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HOW TO PREPARE FOR SSA’S PSYCHOLOGICAL EXAM

WILL THE SSA SEND YOU TO A PSYCHOLOGICAL EXAM?

A psychological exam tells the SSA what they need to know about your mental health. Since your mental health can impact your ability to work, the SSA may send you to a psychological examination. The psychological exam is called a Consultative Examination. If you allege a mental condition when you file your application for benefits, then there is a good chance they will send you to an exam with one of their doctors.

Even if you have a treating counselor or doctor, the SSA does not ask them to perform the psychological exam. Instead, they send you to a doctor of their choice. These doctors are trained in mental health. They will either be a psychologist or a psychiatrist.  The SSA has a list of psychologists that are close to where you live. You will be able to visit with the doctor for your exam. The SSA will set up the time and place of the exam and send you written notice. Other than during the Covid pandemic, mental exams are done in person.

The SSA may decide to schedule you for a psychological exam when you are at the beginning stages of your case. Mental exams are common when your medical records show a mental condition, but you don’t have ongoing treatment. Exams can also done because you don’t have any recent treatment. DDS workers  review the exam report. They use the results to deny or grant your benefits. Psychological exams are used in both Supplemental Security Income (SSI) claims and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) claims.

Psychological exam. Doctor consulting with male patients in hospital exam room.

WHAT ARE THE REASONS FOR THE PSYCHOLOGICAL EXAM?

The purpose of the mental exam is for the SSA to learn more about your mental health. They are trying to determine if your mental symptoms would keep you from working. The exam will usually last at least one hour. The length of the exam depends on whether or not the SSA wants to test you too.

You need to go to the exam.

The SSA will send you a written notice in the mail. It will have the name of the doctor, the address you need to go to, and the date and time of the examination.

If you cannot attend the exam, you must immediately call the SSA and inform them that you have a conflict. Usually, they will reschedule the appointment time for you, so that you can attend. Whatever you do, do not miss the exam. They will not reschedule the exam for you if you miss it without explanation.

If you don’t go, the SSA will automatically deny your case. You don’t want that to happen. Use the psychological exam to tell the doctor what mental conditions are making it impossible for you work. For example, your anxiety disorder may cause panic attacks at work or make it so that you cannot concentrate on work tasks. If you already have a mental health diagnosis, then bring your medical records to the exam. That way the SSA doctor can review them. Don’t rely on the SSA to send your records to the consultative examiner.  The SSA usually does not send your records for the doctor to review.

WHAT SHOULD YOU BRING TO THE MENTAL HEALTH EXAM?

At the consultative exam, you will probably spend most of the appointment talking about the history of your mental disorder with the psychologist. You will also need to talk about your current symptoms and how they impact your daily life. However, first, the doctor must  verify your identity to make sure you are the claimant. So, you must bring a valid photo ID, like a driver’s license, state ID, or passport, to the mental exam.

Additionally, the SSA will send you paperwork that gives you the date, time, and address of the psychological evaluation. It is a good idea to bring that paperwork with you to the exam. Finally, we recommend that you bring a copy of your mental health records to the examination. For example, if you have had a previous psychological evaluation, you can bring a copy of that to give to the doctor. Likewise, you could bring the progress notes from your counselor. Additionally, you could bring a treating source statement, such as a letter from your doctor, that documents your mental health diagnosis.

WHAT QUESTIONS WILL THE DOCTOR ASK AT YOUR PSYCHOLOGICAL EXAM?

At your psychological evaluation, the psychologist who will be talking to you is being paid by the Social Security Administration. Normally, they are a person who has done hundreds of examinations of people who are seeking SSDI and SSI benefits.  The psychologist is not your friend and they are not your personal counselor. So, don’t treat them like they are “on your side.” They are not.

The examiner is there is ask you questions about your mental health. They are going to give you a mental diagnosis and talk about whether it limits your ability to work. Additionally, if the SSA asks them, they will give you IQ testing or memory testing. Remember, the psychologist is judging you. In their report, they will talk about your appearance and your demeanor. They will also report whether you gave proper effort on tests and whether or not you are a credible historian.

The psychologist will also want to know the following information:

  • Your Medical History. The psychologist will ask about your severe mental symptoms and for which mental illness you have had treatment.
  • Family History. The psychologist will want to know about your relationships with friends and your family.
  • Educational History. You will be asked about your education level. If you were in special education or needed help in school, like home school or tutors, then remember to tell that to the psychologist.
  • Past Relevant Work. You will be asked about your past work and any mental trouble you had while working. For example, did you have panic attacks on the job? Did you have problems getting along with others? Were you off task at work due to your mental condition? Were you ever fired from a job due to your mental symptoms?

