Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Unstructured Interview and the BDI-II

                               The Unstructured Initial Intake Interview

The unstructured initial intake interview helps the counselor gather information and an overall perspective of the client including the client's major issues, prevailing temperament, language ability, and whether the client is a candidate for the counseling process (Whiston, 2008). This type of assessment is informal and nonstandardized. It is given in a variety of situations and under nonspecific conditions, so Its results are not standardized and cannot be compared or applied to other individuals or populations.

When a new client is initially evaluated, the counselor may perceive the client as anxious, inarticulate, and unfocused. Although the counselor will take this information into consideration, he or she will not necessarily make a determination on the client's condition as compared to other clients. For example, the new client may be especially shy in new surroundings and unable to articulate because of his or her nervousness in the counseling environment. In this example, the counselor may use the interview to get to know the client as well as to use the introductory interview as a time to develop rapport with the client.


The advantages of this type of assessment is its extreme flexibility and its modifiability to appropriately accommodate the unique needs of the client (Whiston, 2008). Furthermore, this type of evaluation helps the client relax and encourage a candid perspective of his or her circumstances. It also supports the counselor's intuitive exploration into areas that become apparent during the interview. As in the above example, if the client is anxious about beginning counseling, the counselor can put the client at ease with the informal manner of the initial interview.


On the contrary, informal, unstructured interviews may not accomplish specific goals, if not implemented effectively, and obtaining information may take considerably longer than a more structured assessment. Whiston (2008) claimed this informal assessment is more prone to error and is not as reliable as a more structured, standardized evaluation. The results of an unstructured interview cannot be directly compared to the results of other clients. In a more positive vote for informal assessments, however, Spinnelli (2008) believed they pose a fair challenge to their standardized counterparts, and counselors and researchers continue to find realized value in them, at least in school settings.

                                                         The BDI-II

The BDI-II is a formal standardized instrument used for determining the presence and severity of depressive symptoms. Urbina (2005) suggested standardized instruments are uniformly administered and scored. Furthermore, the guidelines for standardized assessments are established and followed so the results can be interpreted compared to the established norms for the assessment. The results of standardized assessments, such as the BDI-II must be readily replicable, meaning the results will be similar over time and in a variety of populations (Whiston, 2008). The strict control of the standardized test-taking protocol functions as the control group in an experiment. In effect, the results are the only variance in the implementation of the assessment. In this way, the results are a more direct representation of the construct(s) measured.


The BDI-II is easy to administer and score and it is considered a reliable and valid instrument for its original purpose(Hagen, 2005). It takes only ten minutes to complete and it is easy to interpret. Whiston (2008) claimed the BDI-II is the most widely used of all depression inventories.


As a standardized instrument, the BDI-II used a norming process to standardize results. As discussed previously in this classroom, the norming process has inherent challenges (Czubaj, 1995; Urbina, 2005). The relative viewpoint by which norms are set may not be standardized measurements that can be applied to general populations. Hagen (2007) found the sample used for creating this instrument was primarily Caucasian, and not representative of the U.S. population. Furthermore, Hagen (2007) found this instrument gender biased because women score higher than men. If this is the case, this inventory may pathologize women unnecessarily.

Another disadvantage may be inherent in its questionnaire type, self-report in which the client reports symptoms that may be better or worse on the day he or she is asked to complete the inventory. Bowling (2005) found that with questionnaires, the way people answer can be influenced by the environment in which it is taken. So, if the individual takes the inventory in a quiet office setting or at home, with noisy children demanding attention, the report may reflect inflated or deflated feelings because of the environmental circumstances.


Bowling, A. (2005). Mode of questionnaire administration can have serious effects on data quality. Journal of Public Health, 27(3), 281-291. doi: 10.1093/pubmed/fdi031

Czubaj, C. A. (1995). Standardized assessments used in American public schools are invalid and unreliable. Education, 116(2), 180-185.

Hagen, B. (2007). Measuring melancholy: A critique of the Beck Depression Inventory and its use in mental health nursing. International Journal of Mental Health Nursing, 16(2), 108-115. doi: 10.1111/j.1447-0349.2007.00453.x

Spinelli, C. (2008). Introduction: The Benefits, Uses, and Practical Application of Informal Assessment Procedures. Reading & Writing Quarterly, 24(1), 1-6. doi: 10.1080/10573560701753005

Urbina, S. (2005). Standardized testing. Encyclopedia of Human Development. SAGE Publications. Retrieved from

Whiston, S. C. (2009). Principles and applications of assessment in counseling (3rd ed.). Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole, Cengage Learning

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