Psychology Jobs > Neuropsychologist

A neuropsychologist is a person who studies the brain and its functions and how it relates to behavior. A neuropsychologist can end up working with people who are experiencing difficulty with decision making, learning or problem solving, as well as reading and writing ability. Other areas of interest include studying the causes of attention difficulties and memory lapses.

People have been studying the brain for years ranging from Ancient Egypt all the way up to today. Over the course of hundreds of years, people slowly began to change their view of the brain and its function. No longer was the brain viewed as a useless organ that had little or no effect on the body but instead they realized that the brain was actually quite important and had a number of important functions.

Descartes was one of the first people who came to believe that the brain had an effect on behavior. He developed the idea that "animal spirits" flowed through the nerves and causing movement as well as behavior. While agreeing with Descartes about the "animal spirits" Thomas Willis believed that the actual structure of the brain had an influence on behavior and published a book detailing the anatomy of the brain in the mid 1600s.

Although discredited as a valid theory, Gall and his theory of phrenology did provide people with a number of important concepts for neuropsychology. Phrenology held that the size of various parts of the brain was important and that these sizes could be calculated through measuring a person's skull. Gall's belief that the brain was the location of such cognitive functions as thoughts and emotions was significant to the development of neuropsychology as was Gall's concept of localization. Localization is the idea that certain parts of the brain are responsible for certain functions. Paul Broca accepted this idea of localization and found that certain areas of the brain are responsible for language.

People continued to study the brain and its structure which increased people's understanding of the brain and its functions. This led to the development of neuropsychology and the acceptance of the concept that how our brains work affects our behavior.

Types of Neuropsychology
A neurospsychologist has a choice to focus on a number of different areas. The area a person chooses to focus on will depend on a person's interests and the type of place they would like to work. A person can focus on, experimental neuropsychology, clinical neuropsychology, paediatric neuropsychology as well as cognitive neuropsychology among others.

Experimental Neuropsychologist: A neuropsychologist who focuses on experimental neuropsychology will mainly perform research by conducting experiments to increase understanding of the human brain. A neurospsychologist will conduct research into the effects of brain trauma and degenerative diseases as well as looking at ways to help a patient cope with the effects of brain disorders. Some neuropsychologists will also study healthy brains in order to better understand normal cognitive and behavioral processes.

Some of the cognitive abilities that an experimental neuropsychologist will investigate include perception, motor control, language and memory. Aging, attention and emotions are other areas that an experimental neuropsychologist will study.

A neuropsychologist will also research the effects of specific brain injuries as well as neurological developmental disorders and neurodegenerative disorders. Some examples of neurological developmental disorders are autism, Asperger's syndrome, Tourette's and dyslexia. ADHD, cerebral palsy and Down's syndrome are also areas of study for a neuropsychologist.

A neuropsychologist will also study a number of neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's and even the effects of a stroke.

Clinical Neuropsychologists: A clinical neuropsychologist will take the research developed from experimental neuropsychology and apply it in a clinical setting. Clinical neuropsychologist will assess a client using a variety of psychological, neurological and physiological tests to determine a client's cognitive abilities to see if there are any problems.

Once the clinical neuropsychologist has gathered this information, the neuropsychologist will typically use the information to identify any neurological problems as well as plan and implement a treatment plan to deal with any of the identified problems.

Neuropsychologist job Assessment: A clinical neuropsychologist can assess an individual in two different ways. The assessment can be a normative assessment or an individual assessment. A normative assessment is still done on an individual but the results are compared to a sample population of people.
A normative assessment is usually conducted when the neuropsychologist wants to assess the amount of damage resulting from a brain injury or stroke. By comparing the test results with a normative sample, the neuropsychologist can see if the client's results are different than the average population.

An individual assessment, like the normative assessment, is done on an individual but instead of comparing the result to a representative sample, the test results are compared to earlier test results done on the same individual. This will allow the neuropsychologist to chart any changes over time which may occur as a result of a neurodegenerative disorder. These test results may still be compared to a representative sample to see how the client compares to the average population.