WHAT SYMPTOMS IS THE DOCTOR LOOKING FOR AT THE PSYCHOLOGICAL EXAM?

While you should already know answers to the questions from the doctor, it is a smart idea to prepare your answers in advance. If you have trouble remembering your work history, write it down before you go to the appointment and bring it with you.

The doctor will be asking you questions, but will also be writing about your appearance and mood during the exam. For example, do you have a good attitude toward the exam? Did you dress appropriately for the interview? Are your clothes, shoes, hair and nails clean? These are some of the questions that the doctor will report on.

Additionally, the doctor will report on your ability to communicate with him or her. For example, do you avoid answering questions or did you offer information easily. Were you able to remember information from your past? Did you make good eye contact? Do you have good insight into your mental health symptoms? Do you get ongoing treatment from a counselor or other doctor? Are you able to concentrate during the exam? Did you have a panic attack at the exam or in the waiting room? Were you late or on time? If you were late, did you get lost?

All of these questions can be part of the psychological exam.

EXAMPLES OF MENTAL IMPAIRMENTS THAT PREVENT WORK

To prepare yourself for you psychological exam, you should think of examples of how your mental illness impacts you on a daily basis. The SSA is looking for examples of how your mental illness stops you from working. Ask yourself these questions:  would your mental problems make you off task at work? Would you struggle with being on time or attending work regularly? Likewise, would you have trouble dealing with other people on the job?

WOULD YOU MISS WORK?

Many people with mental illness struggle to leave home when they have anxiety or depression. Would your mental symptoms make you late for work? Has that happened to you at work in the past? Have you been fired from a job because you were late too many times?

Similarly, have your mental symptoms made you call in to work and stay home. How many times a month were you missing work? Was it more than two times a month? If so, you should tell the psychologist that you missed work because you couldn’t get out of bed due to your mental symptoms. Or perhaps it was some other mental symptoms that stopped you from going to work. Tell the doctor.

If you have mental problems, you might have had trouble dealing with other workers, your boss, and the public. How hard would it be for you to deal with the public on the job? Would you lose your temper? Or, would you be rude to customers? Has that happened before on your past jobs? Now is the time to tell those examples to the psychologist. Use real examples of the problems you have had on the job.

WOULD YOU BE OFF TASK?

Another thing the SSA is looking for is whether or not your mental condition impairs your concentration and memory. Do your mental symptoms cause you to take too many breaks during the workday? How many breaks do you take on a normal day at work? How long are those breaks? Were you fired from you job for taking too many extra breaks? If so, tell the doctor.

Also, think about your ability to focus and maintain concentration during an 8 hour work day. How long can you pay attention? Can you think of examples of how short your attention span is due to your mental issues?  Are you no longer able to read novels? Is it difficult to focus on reading the newspaper? Do you easily lose focus? Do you go from one task to another?

It is important to tell the doctor how your symptoms affect you at work and at home. Be able to honestly answer the questions from the doctor with examples from your life. Doing so will help you be win SSDI and SSI benefits. If you have questions about what will happen at your psychological exam, contact Cannon Disability LawWe will help you prepare for your exam. We can also help you apply for benefits and appeal a denial from the SSA.

DO YOU HAVE TO PAY FOR YOUR PSYCHOLOGICAL EXAMINATION?

One thing to know is that you do not have to pay for the psychological exam. You will not have to pay a copay or any money at the examination. It is the SSA who pays the consultative examiner. The doctor will provide an assessment of your performance on any psychological tests or other tests the SSA asks them to perform. For example, you might take an IQ test or a memory test. The IQ test measures your verbal abilities and your working memory. It also measures your perceptual reasoning and your processing speed. The combined scores on these tests determines your full scale IQ. Learn more about the WAIS IV IQ test here.

If you don’t understand the questions that the doctor asks, then ask the doctor to repeat them. Do the best that you can to answer the doctor’s questions. However, if you do not remember an answer about your past, don’t pretend you know an answer or make it up. Simply say that you do not remember.

Don’t exaggerate your mental symptoms. If the doctor thinks you are being dramatic about your symptoms, then you will lose credibility. For example, someone who suffers from anxiety will talk about panic attacks and being afraid to deal with other people. They might also say they can’t sleep at night.

