychological Evaluations: What You Don’t Learn on Criminal Minds

Viewers regularly see characters on television getting something called ‘a psych eval,’ including investigators on shows like Criminal Minds and Bones. They never quite explain what it is, though.

Emily Prentiss, the star of Criminal Minds, twists the truth when answering questions from an unseen department psychologist after seeing her friend killed, her mental health assured by the fact that she is seeing a new man, Sergio (which is actually the name of her cat).
But did she pass or did she fail?

The term ‘psych eval’ (as presented in popular culture) is a very openly defined sort of test that characters have to pass. Setting aside plot, it’s not clear why these evaluations are even occurring. Where’s the sign that says ‘evaluation needed?’

In reality, when kids are having trouble in school, teachers and guidance counselors also suggest a psychological evaluation to the parents. The detection and treatment of learning issues requires a good deal of advanced knowledge, and it’s critical to seek a professional.

As many as 1 in 5 people in the United States may have a learning disorder. These can first be recognized clinically around 7 or 8 years of age, but there is no one sign that indicates a learning disability. A psychoeducational evaluation is designed to recognize them.
Here are some general red flags:

  • If a teacher suspects the child has a learning issue;
  • A child that isn’t performing to their academic potential, or keeping up with their peers;
  • A child who continues to struggle despite additional help or alternative learning strategies, and
  • “Acting out” or misbehavior, which often stems from frustration.

One example comes to mind. This young man was from a loving, extended family of high-achieving individuals, yet he was the black sheep who struggled in spite of natural intelligence. Neither of the two medical professionals in the family circle picked up on the reason for the maladjustment. It was a tutor, brought in during 10th grade to help ensure admission to a good college, who suspected his under-performance was related to a learning issue.

After testing and identification of the issue, Barry’s educational team began to tailor study sessions and introduce note-taking skills to address his issue. Barry, whose name has been changed to protect his privacy, went on to near straight-As in his last two years of high school, and he gained admission to his college of choice.

Many issues can require a psycho-educational evaluation, and many issues that occur in a classroom can be attributed to a learning disorder. It takes a skilled professional to accurately diagnose the issue and create a treatment strategy. Similarly, it’s taken years and years of research to form the evaluations used by psychologists today.

The good news is the opportunity and information necessary to address these problems are now available to parents.

I encourage every parent to arm themselves with as much knowledge as possible – and with a carefully chosen treatment team – in order to help their learner get to the brightest possible future.

Dr. Michelle Hintz, Psy.D.

At the Cadenza Center for Psychotherapy and the Arts, a dedicated roster of therapists, educational and behavioral consultants treat the developmental, emotional, cognitive, physical, and behavioral needs of both adults and children. Founded in 2001 by Michelle Hintz, Psy.D., a licensed psychologist and board-certified music therapist, the Cadenza Center provides general services including individual and family therapy incorporating active treatment strategies such as sensory integration, DIR/Floortime, and social pragmatics.