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InPsych 2015 | Vol 37

Cover feature : Assessment of capacity

Assessment of capacity

Individuals with a variety of disabling conditions that affect their cognition or behaviour have a right to live their lives to the fullest with as much dignity and choice as possible. However, their conditions may affect their capacity to adequately undertake a range of functions in everyday life, leaving them or those in their care vulnerable and in need of protection. Examples of such functions include the capacity to manage financial affairs, make a Will, live independently, be able to work after injury, make a decision about medical treatment, provide adequate parenting, or be fit enough to stand trial after an offence.

With their expertise in cognition and behaviour, psychologists are frequently requested to provide expert opinions on the capacities of individuals with severe and enduring disabilities associated with a range of conditions such as dementia, severe mental health disorders, intellectual disability, brain impairment or drug and alcohol addiction. To provide an expert opinion, psychologists must integrate a complex set of knowledge and skills in psychological assessment with an understanding of relevant laws and individuals’ rights and responsibilities within the disability framework. While many determinations of capacity are made outside of a court room, where issues of capacity cannot appropriately be resolved or are related to criminal offences, the judgement about whether an individual has sufficient capacity is determined by tribunals or courts, informed by the psychologist’s expert opinion.

This InPsych cover feature aims to highlight psychologists’ important contribution in this complicated but vital area, and was inspired by the APS Tests and Testing Reference Group (see below). The cover feature opens with a series of guidance summaries from APS experts providing capacity assessments across a variety of settings.1 Then follows a discussion of the broad principles for best practice in psychological assessment of capacity where this is requested by a court or tribunal. The cover feature concludes with a perspective on how psychologists can use their capacity assessments to assist tribunals to maximise individuals’ autonomy and self-determination, the cornerstone of the rights of all members of the human family.

= membership held for more than 60 years

APS Tests and Testing Reference Group

The Tests and Testing Reference Group (TTRG) has the broad aim of developing and promoting psychological expertise and standards in the tests and testing area, as well as increasing the collaborative working relationship between the APS and test publishers and suppliers. The TTRG has developed a range of resources for APS members including a practice guide for the assessment of people with disabilities, guidance for online psychological testing, and a set of FAQs about psychological tests to provide to clients. These and other psychological test and testing resources can be found at www.psychology.org.au/practitioner/resources

To find out more about the TTRG or to share your ideas, please contact Rebecca Mathews at r.mathews@psychology.org.au or (03) 8662 3300.


Disclaimer: Published in InPsych on August 2015. The APS aims to ensure that information published in InPsych is current and accurate at the time of publication. Changes after publication may affect the accuracy of this information. Readers are responsible for ascertaining the currency and completeness of information they rely on, which is particularly important for government initiatives, legislation or best-practice principles which are open to amendment. The information provided in InPsych does not replace obtaining appropriate professional and/or legal advice.