Ask Dr. J. Archives

Dear Dr. J

How do doctors diagnose children with psychological disorders?


Dear Trinity

Psychologists diagnose children’s psychological disorders by doing a psychological evaluation of the child.

This includes a clinical interview or interviews with the child (if they are able to communicate well enough) and interviews with the child’s parents or caretakers, teachers, and other pertinent adults. A behavioral inventory is given to the caregivers so they can help identify problem areas in terms of behaviors they have observed in the child.

The psychological evaluation also includes a battery of tests: an Intelligence Test, an Achievement Test, and some form of Projective Technique. If there is a suspected neuropsychological problem, the psychologist will add neuropsychological tests in addition to the basic test battery. A child psychologist or child psychiatrist are specialists in diagnosing disorders in children.

Dr. J

Dear Dr. J.

What exactly is a personality disorder?


Dear Sally

Lets’s take this apart and address both parts of your question.

A disorder is simply a group of symptoms that together make up the criteria for making a particular diagnosis. For example, when making the diagnosis of Major Depression, the patient must have a certain number of specific symptoms particular to that disorder. Simply put, a personality really is just the way in which an individual typically reacts across a wide range of situations throughout his or her life. For example, if we say a person is aggressive (that aggressiveness is a part of his/her personality) then we know that this person is highly likely to react aggressively in a wide variety of situations throughout life and is not simply aggressive as a result of some other cause, i.e., a brain injury or stress reaction.

So, when we diagnose a personality disorder, we are really saying that this disorder is comprised of a number of identifiable characteristics that the person has demonstrated fairly consistently throughout their life. In other words, these symptoms are not transitory and could be seen as fairly permanent.

The field of Psychology makes a distinction between active and transitory disorders such as depression, anxiety, stress reaction, etc. by calling them Axis I disorders. Axis II disorders are the personality disorders and they are seen as a category of disorders that are more long-standing and less transitory.

Psychology aims to fit inside the medical model, and therefore is required to give diagnoses. A diagnosis can also be viewed as a “short-hand” for describing the clinical picture for a particular individual.

Dr. J

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