Youth Top Problems: using idiographic, consumer-guided assessment to identify treatment needs and to track change during psychotherapy

J Consult Clin Psychol. 2011 Jun;79(3):369-80. doi: 10.1037/a0023307.


Objective: To complement standardized measurement of symptoms, we developed and tested an efficient strategy for identifying (before treatment) and repeatedly assessing (during treatment) the problems identified as most important by caregivers and youths in psychotherapy.

Method: A total of 178 outpatient-referred youths, 7-13 years of age, and their caregivers separately identified the 3 problems of greatest concern to them at pretreatment and then rated the severity of those problems weekly during treatment. The Top Problems measure thus formed was evaluated for (a) whether it added to the information obtained through empirically derived standardized measures (e.g., the Child Behavior Checklist [CBCL; Achenbach & Rescorla, 2001] and the Youth Self-Report [YSR; Achenbach & Rescorla, 2001]) and (b) whether it met conventional psychometric standards.

Results: The problems identified were significant and clinically relevant; most matched CBCL/YSR items while adding specificity. The top problems also complemented the information yield of the CBCL/YSR; for example, for 41% of caregivers and 79% of youths, the identified top problems did not correspond to any items of any narrowband scales in the clinical range. Evidence on test-retest reliability, convergent and discriminant validity, sensitivity to change, slope reliability, and the association of Top Problems slopes with standardized measure slopes supported the psychometric strength of the measure.

Conclusions: The Top Problems measure appears to be a psychometrically sound, client-guided approach that complements empirically derived standardized assessment; the approach can help focus attention and treatment planning on the problems that youths and caregivers consider most important and can generate evidence on trajectories of change in those problems during treatment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Female
  • Health Services Needs and Demand*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / therapy*
  • Psychometrics
  • Psychotherapy / methods*
  • Treatment Outcome