What is a Clinical Interview?

There are Two Main Types of Clinical Interviews

Fragile woman in counselling session
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Clinical Interview Definition

A clinical interview is a tool that helps physicians, psychologists and researchers make an accurate diagnosis of a variety of mental illnesses, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). There are two common types: Structured clinical interviews and clinical diagnostic interviews.

Structured Clinical Interviews

The gold standard for structured clinical interviews is the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-5, also known as SCID.

The Purpose of the Structured Clinical Interview

Structured clinical interviews have a variety of uses, including assessing patients in order to make a diagnosis based on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5); for research to study certain groups of people who all have the same symptoms; for clinical trials; or for students who are going into the mental health field to practice in order to become better interviewers. SCIDs can also help determine if you have more than one illness. They contain standardized questions to ensure that each patient is interviewed in the same way.  

Types of Questions on the Structured Clinical Interview

The questions on the SCID range from asking about your family and medical history to your illnesses and current complaints, as well as the nature, severity and duration of symptoms. The questions get very detailed and specific, but not all questions will need answers since the SCID covers a broad range of illnesses, most of which you probably do not have.


A SCID can take anywhere from 15 minutes to several hours to complete, depending on the severity and types of your symptoms.

Questions that you may be asked during a structured clinical interview that are specifically about OCD include:

  • What are the specific details of your obsessions and compulsions?
  • How long have you had these obsessions and compulsions?
  • How have these obsessions and compulsions affected your life?
  • Did your symptoms start after a new illness or taking a new drug?
  • Were you physically sick before you started having obsessions and/or compulsions?
  • Were you using drugs before you started having obsessions and/or compulsions?
  • How old were you when these symptoms started?

Clinical Diagnostic Interviews

Another valid way to assess and/or diagnose a mental illness is by using a clinical diagnostic interview (CDI). CDIs are different in that they involve a conversation, or narrative, between the mental health professional and the patient instead of a list of standardized questions like the SCID has. This interview takes about two and a half hours and the mental health professional doing the interview will likely take notes as you talk. A symptom checklist might also be used along with the CDI to help the interviewer diagnose you. 

Types of Questions on the Clinical Diagnostic Interview

The questions on a CDI are much more broad and leave you room give details.

Examples of questions are:

  • What was your childhood like?
  • What is your relationship with your mother/father/siblings like?
  • What was school like for you?
  • What sort of friendships did you have as a child?
  • What have your romantic relationships been like?
  • What is your job and how long have you done it?

Is One Type of Clinical Interview More Valid Than Another?

No. A recent study showed that both interview methods are equally valid and useful. Which method a clinician uses will likely depend on the standard at their organization and/or personal preference. 





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