A neuropsychologist will usually start an assessment by taking a patient history. This history will typically include a medical and psychological history as well as information about a client's education and job history. Not only does the patient history gather important information but it can also be used by the neuropsychologist to determine how well a client operates within a social setting as well as the client's ability to communicate information in an organized and coherent fashion. The patient history will also give the neuropsychologist information about the client's motivation and temperament.

Once the history has been taken, the neuropsychologist will decide what neuropsychological tests will be required. Neurological testing looks at a number of cognitive abilities such as visual perception, reasoning, learning and memory. In addition to these cognitive abilities, the tests can provide information about attention span, verbal skills, concept formation and problem solving as well as other areas. Once these basic neurological functioning tests are completed, the neuropsychologist may decide to do more in-depth testing and assessment of one aspect of a client's cognitive functioning.

Treatment: The focus of a neuropsychologist's treatment is usually on assessment and development of a treatment plan. The treatment plan itself could involve making referrals to specialized services such as an occupational therapist, a speech therapist or even another clinical psychologist to help the patient deal with any behavioral or emotional issues arising as a result of a brain disorder.

In addition to referrals to other services, the neuropsychologist may also develop cognitive compensation and cognitive remediation strategies to help a patient deal with a cognitive loss as a result of brain injury or disorder.

Cognitive Compensation: Cognitive compensation is a strategy where the neuropsychologist develops a plan to teach a client how to compensate for any weaknesses in functioning. The neuropsychologist will help the patient learn to use any retained skills to compensate for a loss of functioning in another area. For example, a person who is experiencing poor visual memory because of a brain injury could be taught how to use verbal memory aids to help remember the information.

Cognitive Remediation: A neuropsychologist can also develop a cognitive remediation strategy in order to help a patient recover lost cognitive functions. Cognitive remediation is simply a set of repetitive exercises designed to help a patient improve a variety of abilities such as attention, memory, planning and executive functioning. Improvements in these areas will lead to the patient being better able to function in a social setting.

Most cognitive remediation strategies can be practiced using a computer program. A computer program will also be helpful in that the program can keep track of a patient's success rate and can make the assigned task more difficult as the patient exhibits success at a particular level of difficulty.

Even though a clinical neuropsychologist will be primarily involved with assessment and treatment planning, good clinical psychology skills are still needed to help people feel more comfortable in the testing situation as well as making people more willing to discuss their difficulties. A clinical neuropsychologist will also need good clinical skills for the times when the neuropsychologist decides to not refer a patient to a clinical psychologist and instead chooses to provide the needed psychotherapy.

Pediatric Neuropsychologist: Pediatric neuropsychology is a part of clinical neuropsychology although the neuropsychologist focuses on children instead of adults. A pediatric neuropsychologist will be involved in assessing and treating children who either have or may have some form of brain injury, neurodevelopmental disorder or other congenital disorder. A neuropsychologist who is interested in working with children may also work with children who are suspected of having a learning disability.

Cognitive Neuropsychologist: A cognitive neuropsychologist looks at how the brain is structured as well as its various functions and how all of this is related to our ability to perform a number of cognitive functions. Some of the cognitive functions that a cognitive neuropsychologist looks at include how memories are produced, how we produce language as well as how we are able to recognize objects and people. In addition to these, a cognitive neuropsychologist is interested in our problem solving and reasoning skills. A cognitive neuropsychologist will also look at brain injuries and how they relate to an inability to perform certain cognitive functions.

A cognitive neuropsychologist uses a number of different methods to investigate the relationship between brain functioning and cognitive ability.

The lesion method is used when the cognitive neuropsychologist knows exactly which areas of a person's brain are damaged. The cognitive neuropsychologist then looks at things that the patient can no longer do in order to make inferences about a relationship between a specific cognitive ability and a specific part of the brain.

