Dr. Jacqueline B. Sallade offers ideas for maintaining your mental health.
Just like CSI or good police work, a psychologist doing an evaluation needs to observe and gather evidence. When interviewing, it's important to determine the level of opinion, memory, and truth. Looking for concrete examples from direct experience and observation helps. Watching someone interact and seeing how she or he handles difficult situations can be very telling.
When interviewing other professionals, references or witnesses, their opinions about what they don't see directly doesn't count for much, just their direct observations and examples. Otherwise, it's hearsay, and often a repetition of what heard someone else say.
So, when a therapist who hasn't seen her client handle certain parenting tasks lately or hasn't seen the people she talks about directly expounds about how they function, it's not helpful. However, he own description of what she sees the patient working on, concerned about and how that person copes in front of her or doesn't means a lot.
When a friend or relative gives emotionally-laden history, expresses prejudices and quotes the person in question, it doesn't say much. However, when they tell of specific incidents they've seen, it's useful.
Evaluations are solving mysteries. No one tells the exact truth. They all tell their truth, through their bias. It's necessary to gather lots of data from all types of observations and put it all together, much like a crime sceme, and then come to some conclusions.
One danger is judging from a small sample. For example, I saw a scientist think someone was anorexic because he only saw her eat salad, drawing a conclusion from one type of observation. Talking with her friends and family revealed that she ate salad for dinner when she had eaten a wide variety of foods, including fattening ones earlier in the day.
Another problem is looking at someone only at his best or at his worst. People operate differently in a horrible, stressful situation than in a loving, easy-going environment. They also change over time, often more than others want to realize. So, deciding that someone is abusive because he used to be doesn't always work.
Another problem is not considering the source. Often, one can tell more about the complainer than the complained-about by the comments. Deep fear, prejudice, anger and frustration speak loudly but not always accurately. For example, relatives or friends who hate someone aren't good sources of information but they may show a lot about themselves.
Psychology isn't an exact science, not as much as physics or chemistry for sure. Even with criminal evaluations, it's a matter of listening to what's said and not said and how it's said or not, talking with everyone involved and trying to piece together facts, feelings, thought patterns and behaviors. It's an educated guessing game but it beats an uneducated jump to conclusion from limited or distorted information.