A while back, I had the opportunity to work in a facility that was designed to help people who were really struggling despite getting great treatment in the community. I was sometimes amazed by the changes they were able to make with the right help (and by the steep price they had to pay to get that help). What also struck me was that psychological testing, an intervention available to anyone, was often an integral part of their treatment in that facility, but was missing from their outpatient treatment.

Based on my experiences there and other places, I’m convinced that high quality psychological testing can make a huge difference in a person’s life. I’m equally convinced that it is tragically underused. For some people, the choice to get psychological testing is pretty simple. Their employer, a judge or a government agency requires it and they go and get it. For the rest of us, the choice might not be that clear. Despite the fact that psychological testing can be a real gift someone who’s struggling, few people even know what it does or think about it as an option. With that in mind, I’ve decided to write about three signs that you should consider getting tested.

When outpatient treatment for a psychological or behavioral problem is stalling, it may be time to get tested. It’s my experience that therapeutic ruts often point to something important about a person’s struggle that is not being acknowledged or understood. Even the most thoughtful and insightful therapists or psychiatrists can develop tunnel vision or miss subtle clues about important aspects of their patients’ suffering. Psychological testing often helps clarify what’s being missed and brings it to both the provider’s and the patient’s attention. Developmental disabilities and neurological conditions are one type of problem that testing can detect, but really good testing offers much more than that. In the hands of someone skilled, psychological testing becomes an in depth look at the nuances of a person. What motivates them, shuts them down or scares them? How do they cope and when do their coping skills fail? How do they approach and manage relationships? How do they look at the world and what makes it hard for them to see the world clearly? And most importantly, what types of interventions are likely to help? That kind of information can be invaluable, not just in treatment but throughout a person’s life.

I have worked with and personally know a lot of parents who are trying to help a struggling child. Maybe the child is getting into trouble for behaviors, maybe the grades they want elude them or maybe they just can’t grasp certain subjects despite their best efforts. Many parents are willing to do anything to help their child succeed and feel happy. Sometimes I’ve seen this lead them to unproven treatments that cost A LOT of money and don’t help. Most of the time, they just don’t know they have other options. If your child is struggling with grades, emotions or behaviors, get help. You can start with your primary care doctor or a good therapist. But don’t forget to consider psychological testing.

Testing doesn’t have be the thing you do when things go wrong. As a psychologist in training, I was lucky enough to take just about every personality or cognitive test I give. I still look back on those tests as source of self-compassion, knowledge and helpful advice. It’s given me a better idea of the pitfalls I need to avoid and the strengths I can build on. I think other people can get life-changing benefits from testing even if they aren’t in therapy or their therapy is going well.

To sum it up, psychological testing, in the right hands, can be a very rich and useful source of information that can clarify a path forward for people who are struggling or just want to understand themselves better. If you think you might benefit from testing, consider asking a psychologist, yourdoctor or a therapist. They should be able help you decide if it will be right for you..