A cognitive neuropsychologist uses a number of different technologies such as PET scans, fMRIs and EEGs. PET scans and fMRIs allow the neuropsychologist to map the brain by using different methods to measure blood flow in the brain during the performance of certain cognitive functions. PET scans record low level radiation coming from the brain while fMRIs measure the brain's magnetic signal. An EEG will record changes in the electrical activity of a patient's brain. These tests are also used by other neuropsychologists to conduct assessments.

Forensic Neuropsychologist: A forensic neuropsychologist works with the court system providing assessments to determine the effects of brain trauma. These assessments are usually used in court proceedings. For example, a forensic neuropsychologist may be called upon to evaluate a patient who has been hit by a car. The patient may be suing the driver of the car and needs a neuropsychologist to testify that the accident caused a significant decrease in some form of cognitive ability.

Where Does a Neuropsychologist Work?

A neuropsychologist has the opportunity to work in a number of different settings depending on your interest.

Research Organizations
If you are primarily interested in research, you may want to find work in a university or other research facility where you can explore the relationship between brain function and behavior. In addition to research at a university, a neuropsychologist can also teach about neuropsychology and neuropsychological testing.

Another area of research open to a neuropsychologist is conducting research for drug companies on the effects of new drugs that are being developed. You would investigate if a new drug has any harmful or beneficial effects on brain functioning and cognitive ability. You may also look at how effective certain drugs are at alleviating the effects of certain neurological disorders such as Alzheimer's, depression and a number of other problems related to brain functioning.

Hospitals and Other Acute Settings: A neuropsychologist may find work in a hospital or regional neuroscience centre working with patients who are suffering from the effects of trauma, neurosurgery or neurological disease. Neuropsychologists working in a hospital setting usually work with patients suffering the early effects of these conditions and they would be referred elsewhere for long term care.

Rehabilitation Centers: In addition to acute settings, a neuropsychologist can also work in a rehabilitation center helping to provide treatment to patients after the acute phase has passed. The neuropsychologist would conduct new assessments as well as provide training and support for a patient. The neuropsychologist would help patients minimize the effects of any brain trauma or disease, as well as help the patient learn the skills necessary to function in regular society.

Community Outreach: A neuropsychologist can also find work dealing with people who have suffered some form of brain dysfunction from either trauma or disease and are now living back in their community. The neuropsychologist would provide continuous assessment as well as training to help the patient remain in the community.

Legal Setting: As a forensic psychologist you may be required to perform assessments and testify in court in support of a client who is suffering from a decrease in cognitive ability.

Regardless of the setting where you find work as a neuropsychologist, you will be called upon to do a number of different assessments to determine if there are any problems with a person's behavior, emotions or thinking ability as a result of brain trauma or disease. A neuropsychologist may also be required to provide psychotherapy to clients suffering from a brain disorder to help develop ways that a client can cope with emotional problems and ensure that the client's environment does not make the condition worse.

How Do You Become a Neuropsychologist?

The first step to becoming a neuropsychologist is to obtain a doctoral degree in psychology. During your studies, you should have taken courses in neuropsychology, neuroanatomy and neuropathology. Neuroanatomy is the study of the physical structures of the brain and spinal cord while neuropathology studies brain and spinal cord disorders.

If your ultimate goal is to become a neuropsychologist, you may want to check the guidelines developed by the American Psychological Association to ensure that the school you plan on attending meets these guidelines for a neuropsychological program. You will also need to obtain the necessary state licenses in order to become a neuropsychologist.

In addition to obtaining the necessary state licenses to practice psychology, you may also want to look at doing at least two years of work providing neuropsychological services under the supervision of a neuropsychologist.

There are a number of different areas that a neuropsychologist can choose to work in depending on a person's interests. Neuropsychology can be a rewarding occupation that helps people deal with the negative effects of trauma, brain disorders and other neurological problems. If you are interested in how the brain affects behavior then becoming a neuropsychologist may be a good choice. The job outlook for educational psychologists is good, with the U.S. Department of Labor estimating that the growth rate for educational psychologists will grow faster than the average rate of job growth.