“Collaborative Assessment is a form of psychological assessment in which the patient and therapist work cooperatively to complete a test battery and explore the patient’s psychological difficulties.” Jessica A. Little, who just earned her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology this June, explains. “It is designed to be inherently humanistic, focusing on the belief that psychological test scores can be used to interpret real life events, and empower patients to be active participants in their treatment. It posits that one of the best ways to help patients move toward positive change is to provide emotionally supportive and interpersonally connected assessment and feedback.”
Little’s dissertation explored how collaborative assessment, a therapeutic intervention pioneered by Stephen Finn, the founder of the Center for Therapeutic Assessment in Austin, TX, might be used with psychiatric inpatients. “Could it work with patients who evidence more severe psychiatric symptomotology?” Little asked. Her research, supported by a grant from Santa Barbara’s Cottage Hospital Research Foundation and a UC Presidential Fellowship, discovered yes, “Collaborative assessment can be provided to patients even during a short-term hospitalization.” Those who received collaborative assessment tended to declare increased feelings of well-being, alliance with treatment providers, satisfaction with treatment, and lower levels of psychiatric distress.
Little provided a hypothetical situation to show how collaborative assessment might work: “I explain to patients that the testing is not like testing in school where they are graded and judged based on their performance.” The tests are viewed as tools that are specifically used in service of addressing any puzzling, unanswered questions the patients may have about themselves. “As a therapist I ask ‘What would you like to learn about yourself?’ I’ve had patients come up with a variety of questions from ‘Why do I seem to get angry so easily?’ to ‘Why does it feel like I have a blacked out heart?’ Using the patient’s own words is important.”
Little further relates: “Throughout the testing and feedback process I utilize the tests, the results, and the patient’s in-session behaviors to foster discussion. For example, if a patient gets frustrated, I’ll stop and become curious with the patient about the frustration, and if it is similar to any problems they experience in their day-to-day life.”
Her dissertation is helping fuel possible other studies at UC Santa Barbara and at Massachusetts General Hospital, where Little is now a Clinical Fellow in Psychology. At the Gevirtz School’s Psychology Assessment Center (PAC), clinic director Steven Smith “recently has been looking at different applications for collaborative assessment,” Little relates. “The PAC is taking a specialized form of treatment and seeing where it works the best, how it works the best, and if it works at all.” Meanwhile at Mass General “we’ve been looking at treatment outcomes and practice,” she says. “The possibility of a collaborative assessment study has been tossed around. It’s not a definite, but a definite possibility. It’s a study that I’d like to see happen.”