CRIMINAL HISTORY AND SUBSTANCE ABUSE QUESTIONS

CRIMINAL HISTORY – WHAT IT IS AND WHAT IT IS NOT

Additionally, the doctor will ask you about whether or not you have a criminal history. The reason the doctor is asking this question is that some people with an extensive criminal history have Borderline Personality Disorder or Oppositional Defiance Disorder. Obviously, if you have been to prison or jail, tell the doctor. However, be aware that speeding tickets are not a criminal history. Neither is that one time you stole candy at the store when you were in 6th grade. Please remember that you are talking to a doctor who is judging you. The doctor isn’t asking you about your past so that you confess some small event that happened when you were a child or a teenager. Also, the doctor is not asking about whether or not you got a ticket for smoking a cigarette when you were underage.

Unless you have actually been convicted of a crime and served time in jail or prison, you don’t have a criminal history.

SUBSTANCE ABUSE – WHY IT MATTERS TO THE SSA

The doctor will also ask you if you have a history of substance abuse. The reason the doctor asks about this is the SSA needs to know if your mental symptoms are caused by alcohol or drugs. They will deny your case if your mental problems are due to substance abuse. Learn more about substance abuse and benefits here.

If you have a lengthy history of substance abuse, then be honest about it. For example, if you have been in and out of rehab due to drug or alcohol abuse, admit it. Hopefully, you can tell the doctor that you are now sober. However, the exam is not the time to confess the one time you tried marijuana in high school or talk about how when you were 16 your drank five beers at a party.  Those events are not a “history” of substance abuse and SSA’s doctor is not your priest. Anything you say at the exam will be reported to the SSA. So, don’t confess stupid behavior as if it is a history of substance abuse.

The doctor is asking about serious ongoing drug and alcohol problems, not something you did once thirty years ago. Substance abuse means you cannot control your drinking. You are drinking to get drunk, passing out, and spending most of your money on alcohol. If you drink two beers, while you watch a football game, that is not abusing alcohol. If you drink a glass of wine at a party, you do not have an alcohol problem. Know the difference between alcohol abuse and normal drinking behavior. It is not a badge of honor to pretend you have a drinking problem at the psychological examination.

WHAT WE DO TO HELP YOU WIN SSDI AND SSI BENEFITS 

If you have a lawyer, you should talk to them before your psychological exam. They can help you prepare and ensure you don’t forget to mention the things the doctor needs to know about how your mental health affects your ability to work. Cannon Disability can help your prepare for your psychological exam and file your disability application. Also, we can help you appeal every SSA denial. For example, our attorneys and staff can:

  • Send you the paperwork you need to become our client
  • Help you file your application for SSD and SSI benefits
  • Inform the SSA that they should automatically pay your benefits under the Compassionate Allowance Rules
  • Request reconsideration if you receive an initial denial from Disability Determination Services
  • Help you confirm your attendance at a Consultative Examination
  • Request a Hearing with an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ)
  • Prepare you to be a good witness at your SSA hearing
  • Represent you at your hearing and question the vocational and medical witnesses.
  • Read more about vocational experts here
  • Learn more about medical expert testimony here
  • Request review of an unfavorable decision with the Appeals Council
  • Request review of an Appeals Council denial in Federal Court

If you file your application for benefits online at Social Security’s website, then you have 6 months to complete the application. Once you submit your application online, the SSA sends you an application summary in the mail. You must sign the summary and mail it back. If you don’t send it back, the SSA will not process your application.

CANNON DISABILITY LAW’S ATTORNEYS AND STAFF

If you want to learn more about the lawyers and staff at Cannon Disability Law you can go to our About Us page. For example, you may want to know that Dianna Cannon has been helping people win Social Security benefits for thirty years. Brett Bunkall and Andria Summers have also won thousands of SSDI and SSI cases.

In the past 30 years, we have won over 20,000 SSDI and SSI cases for our clients. Our lawyers and staff can help you apply for benefits using the SSA’s website. Likewise, if you need to file an appeal, we can help you do that too. There are also many forms that will need to be filled out. Don’t worry. If you have questions about these forms, we will answer them. You can learn more about SSA’s appeal forms here. Call us today.

We have won over $100 million in ongoing and past due benefits for our clients. Also, we represent our clients in many states, including Nevada, Utah, and Idaho. Find out more about Nevada disability benefits here. Learn more about Utah disability benefits and California disability benefits here. No matter where you live, we want to be your legal team. Hire the team with years of legal experience to help you. Call us now. We will answer your questions and help you prepare for your psychological exam.

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