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What is a Neuropsychologist?

A Neuropsychologist is a specialized type of Psychologist. Also known as: Clinical Neuropsychologist, Brain Disorder Psychologist.

The human brain is arguably the most complicated and astonishing organ in the human body, and disorders within the brain or nervous system can alter behaviour and cognitive function. A neuropsychologist is a physiologist who specializes in understanding the relationship between the physical brain and behaviour. Professionals in this branch of psychology often focus on how injuries or illnesses of the brain affect cognitive functions and behaviours. By using neuropsychological tests to assess cognitive deficits, neuropsychologists help in the management, treatment and rehabilitation of cognitively impaired patients.

What does a Neuropsychologist do?

Neuropsychologists evaluate and treat people with various types of nervous system disorders. They work closely with doctors, including neurologists. People are commonly referred for neuropsychological evaluation after an injury, illness, or disease affects the brain or nervous system. If physicians can’t identify the cause of a condition, a neuropsychologist can help determine a diagnosis. If a diagnosis is already known, an assessment can still be helpful. A neuropsychologist can help determine what impairments a patient might have and how severe they are.

Although physicians are able to look at scans and images of the brain, pictures do not always show how well the brain is working and to what extent the brain has been injured. By doing neuropsychological testing, physicians are able to see how the brain is working, and this in turn will help them understand how and why the patient's abilities and temperament have changed. Once the patient has completed the evaluation process, their health care provider will be able to give recommendations that will help them and their family develop a plan for getting better. 

Symptoms that may call for a neuropsychologist include:

  • memory difficulties
  • mood disturbances
  • learning difficulties
  • nervous system dysfunction

Examples of conditions neuropsychologists evaluate and treat are:

  • Stroke - a stroke can affect behaviour, thinking, memory, and other brain functions. An evaluation helps determine the degree of stroke impairment.
  • Parkinson’s disease - Parkinson's disease can cause several neurological problems. An exam can provide a baseline in order to determine disease progression and decreased function.
  • Alzheimer’s disease - Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia can interfere with memory, personality, and cognitive abilities. An exam may be able to identify Alzheimer’s in its early stages.
  • Traumatic brain injuries - Injuries to the brain can cause a wide variety of symptoms. A neuropsychologist can help determine how an injury affects functions like reasoning or problem solving skills.
  • Learning disabilities - There are many types of learning disabilities. A neuropsychologist can help determine the type of learning disorder in order to develop a treatment plan.

Neuropsychological evaluation often includes:

  • a review of the patient's medical records
  • an interview with the patient as well as a family member, close friend, or caregiver
  • tests that measure the patient's abilities and mood

Using these three sources of information, a neuropsychologist will provide the patient with a comprehensive report that summarizes relevant medical history, their evaluation results, areas where their cognitive or emotional functioning has changed, and recommendations for home, family, and work. 

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What is the workplace of a Neuropsychologist like?

Some neuropsychologists work primarily as researchers. This might involve studying both healthy humans and animals, and those with brain injuries or illnesses. Neuropsychologists that are primarily concerned with research might work in private or government research facilities. Some universities might also hire these professionals to conduct research and teach.

Neuropsychologists can also work in clinical settings. This typically involves assessing and diagnosing patients. Clinical neuropsychologists might work in a number of different healthcare settings that can include hospitals, clinics, and physicians' offices. Some neuropsychologists might also choose to open private practices, and treat patients in their offices or work as consultants.

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Further Reading

  • So You Want to Be a Neuropsychologist? www.psychologytoday.com

    A curious mind and a caring personality make a good clinical neuropsychologist.

  • Neuropsychological Evaluation FAQ www.med.unc.edu

    Neuropsychological evaluation is an assessment of how one's brain functions, which indirectly yields information about the structural and functional integrity of your brain. The neuropsychological evaluation involves an interview and the administration of tests.

  • Neuropsychology Careers careersinpsychology.org

    Injury to any part of the brain can cause malfunctions in the body, along with unusual thoughts and behaviours. Understanding how the brain influences our cognitive functions and behaviours falls upon the shoulders of neuropsychologists.

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