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What Is a Self-Report Inventory?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 23 April 2018
  • Copyright Protected:
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    Conjecture Corporation
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A self-report inventory is a test completed by a patient independently, without help or prompting from a medical professional. The patient responds to a series of questions about emotions, feelings, and symptoms, while the answers to these questions provide information about the patient’s condition. Many of these tests are short, lasting 15 minutes or less, and they can be useful tools for assessment and follow-up. Like other kinds of psychological testing, they can be subject to flaws; this must be considered when looking at the results.

The types of questions on a self-report inventory can vary widely, depending on a patient’s condition. They might include questions about stress levels, depression, anxiety, or anger, for example. Others may explore personality, cognitive functioning, or neurological health, like whether the patient experiences tremors, difficulty walking, or trouble with fine motor skills. Testing can ask people to answer yes or no to questions, or to rate them on the basis of how often the described symptom occurs.

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One issue with a self-report inventory is that a patient may overstate answers to make a situation seem worse than it is, for a variety of reasons. People may fear, for example, that they will not be taken seriously or can’t get access to the best treatment if the case doesn’t seem severe. They might rate events as frequent when they occur less often, or could place a heavy emphasis on questions that seem particularly serious; someone taking a depression self-report inventory might claim that suicidal thoughts are frequent when they are really not, for instance.

Understatement can also arise as a flaw with self-report inventories. Patients may want to hide severe symptoms out of fear or a belief that they really aren’t that sick, and thus rank down serious symptoms to play down the seriousness of the situation. The test results might suggest that a patient has a mild problem but not a serious one on the basis of the answers, or that a patient is starting to improve with treatment when this is not the case.

Being aware of the problems with a self-report inventory can allow a medical practitioner to use the test more successfully. In addition to asking the patient to complete the test, the provider might also perform an interview, observe the patient, and take note of behaviors during sessions that might provide clues into the patient’s mental state. All of these data together can provide a complete picture of the client’s personality, mental state, and overall level of health.

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