Neuropsychologist: Your Brain & Human Behavior Specialist
What is a neuropsychologist?
A neuropsychologist specializes in the relationship between the brain and human behavior. Neuropsychologists evaluate, diagnose, treat and rehabilitate people of all ages with neurological, developmental or psychological conditions that affect cognitive function, which is a person’s ability to think, reason, remember and learn.
A neuropsychologist typically:
Evaluates a patient’s medical history
Interviews the patient, family and others who can be helpful
Performs a neuropsychological evaluation and interprets the results to help reach a diagnosis
Determines the presence and extent of cognitive problems
Identifies psychological components of cognitive problems
Consults with doctors and other healthcare providers
Treats and rehabilitates people with cognitive and emotional problems related to the central nervous system
Neuropsychologists may also be known as simply a psychologist or as a neurological psychologist.
Who should see a neuropsychologist?
Most people see a neuropsychologist when their primary care doctor or other specialist refers them to one. Often, the referring doctor suspects a brain injury or condition is affecting a person’s ability to think and remember information (cognitive function), emotions, or behaviors.
In many cases, the purpose of the referral is to help diagnose a cognitive condition or confirm an existing diagnosis. Doctors may also request a baseline evaluation of a patient’s cognitive functioning. They can use this baseline evaluation to track improvements or declines in function with time. In addition, a neuropsychological referral can aid in planning treatments and rehabilitation strategies to improve a patient’s functioning.
When should you see a neuropsychologist?
Consider seeking care from a neuropsychologist if you or a family member develops any of the following symptoms or conditions:
Constantly losing articles in your home, inability to locate common household items, or putting articles in obviously wrong places
Difficulty concentrating or focusing on a task
Distractedness or being easily diverted from a task
Illogical or disjointed thinking
Inability to understand directions, make sense of visual cues, or process things you see
Inability to understand what you’ve read or read what you’ve written
Not knowing where you are, what day it is, or what year it is
Saying things that are out of character, difficulty speaking, or other noticeable changes in verbal communication
Unusual forgetfulness, forgetting conversations, or forgetting names of common objects
By seeing a qualified neuropsychologist as soon as you notice symptoms, you may be able to address a condition in its early stages, while it can be more effectively treated.
What conditions and diseases does a neuropsychologist treat?
A neuropsychologist treats neurological, developmental and psychological conditions and diseases that are related to the central nervous system including:
Acquired or traumatic brain injuries including stroke, closed head injuries and concussion, brain damage due to surgery, exposure to drugs or toxins, and hydrocephalus (water on the brain, which can also be present at birth)
Autism spectrum disorder, including the subtype formerly known as Asperger syndrome
Cancer including brain tumors
Developmental disorders including learning disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD), and language disturbances
Genetic conditions including Down syndrome, neurofibromatosis (tumors that grow on nerves), velocardiofacial syndrome (defects in the heart, face, thymus, and parathyroid glands), and various metabolic disorders
Neuromuscular or movement disorders including Parkinson’s disease, cerebral palsy, and multiple sclerosis
What tests does a neuropsychologist perform or order?
A neuropsychologist administers and interprets a neuropsychological evaluation. This evaluation typically consists of a review of a patient’s medical history; interviews with the patient and others helpful to the case; and standardized oral, written, computerized and manipulation tests.
The purpose of a neuropsychological evaluation is to diagnose a cognitive condition or confirm a diagnosis, help determine the location of a nervous system abnormality, and guide treatment and rehabilitation decisions. A neuropsychological evaluation covers the following categories:
Cognitive functioning including intelligence, executive functions (planning, organizing, abstraction, conceptualization), attention, concentration, memory, language, reasoning, academic skills, problem-solving, verbal and visual learning, distance and depth perception (visuospatial) processing, and sensory-motor processing, which is your ability to feel being touched and your sense of balance and movement
Physical factors including physical complaints and symptom validity
Psychological factors including personality type, motivation, moods, quality of life, and emotional state
What procedures and treatments does a neuropsychologist perform or order?
Neuropsychologists use various treatments and interventions to help people overcome a multitude of neurological, developmental and psychological conditions related to the brain. However, neuropsychologists do not prescribe medication therapy. If your condition requires medication, your neuropsychologist may refer you to a psychiatrist or other medical specialist for further evaluation and treatment.
Common neuropsychologic treatments and interventions include:
Behavioral management including cognitive-behavioral therapy, environmental changes, controlling excessive stimuli, use of lighting to reduce confusion, maintaining structured schedules, addressing family stressors, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), and other strategies for eliminating undesirable behaviors and promoting desirable behaviors
Cognitive rehabilitation or remediation interventions including attention process exercises; psychotherapy (individual, family and group); psychoeducation; neurofeedback (the use of reinforcement to alter brain waves); counseling for daily activities, such as managing finances; and other strategies to strengthen or improve existing cognitive functions
Cognitive strategies including mnemonics, diaries, notebooks, calendars, whiteboards or chalkboards, electronic organizers, telephone reminders, alarms, association techniques, guided imagery, relaxation techniques, and other strategies to compensate for cognitive weaknesses
Neuropsychologist training and certification
A psychologist may practice neuropsychology without becoming board certified in the specialty. However, education, training, experience and certification are key elements in establishing a neuropsychologist’s level of competence. Board certification in neuropsychology verifies that a psychologist has completed training in the specialty and has passed competency examinations.
A board-certified neuropsychologist is a licensed psychologist who has earned certification as a clinical neuropsychologist by the American Board of Clinical Neuropsychology.
A board-certified neuropsychologist has:
Completed a doctoral degree in psychology including a clinical internship
Completed two years of supervised postdoctoral fellowship training in neuropsychology
Passed a written certification exam that validates the psychologist’s specialized knowledge and skills in neuropsychology Passed an oral examination and review of cases the psychologist has treated
If your child needs to see a neuropsychologist, look for a pediatric neuropsychologist. The American Board of Pediatric Neuropsychology certifies pediatric neuropsychologists. However, many neuropsychologists who are certified by the American Board of Clinical Neuropsychology also focus on pediatric neuropsychology.