Neuropsychology concerns itself with understanding the inner workings of the brain. How the brain relates to human behavior is the main question that neuropsychologists are trying to answer. Most neuropsychologists work in research, often in close conjunction with people who have suffered trauma to the brain as a result of injury or illness. A complex field within the discipline of psychology, it requires extensive training.
In most cases, neuropsychology is a sub-specialization of clinical psychology. This additional training allows them to treat and assess patients who have some form of brain injury. They have extensive knowledge of the brain itself, including neurological diseases and neuroanatomy, effectively moving into the world of medicine as well. A number of standardized measuring techniques now exist that neuropsychologists must be aware of, particularly on how the health of the brain affects overall behavior. Hence, they often use tests to identify whether someone has some form of cognitive deficit and they work with cognitively impaired patients, either to help them manage their condition, or to actually treat it and rehabilitate patients. Additionally, a neuropsychologist will identify what the difference is between abnormal and normal behavior of the brain.
Because of this, it is a very broad field and there are many possible work settings and specializations that someone can become involved in. Although a specialization within clinical psychology itself, neuropsychology is far more than that. Some of the jobs that you may be involved in include:
- Working directly with patients who require treatment.
- Performing research into the inner workings of the brain.
- Lecturing or teaching at academic level.
- Working in health care facilities, including hospitals, with patients who have some form of trauma to the brain. Working with people who have had a stroke, or those who have some form of neurodevelopmental or neuropsychiatric disorder is particularly common. This includes Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s disease, learning disabilities and dementia.
To do this work, neuropsychologists have to be proficient in the use of various tests, including neuroimaging and bain scans. Additionally, they must be able to evaluate the functioning of the brain itself and use the information they gain from this to prescribe various types of rehabilitative treatment. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), clinical neuropsychologists must also be able to use various pieces of medical equipment and behavioral data, and they must be considerate of ethical and cultural concerns.
Very simply put, a neuropsychologist studies the relationship between psychological and behavioral processes and the functioning of the brain. Exact sciences and methodology lies at the heart of this. As such, there is also a strong overlap with cognitive psychology and forensic psychology. They usually perform the following specific duties:
- Perform research with a specific emphasis on neurological disorders
- Evaluate and treat people who have some form of neurological disorder, either congenital or caused by trauma.
- Assess individuals on a forensic level to determine whether they have a neurological disorder.
- Act as an expert witness, providing testimony for either prosecution or defense in a court case.
- Take part in pharmaceutical drug trials to determine how new drugs impact the central nervous system.
- Perform brain scans, tests and electrophysiological measures in order to monitor a patient’s neurocognitive process.
According to PayScale.com, the average salary for neuropsychologists is $89,192 as of March 31, 2015. Experience only has a moderate impact on this salary. However, various other factors do play a part in this salary. There are various reasons as to why the career is so popular, including:
- A good average salary.
- The opportunity to move into different areas of work, including neurobiology, neuroscience, psychobiology, neuropharmacology and neuroscience nursing to name but a few.
- The ability to work in a variety of different settings, including research facilities, health care facilities and private practice.
As a neuropsychologist, you can work in a huge range of fields. However, the most common fields include:
- Laboratories, where you will study how the brain functions in a healthy human being or in someone who has some form of neurological disorder. Additionally, you may be involved in finding out what the potential effects are of new pharmaceutical drugs.
- Clinical settings, where you will help in the rehabilitation of people who have some form of neurological disorder.
- Universities, performing academic research or lecturing the next generation of neuropsychologists.
- In the legal system, working as an expert witness to provide testimony in court cases, particularly forensic cases.
The first step towards becoming a neuropsychologist is to earn a bachelor’s degree. Most choose a psychology minor, but if you are already sure that you want to enter the field of neuropsychology, you could also choose pre-medicine, biology or neuroscience. This will usually take you four years to complete.
Next, you must complete a master’s degree, which takes a further two years. Again, there are a variety of specializations you can choose at this point. Some schools do offer neuropsychology, others focus more strongly on brain processes, statistics or experimental psychology. Some who want to become neuropsychologists complete a master’s degree in accounting.
