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The Art and Science of Mental Health Diagnosis

Getting the right mental health diagnosis not only impacts your ability to achieve psychological wellness, but can have profound consequences as it relates to treatment recommendations. Often times, individuals present with a variety of symptoms (e.g., depression, anxiety, confused thinking, mood instability, anger, substance addiction, etc.) and if not carefully assessed, can result in an inaccurate diagnosis.

In order to diagnose a mental health condition, mental health professionals use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association. The DSM-5 contains descriptions, symptoms, and other criteria for diagnosing mental disorders.

One of the ways to establish an accurate diagnosis is to participate in a comprehensive psychological evaluation with a mental health provider. Your intellectual, personality, and emotional functioning is unique. There are numerous factors that contribute to your psychological and social experiences (e.g., family, culture, life experiences, trauma, diversity considerations, etc.).

A comprehensive psychological evaluation has multiple components that in conjunction, can ensure you receive an accurate diagnosis. It is your opportunity to share your experiences. What you should expect:

  1. Interview: a detailed inquiry and information gathering about your background. Questions include information about your developmental and social history, educational history, employment history, legal history, substance use history, medical history, and mental health history.
  2. Mental status examination: the psychological equivalent of a physical exam that assesses your behavioral and cognitive functioning. Specific mental health symptoms are also the focus of this aspect of the evaluation.
  3. Psychological testing: used to assess a variety of mental abilities and attributes, including achievement and ability, personality, and neurological functioning. In some cases, the underlying cause of a person’s difficulties is not always clear; psychological tests can provide additional information about the nature and extent of psychological symptoms.
  4. Collateral sources of information: provides an outside perspective of your mental health and functioning. There are two main sources of collateral data; third-party interviews and review of treatment (e.g., mental health and substance use treatment) records. With your permission, a mental health professional can contact past or current treatment providers, family members/spouses, employers, etc. with the intention of obtaining additional data and feedback.

In addition to the previously mentioned elements of a thorough psychological assessment, there are questions to consider in order to judge whether or not the mental health professional is taking the appropriate steps to provide you with an accurate diagnosis.

Seattle Psychology Mental Health Diagnosis

  • Do you feel comfortable sharing your struggles and experience the clinician as interested in getting to know you and obtaining your feedback?
  • Do you feel rushed?
  • Does the clinician ask probing, follow-up questions about your background history or does it seem that the clinician is merely following a rigorous set of questions without allowing you to elaborate on your responses?
  • Does the clinician ask about specific and a range of mental health symptoms, beyond the symptoms that you report?
  • Does the clinician inquire about your lifestyle and culture?
  • Do you feel negatively judged or that the clinician has biases about your lifestyle and challenges?
  • Does the clinician provide you with explanations about the psychological tests (e.g., what the tests measure and how they will be used)?
  • Do you have an opportunity to ask questions?
  • Does the clinician ask to obtain collateral sources of information?
  • Do you feel a part of the process?

If you are experiencing symptoms or struggling with mental illness (or have been diagnosed with a multitude of mental disorders), it is important that you receive the right diagnosis; it makes the difference between you being steered toward the path to recovery versus one fraught with continued challenges and undue mental anguish.

Jennifer Savion, PsyD, earned her MA in Forensic Psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, as well as her PsyD in Clinical Psychology with an emphasis in Forensic Psychology at Carlos Albizu University in Miami, Florida. Her training has largely focused on forensic evaluations, psychological assessment of adults and children, and the treatment of persons with severe mental illness, substance use issues, and sex-offending behaviors.


Dr. Savion, PsyD, has extensive clinical training within several correctional and forensic environments, including adult and juvenile detention centers, and secure psychiatric hospital settings. She completed a pre-doctoral psychology internship at Western State Hospital in Tacoma, Washington, and then a forensic post-doctoral fellowship at Northwest Forensic Institute, a forensic mental health agency that provides primarily criminal forensic evaluations in Portland, Oregon. During that time, she received specialized training in a variety of criminal forensic evaluations such as, competence to stand trial, criminal responsibility, mental state/diminished capacity, violence risk assessment, and sentencing mitigation. Some of her forensic assessment experiences included the use of court-certified interpreters in the languages of Spanish, Russian, and Burmese. Dr. Savion also specializes in evaluation of parental fitness and child custody.

Dr. Savion’s long-standing interest in forensic psychology is cultivated by her passion for understanding the human psyche and underlying mechanisms that influence abnormal behavior. Throughout her clinical training and research, she has maintained a strong interest in the unique needs of forensic patients and has focused on broadening her knowledge on the link between personality and psychopathology constructs, as well as serious mental illness. Her research interests primarily involve personality disordered populations and she has expertise in the areas of psychopathy and criminal behavior. She is currently accepting new evaluation cases at NW Family Psychology, Seattle.

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