Traditional Assessment of Wellness:  a Free, Anonymous Measure of Personal Wellbeing

Training for life coaching is usually long on counseling methods and coaching philosophy, but short on diagnosis and theory. Too often it lets the coach define wellness without any structure or content for what the good life needs to look like. Unless clients can be given feedback that provides them an objective view of their self-concept compared to an established norm for what is healthy, coaching clients feel judged when the structure and content come out of the coach.

Nine particular dimensions of holistic health have been addressed for over 4000 years. They were core concepts in the Mosaic law, which Stephen stated Moses had partly learned in Egypt (Acts 7: 22). They were all taught by wise King Solomon 1000 years later, and soon after that, by the Persian philosopher Zoroaster. [1] They were also all taught by Jesus, who said He wasn’t changing anything from Moses. 300 years after Christ, they were being taught by several ascetic philosophers along the Nile River in Egypt, and they influenced Pope Gregory to identify seven of the nine unhealthy traits as the “seven deadly sins.”[2]

More recently, the field of positive psychology has studied character strengths. Peterson and Seligman did an exhaustive historical review of what Western civilization has considered to be wellness virtues.[3] They found no clear consensus, but the six strengths they featured (wisdom, courage, humanity, justice, temperance, and transcendence) are rather abstract, and therefore do not translate easily into measurements of attitude or behavior. Michael Bishop also reviewed the history of wellness theories in both philosophy and psychology.[4] Like Peterson and Seligman, Bishop found no agreement in the literature of either positive psychology or philosophical wellness about how to define or measure wellness. He argued for the construction of “positive causal networks,” composed of emotions and attitudes subjectively defined, plus traits and lifestyles defined by observers. Each aspect of such a network would contribute to the development of the other aspects. The Traditional Assessment of Wellness does exactly that.

The Traditional Assessment of Wellness (TAW) has been constructed as a network of causally related characteristics, as Bishop called for. It features more behaviorally measurable traits, and looks at both positive/healthy and negative/maladaptive ways of expressing nine traditional resources related to wellness: truth, respect, security, concern, anger, sexuality, money, time/energy, and bodily health. These traits and their positive counterpart “virtues” have dominated most of the literature on pastoral counseling since that time. Until the time of Freud, these were the most widely discussed and used psychological concepts in the Western world.

The TAW measures the issue of truthfulness: adherence to standards of Honesty in public and private behavior, plus a Denial (lie) scale that shows the tendency to see and present oneself in a flattering light on this test. This issue of honesty was mentioned alongside the other eight by ancient philosophers in Persia, Egypt and Greece,[5] and honest self-awareness and self-disclosure have been associated with most of history’s leading wellness measures of health and mental health.[6]

In addition to the 18 basic scores, the TAW gives combination scales for the nine issues (for example, combining Denial and Honesty for one score on Truth). It also yields a Total Wellness Index that uses all the items and sums up all nine issues. All scores will be adjusted to correct for social desirability distortions (the Denial scale). Each will be conveyed as a percentile, based on the normative sample that has taken the test, or upon one’s identifying group. For example, a business, a civic organization, or a student body could take the test and receive scores in both population percentiles, and in percentiles for their own group.
Under the supervision of Paul Meehl, former APA president and author of the MMPI K scale, William Backus did his doctoral thesis at the University of Minnesota on a personality test he constructed to measure the seven unhealthy traits (deadly sins). He gave it along with the MMPI to a large sample of college students, psychiatric outpatients, and psychiatric inpatients. This research showed widespread and statistically significant negative correlations between these moral attitudes and mental health.[7] Apparently, sinning makes you sick, and psychological illness makes you sin.

When he decided not to publish his test because of its religious intonations, Dr. Backus did encourage and assist Dr. Schmidt in the publication of the Character Assessment Scale in 1981. The CAS was normed on people from all 50 states and all seven Canadian provinces. The foundational research establishing its norms, reliability, and correlative validity was accepted by the American Psychological Association[8], and 5000 copies of the this test were sold across five continents of the world. It also measured the issue of honesty, which allowed it to have a lie scale to correct for the tendency to see and present oneself in a favorable light. Ten demographic variables were studied along with these eight dimensions of holistic health, and once again, they were significantly correlated with various demographics.

