As a primary care practitioner, behavioral health assessment tools help you provide high-quality, evidence-based care to those you help.
Whether you’re at the initial screening stage of your mental health treatment plan or looking for an ongoing assessment, this article looks at some of the most popular tools to meet your patients’ needs and shows you how to use them.
What Are Behavioral Assessments in Mental Health?
Behavioral assessments are tools used by psychology, counseling, and psychiatry professionals to gain insight into a client’s symptoms and current status.
While not necessarily used to formally diagnose mental health conditions, they can provide valuable information for use in diagnosis and planning a patient’s treatment.
What Do They Look Like?
Practitioners draw on a wide range of tools to assess a patient’s wellbeing, and often use more than one to explore their behaviors and symptoms from multiple perspectives.
While the most appropriate approach will of course depend on the individual patient and their complaint, here are some of the most commonly-used assessments:
- Observation: monitoring and recording various aspects of a client’s behavior, speech, insight, and demeanor (see our step-by-step guide to writing SOAP notes)
- Interview: asking objective and open-ended questions to learn more about a patient’s experiences and concerns from their perspective
- Physical exams: to differentiate between mental health and medical problems
- Psychometric tests or questionnaires: including rating scales, wellbeing measures, or diagnostic tools for specific conditions such as anxiety disorders, substance abuse issues, and developmental problems.
How To Use Assessment Tools
Behavioral health assessments can be conducted in person or online, depending on the client and their provider.
Behavioral health assessments can be conducted in person or online, depending on the client and their provider.
The process typically begins when the behavioral health provider shares pre-treatment assessments with their patient—these might include symptom checklists, self-report mental health screening tools to identify the potential presence of specific challenges, and formal or informal tests.
When assessing patients in person, the specialist may also observe the patient’s behavior. By recording how a client presents in terms of affect, cognition, appearance, and non-verbal behavior, providers can triangulate various data sources to develop a more comprehensive overview of their status.
More specific assessment tools might be used to investigate the screening results further and explore the severity or nature of the client’s problem(s).
From here, data that is gathered from the assessment process can then be used to inform the next steps in a client’s treatment.
Conducting Behavioral Health Assessments Online
There are multiple advantages to assessing clients digitally, especially in non-urgent situations where a client prefers the privacy and convenience of collaborating with an online provider.
In these circumstances, a mental health platform allows specialists to implement and streamline various phases of the assessment process, including testing, data collection, and treatment planning.
Step by step, this generally involves:
- Onboarding a client virtually using intake forms and contracts
- Designing or digitalizing behavioral health assessments using specialized tools such as Quenza’s Activity builder or mental health Expansion templates (as shown below)
- Sharing relevant assessments with clients through the platform, which must be HIPAA-compliant to ensure the privacy and security of confidential patient health information
- Analyzing the results to determine the next steps in a client’s treatment. These might include further testing, planning interventions, or collaboration with additional care providers or specialists.
The biggest benefit of mental health software is that it enables faster and more accurate assessments, which in turn allows providers to treat more clients efficiently at scale.
By using software to automate routine tasks such as gathering results, and with a convenient way to design more personalized assessments, providers have more time to focus on their clients and deliver the best possible care.
8 Resources for Nurses
There is a wide range of evidence-based tools that primary care providers, such as doctors and nurses, might choose from when assessing a patient’s behavioral health.
The following tools are some of the most popular freely available assessments used in clinical practice. With online tools such as Quenza’s Activity builder, these can be digitalized as-is or customized for sharing with clients, as shown below:
- The Clinically Useful Anxiety Outcome Scale (CUXOS): This 20-item self-report scale assesses the severity of anxiety symptoms in adult patients already diagnosed with depression or an anxiety disorder. This tool is quick to administer and score and contains two subscales measuring psychic anxiety and somatic anxiety.
- (GAD-7): This 7-item self-administered questionnaire can be used to screen for and measure the severity of generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), as shown above. The seven items measure ability to stop or control worrying, trouble relaxing, and restlessness, among other symptoms of anxiety.
- Hamilton Rating Scale for Anxiety (HAM-A): Another practical tool for planning anxiety treatments online, the HAM-A measures the severity of a patient’s anxiety with 14 items. This is a clinician-scored scale that can be used with adolescents, children, and adults.
- Beck Depression Inventory (BDI): This 21-item rating scale assesses the presence of characteristic attitudes and symptoms of depression. This self-report, multiple choice scale asks clients to choose statements that most accurately describe their mental state, with four categories for minimal, mild, moderate, and severe depression.