The final educational step is to gain a doctorate degree. This must focus specifically on neuropsychology if you wish to work in that field. Most choose to complete a Ph.D., as this is a strongly research related degree, which usually takes around five years to complete. Less commonly, students choose the Psy.D., which is more focused on clinical work and direct contact with patients. This usually takes around three years to complete.
It is very important to choose a program that is accredited by the APA. It is also recommended to choose a program that includes a residency or internship. This is because you will need to complete supervised working experience. Although exact requirements vary from state to state, the average supervised working experience requirement is two years, one of which can be completed during doctoral studies, and the other having to be completed after graduation.
The final step towards becoming a neuropsychologist is to pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP), which is a national standardized test administered by the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB). This test consist of 225 multiple choice questions that focus on the eight core areas of psychology. In order to pass, you must answer a minimum of 70% of the questions correctly. The current cost of the test, while subject to change, is $600.
Being a neuropsychologist has certain advantages and disadvantages. Looking first at the advantages, you can enjoy:
- Working with patients on a clinical level, making a real and positive difference to their lives.
- Doing a lot of interesting detective work, trying to find out how a neurological disorder has affected someone’s cognitive functioning.
- Significant job growth and opportunities, including a very interesting salary.
However, there are also some clear disadvantages:
- It takes a long time before you are fully qualified to work as a neuropsychologist.
- Often, different states have different qualification requirements, which means you may have to retake certain examinations if you were to move out of state.
- You will need to be able to handle the stress of not being able to help everyone, and potentially seeing patients deteriorate and even die.
There are many different careers available to a neuropsychologist, including:
- Working in neuropsychological assessment, where your main focus will be on testing various populations.
- Working in various different settings, including private practices, hospitals, schools, insurance companies and rehabilitation settings.
- Taking on a specialization in a certain population group or area of neuropsychology.
- Working specifically on the rehabilitation of patients with some sort of neurological disorder, working together with various other health care professionals in order to develop and put in to practice different programs to improve overall health and well being.
- Serving in government as a policy planner.
- Working in educational facilities to teach others.
- Benton-Meier Scholarships, which offer $2,500 for graduates in neuropsychology.
- AACNF Outcome Grant Studies Program, which offers three grants each year to students of neuropsychology who specifically study dementia, ADHD, stroke, traumatic brain injury and epilepsy.
- APA Basic Psychological Science Grant, which is a grant offered to various psychology students, including those who study neuropsychology.
- Elderhostel/Cross Doctoral Research Grant, which is a single annual grant for those who study lifelong and later life learning, with an emphasis on specific fields of psychology, including neuropsychology.
- FJ McGuigan Dissertation Award, which is offered to a single student each year who uses neuroscientific methods to address an aspect of mental functioning.
- Neurology, Neuropsychology, and Neurobiology of Aging, offered by MIT Open Courseware.
- Neuropsychology, offered by Mooc List.
- Neurology, Neuropsychology, and Neurobiology of Aging OpenCourseWare, offered by EduChoices.
- Intensive Neuroanatomy, offered by MIT Open Courseware.
- Modularity, Domain-specificity, and the Organization of Knowledge, offered by MIT Open Courseware.
- UF Health – a range of podcasts on neuropsychology and structural neuroimaging laboratory.
- The Neuropsychology of Art, offered by The Beautiful Brain.
- Neuropsychology Review by Edith V. Sullivan.
- Developmental Neuropsychology by Routledge.
- The Oxford Journal of Neuropsychology
- The Journal of Neuropsychology by Stephen Jackson.
- Child Neuropsychology: A Journal on Normal and Abnormal Development in Childhood and Adolescence by Routledge.
- The Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives
- Cognitive Neuropsychiatry by Routledge.
- Cognitive Neuropsychology by Routledge.
- Cortex – A Journal devoted to the Study of the Nervous System and Behavior
- American Academy of Clinical Neuropsychology (AACN)
- American Psychological Association (APA)
- Society for Clinical Neuropsychology
- American Academy of Pediatric Neuropsychology (AAPdN)
- National Academy of Neuropsychology (NAN)