Now the scale descriptions and best items from the CAS have been used to compose the 90 items of the new Likert scale instrument called the Traditional Assessment of Wellness. The TAW has been and will soon again be available online. It takes roughly 15-20 minutes to complete. People submitting their answers do so anonymously, and receive printable results sent to whatever email they submit. They are also asked to give 14 pieces of non-identifying demographic information for the purposes of research: gender identity, age category, relational status, geographical area, type of occupation, educational level, income level, political views, religion, physical health, relational health, mental health, spiritual health, and email address(es) to which results are to be sent. These demographics were roughly the same ones that were collected in the foundational research for the CAS, so they allow confirmation and elaboration of those earlier findings. This research indicates which lifestyles and demographic groups are associated with which types of holistic wellness and dysfunction. To serve the general public, the test will remain free, and the findings from the ongoing research will be diversely published.

[1] Bloomfield, Morton, 1952. The Seven Deadly Sins. East Lansing: Michigan State College Press.

[2] Bloomfield, 1952, ibid.

[3] Peterson, Christopher and Seligman, Martin, 2004. Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification. New York: Oxford University Press.

[4] Bishop, Michael, 2015. The Good Life: Unifying the Philosophy and Psychology of Well-Being. New York: Oxford University Press.

[5] Peterson and Seligman, 2004.

[6] Schmidt, Paul F. 1981, A Manual for the Use of the Character Assessment Scale. Shelbyville, KY: Institute for Character Assessment. This manual contains a literature review, and was requested and picked up in March 2015 by APA’s PsychTEST to publish it and the CAS test materials to make them available for current and future research.

[7] Backus, William D. 1969, “The Seven Deadly Sins: Their Meaning and Measurement.” Doctoral dissertation at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI: University Microfilms.

[8] Schmidt, Paul F. “Assessing the Moral Dimension of the Personality: The Character Assessment Scale”, paper presented to the annual convention of the American Psychological Association in Los Angeles, 1981.


18-25, 26-35, 36-45, 46-55, 56-65, 66-75, and 76+
Male heterosexual, Female heterosexual, Gay, Lesbian, Transgender, Transsexual, Other
Single, Cohabiting, 1st Marriage, Separated, Divorced, Remarried, Widowed
Northeast, Southeast, Midwest, Southwest, Northwest, West Coast, International, Urban, Rural
Unemployed, Full-time homemaker, Employed part-time, Employed full-time without benefits, Self-employed full-time w/o benefits, Employed full-time with benefits, Management supervising 1+ full-time, Business owner employing 1+ other full-time
NO H.S. Diploma or GED, H.S. Diploma or GED, Associates degree, College graduate, Masters degree, Doctorate or 2 Masters degrees
Lower Lower class, Upper Lower, Lower Middle (homeowner), Upper Middle (homeowner out of debt and saving money), Lower Upper, Upper Upper


Red – concerned for the rights of businesses and traditional families
Blue – concerned for rights of all people, especially the disadvantaged
Green – wanting to protect the environment and international peace
Purple – independent, supporting best candidate running in each race
Yellow – wanting to minimize taxes and government regulations
Gray – I cannot be described by any categories above
Five levels will be delineated: Poor, Fair, Average, Good, and Excellent
Currently being treated in a psych ward or drug rehab unit
Struggling to cope with life, using drugs or alcohol to help or numb out
Struggling to cope with life, but not relying on drugs or alcohol
My life is stable but not very satisfying
My life is stable and satisfying, but not very interesting
My frustrations are teaching me as I go, and I’m generally enjoying life
I am content and fulfilled, enjoying life as it comes
Poor: No significant other and no close friends
Fair: Have a lover/mate but no close friends
Average: Good close friends but not in love now
Good: Married or stable love relationship supported by close friends
Excellent: Intimate with both mate and friends
Devout: regular in prayer, worship, Bible study, fellowship, and service
Social: somewhat active in church/fellowship for worship and service
Spiritual: privately praying and meditating but without organized religion
Agnostic: seriously doubting validity of bible, church, and a creator god
Atheist: I believe and live as if there’s no heaven, hell, Devil, or God
12-step: I find my higher power in the people and principles of recovery
Inactive: I guess I am a believer, but most people wouldn’t be able to tell
Any group wishing their own norms on this test can ask their members to have their results sent not only to the email addresses they give for their own personal feedback, but also to one for the group administrator, who can then access their own group norms to share with their members, or to compare with previous or future administrations.
* Respondents will be able to check more than one answer to these questions.


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Dr. Paul F. Schmidt