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Q7. Differentiate between descriptive assessment and predictive assessment.


Assessment in psychology refers to the process of identification of ‘abnormal’ behavior from ‘normal’ behavior so that appropriate classification of the individual can be arrived at and necessary interventions can be made. There are four clinical purposes of assessment – Descriptive assessment, Discriminative assessment, Predictive assessment and Evaluative assessment.


Here we discuss the differences between descriptive and predictive assessment:

  1. When is the assessment method preferred?
    1. Descriptive assessment is undertaken to provide a description of the person’s current circumstances, past history, roles, habits, interests, level of occupational engagement, performance component skills and deficits, and desired outcomes. May be used to identify symptoms and problems to help aid diagnosis.
    2. Predictive assessment is undertaken when therapists need to make predictions about a person's future function assessment or behavior.
  2. What do the questions focus on?
    1. Descriptive assessment questions focus on individuals, families, groups of people or person environment interactions to learn more about clients’ cognitive functioning, psychosocial functioning, academic achievement, personality, behavior or specific needs.
    2. Predictive assessment questions focus on gathering information that may help make predictions about the future behavior of the person especially predictions of suicide risk, dangerousness etc.
  3. How is the result of the assessment used?
    1. A descriptive assessment may be undertaken to gain information about environmental (physical, social, cultural-Institutional) barriers and facilitators may need to be optimized or overcome to ensure a successful intervention. Data is used to inform the development of aims and goals and negotiate outcomes and lead to intervention planning
    2. In psychosocial practice areas, therapists may undertake predictive assessment for a number of reasons, including prediction of likely function when discharged home as part of a pre-discharge assessment (e.g. level of independence, ability to safely use appliances) and risk assessment (e.g., of harm to self or others, abuse, wandering, falls).
  4. What are the requirements pertaining to reliability and validity?
    1. Standardized descriptive tests should have adequate content, construct, and face validity. If they are to be administered by more than one therapist, a high level of inter-rater reliability is also important.
    2. Standardized predictive tests should have established predictive validity.
  5. Other differences:
    1. The therapist may use the results of a predictive assessment undertaken in one environment to predict likely function in another environment.
    2. Descriptive assessment may be undertaken on one occasion or over a period of time until sufficient information has been obtained to inform clinical decision making.


* * *

To summarize, the purpose of assessment in psychology is to differentiate the abnormal behavior from normal behavior, especially to identify potential areas of risk. The descriptive method contributes to this by describing the current situation of the client from various perspectives which helps understand the client and discover any abnormality present. The predictive method on the other hand contributes to this by making a prediction of the client’s future function assessment or behavior which helps identify potential areas of risk such as that of committing suicide.

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