When the SSA is deciding whether or not you qualify for disability payments, they will look at your records from health care professionals. The medical records you have may not provide enough evidence to show that you have a mental or emotional illness that should prevent you from working. In these cases, the SSA may request additional psychological or psychiatric examinations or tests.
Anytime you list a mental disorder as an impairment on your disability application, and there is not enough medical evidence in your file to support that claim, the SSA may offer you what is called a "consultative examination" with a licensed mental health professional. You do not have to pay for consultative examinations. Consultative exams are common, for both mental and physical impairments.
A mental consultative examination may be conducted by your treating doctor if you have a treating psychiatrist or psychologist. Many times, however, the consultative examination is conducted by an independent doctor or psychologist. These doctors do not work for the SSA and do not make a decision on whether or not you are disabled; instead, consultative examination doctors report to the SSA what their opinion is regarding what you can and cannot do, given your impairment.
A psychological exam by a consultative doctor will probably be similar to other exams you have had with mental health professionals. A psychological consultative examination report given to the SSA will include the following:
Psychiatrists will include additional information in mental examinations if you have certain specific mental impairments. If you are schizophrenic, delusional, or suffer from another psychotic disorder, the consultative examination report will include information on any periods of time you spent in structured settings, such as group homes or psychiatric facilities. The report will also include how frequent and long-lasting your episodes of illness are and any side effects of medication you are taking.
If you have an organic mental disorder (such as Alzheimer’s disease or a traumatic brain injury), your consultative examination report will include information on the source of the disorder, and whether the disorder is stable or progressive. The exam will also note any changes over time. A psychological examination report for an organic brain disorder should also include information about neurological testing (such as EEGs) that have been done.
If your impairment falls under the mental retardation category, your report should show documentation of your IQ using an acceptable test.
When you are undergoing a psychological examination, do not lie. Answer truthfully but try to avoid being melodramatic and exaggerating your problems. At the same time, it is important to admit the difficulties your impairments have caused you. The examining doctor should hear about your limitations in full. While they may be difficult to talk about, the doctor will not be able to make honest and accurate statements about your limitations and disability unless you are honest.