- The Quick Inventory of Depressive Symptoms (QIDS): This 16-item scale is derived from the 20-item Inventory of Depressive Symptoms (IDS) and comes in clinician-rated (QIDS-C(16)) and self-report (QIDS-SR(16)) formats. This focuses on nine of the DSM-IV criterion symptom domains and gives patients multiple statements, asking them to choose the best description of their experience over the past week.
- Patient Health Questionnaire-9 (PHQ-9): The nine-item PHQ-9 is used to screen for the presence and severity of depression symptoms. This self-report tool can be used in primary care settings and takes under three minutes for patients to complete.
- The Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Checklist – Civilian Version (PCL-C): A 17-item standardized self-report rating scale for PTSD that assesses the presence of key PTSD symptoms. This scale includes 5-point Likert-scale questions and asks patients to indicate how much they have been bothered by specific problems in the past month, e.g., “Repeated, disturbing dreams of a stressful experience from the past.”
- Recovery Assessment Scale (RAS): a 20-item measure that assesses a patient’s perceptions of their personal and social recovery at the start of treatment and afterward. The scale is specially focused on determination and hope, with items such as “I have a desire to succeed” and “Even when I don’t care about myself, other people do.”
As we’ve already noted, these tools are often used in conjunction with other measures and approaches for a more holistic view of what a patient is experiencing.
If you’re looking for more useful resources for the rest of your treatment plan, be sure to check out the following article: 9 CBT Worksheets and Tools for Anxiety and Depression
A List of Screening Tools for Students (+ PDF)
Many scales are validated for adults, so you may need to check that you are using appropriate measures when assessing younger audiences such as students.
When working with standardized assessments, it’s important to be aware that different tools are designed for different target audiences. Many scales are validated for adults, so you may need to check that you are using appropriate measures when assessing younger audiences such as students.
In addition to the scales and measures that we have listed above, using the following tools for children and adolescents:
- Columbia Depression Scale (CDS): A 22-item self-report measure that can be used to screen teenagers aged 11 and above for both symptoms of depression and suicidality.
- Depression Scale for Children (DSC): A self-report for children and adolescents between 6 and 17 years of age and which takes five minutes to complete. This 20-item scale screens for depression.
- Spence Children’s Anxiety Scale (SCAS): This self-administered scale can be used to screen for symptoms of anxiety in pre-school and school-aged children. As well as GAD, this instrument screens for panic/agoraphobia, social phobia, OCD, and more.
- Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ): The SDQ is a 25-item test that can be used with children aged 3-16-years old. It has five scales: emotional problems, conduct problems, hyperactivity and inattention, peer relationships, and prosocial behaviors.
How To Design Your Own Assessments
Another approach is to design your own behavioral health assessments, which will enable you to focus on specific areas of interest to you and your patient.
It can seem a little daunting at first if you are new to e-mental healthcare, but learning to create your own online assessments is quick and easy to learn with the right digital tools!
We have created a free 30-page guide that contains our best-practice tips on delivering high-caliber online care while simplifying the way you help and interact with patients.
This guide will show you how to:
- Design, build, and share customized behavioral health solutions with your clients
- Track and evaluate their progress over time the easy way
- Build a scaleable online practice by attracting clients with less work
- Create treatment plans and deliver them automatically without spending countless hours on email back-and-forths.
If you’re ready to learn how to save time while delivering personalized assessments, worksheets, tools, and more, download Coach, This Changes Everything to get started!
How To Use Templates For Behavioral Risk Assessment
Conducting mental health risk assessments online requires some careful consideration, but it’s entirely doable with advance planning and preparation.
In our Mental Health Assessment Tool Box article, we have listed what you need to implement your risk assessments successfully and efficiently at scale.
If you’re ready to start conducting your own behavioral health assessments online, we’ve just reviewed some wonderful tools for you to use as a start.
Now digitalize them for your clients, design your own, or plan your next mental health treatment for just $1 with your 30-day Quenza trial.
- ^ Goldstein, G., Allen, D. N., & DeLuca, J. (2019). Historical perspectives. In Handbook of Psychological Assessment (pp. 3-27). Academic Press.
- ^ Better Health. (2021). Assessments and evaluations for mental illness treatment, Retrieved from https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/servicesandsupport/assessments-and-evaluations-for-mental-illness-treatment
- ^ Beidas, R. S., Stewart, R. E., Walsh, L., Lucas, S., Downey, M. M., Jackson, K., ... & Mandell, D. S. (2015). Free, brief, and validated: Standardized instruments for low-resource mental health settings. Cognitive and Behavioral Practice, 22(1), 5-19.
- ^ Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. (2022). Behavioral Health Screening Tools. Retrieved from https://dpi.wi.gov/sspw/mental-health/mental/behavioral-health-screening/behavioral-health-screening/tools