What Is the Brief Psychiatric Rating Scale?

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  • Written By: Debra Barnhart
  • Edited By: Kaci Lane Hindman
  • Last Modified Date: 01 October 2019
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The Brief Psychiatric Rating Scale (BPRS) is a test used by mental healthcare professionals to gauge a patient’s psychiatric symptoms. It is most often used with patients who have severe psychological impairment, especially bipolar affective disorder and schizophrenia. This scale has between 18 and 24 sections, with each focusing on a different set of symptoms. It usually has a rating scale of one through seven, with a rating of one for little or no symptoms, and a seven for severe symptoms. Patient response to test questions and the healthcare professional’s observations are both taken into account in the Brief Psychiatric Rating Scale. The test can be used to both diagnosis and assess patient progress and is also employed by researchers in the development of new treatments.

Concern over physical health, and levels of anxiety, depression or hallucination are some of the sections on the BPRS test. When working on the hallucination section, the mental healthcare professional might ask the patient a question like, “Do you hear people talking to you when you are drifting off to sleep?” After hearing the patient’s response, the healthcare professional might delve deeper into the patient’s symptoms by asking about the quality of the voice or sounds that the patient hears.


Generally a rating of seven on the Brief Psychiatric Rating Scale is used for symptoms that completely interrupt daily activity and do not allow the patient to work, socialize and be independent. For instance in evaluating anxiety levels, a rating of two means that the individual experiences some infrequent anxiety, which is pretty normal. Extremely severe anxiety, or a rating of seven, means the patient is focused on his or her worries all day and that the anxiety totally disrupts daily activity. The patient might experience physical symptoms too, like rapid heartbeat, panic attacks and sweating.

While patient self-disclosure is an important element of the Brief Psychiatric Rating Scale, observation by the mental healthcare professional is key as well. In some sections of the test the patient is interviewed by the healthcare professional about his or her symptoms. In other sections, the healthcare professional makes independent observations about the patient. These observations focus on areas like disorganized thought patterns or speech and lack of emotional expression. A mental healthcare professional, for example, might observe that a flat tone of voice, immobile facial expression, and mechanical gestures indicate that the patient cannot express emotion.


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