Online psychometric assessment instruments

Online completion of psychometric instruments can be a convenient and time-saving mode of having such instruments administered. The administration will likely also result in the scoring and provision of an interpretive report, possibly a choice of different types of reports. There is a fee for these services. A paper-and-pencil completion of an instrument can also be scored by sending the completed answer sheet to a scoring service which will provide a report; again, more than one type of report may be available. In the same process a completed protocol can be scored and a host of validity and other secondary scales and indices provided, as well as indications of ‘fit’ between your respondent’s overall profile and particular profiles. For example, degree of ‘fit’ between one or other of the ten Modal Cluster Profiles of the Personality Assessment Inventory. As well as the scores and the statistical or actuarial information, a report can summarise or highlight information and provide a form of interpretation of the scale and subscale scores, and of the overall profile. Reports can be provided quite quickly to your email.

The question is, what should one do with the report provided by an administrative/scoring service? These reports will come with a ‘warning’ along the lines of the following, which is on the PAI Clinical Interpretive Report:

The interpretive information contained in this report should be viewed as only one source of hypotheses about the individual being evaluated. No decisions should be based solely on the information contained in this report. This material should be integrated with all other sources of information in reaching professional decisions about this individual.

This report is confidential and intended for use by qualified professionals only. It should not be released to the individual being evaluated.

Thus, there comes into play one’s education and training in Psychology and the illumination of the different theories that have been propounded about psychological functioning, the integrity of efforts to ‘measure’ or describe that functioning, one’s knowledge of test-construction, probability, measurement error, various ideas about malingering or feigning, and so on. What do you do, for example, if your client has, in your view, a perfectly good reason to exaggerate his or her symptoms but, rather, appears to be intentionally understating them? Or, when the person described and characterised by the report is, to your mind, just not the person you interviewed and had formulated them to be? You could revise your own formulation or you could challenge the computer scoring of the profile; which would you choose to do and why? You could possibly pass the report, with the client’s written consent to another psychologist (e.g. a peer consultant), professional agency (e.g. Victims Services, WorkCover Agents) or a relevant other professional (e.g. a solicitor who commissioned you to do an assessment and report) and let them interpret the information. But could it truly be an informed consent?

The answer is no. We should not and must not do the latter, and the reasons ought to be obvious. If we have read the above ‘warning’ – and it is hard to miss – then we are already ‘on notice’ about this. Professionally, what is the ‘value add’ of our services if that is all we do? How different are we from a person not educated in Psychology if we do this? Would we expect to be open to a civil action for any damage caused to our client or to a third party? Further, if we do give the report to anybody, including the individual being evaluated, the Psychology Council, when dealing with a complaint, will want to know what the practitioner thought they were doing or would be attempting to achieve by so doing.

The prospect of a complaint to the Council is clearly open. The Council draws your attention to the example of poor professional conduct in some of the above possibilities, more importantly to the requirements of the Code of Ethics generally, but with particular reference to General Principle A5 (Confidentiality), General Principle B3 (Professional Responsibility) and B13 (Psychological Assessments). More particularly, B13.6 which reads:

Psychologists do not compromise the effective use of psychological assessment methods or techniques, nor render them open to misuse, by publishing or otherwise disclosing their contents to persons unauthorised or unqualified to receive such information.

Additionally, the Council draws your attention to guidelines that clarify and amplify the Code of Ethics which have general relevance here, but, more particularly, the Ethical Guidelines for Psychological Assessment and the use of Psychological Tests.