How to Become a Neuropsychologist

Overview

As a neuropsychologist, you would learn about and work with issues related to neurological and neurocognitive functioning. This field is involved in evaluating brain functioning as well as how people are functioning in their day to day life and how these two things are related. Neuropsychology involves areas of the fields of psychology, biology, medicine, and therapy.

What is Neuropsychology?

Neuropsychology is the branch of psychology that studies the structures and function of the brain and how they relate to personality, emotion, behavior, and mental health.

Since the age of lobotomies as a treatment for the now-debunked diagnosis of “insanity,” neuropsychology has grown by leaps and bounds. It is now understood that various parts of the brain are responsible for personality, and that certain instincts — like fight or flight — are controlled by specific areas and specific triggering biochemicals.

The role of natural biochemicals such as serotonin in depression and anxiety is much better understood than they were in decades past. Knowledge and treatment of the biochemical processes of dementia, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and traumatic brain injuries are all due to the work of neuropsychologists and collaborating scientists.

Of particular interest to neuropsychologists is the field of neurological disorders, which include traumatic brain injuries, seizure disorders, some sleep disorders, vertigo, and dementia. Through studying these disorders on a structural and neuronal level, neuroscientists seek to improve treatment, and therefore quality of life for individuals suffering from these conditions.

Typically neuropsychologists work more in the field of research, development, and academia than in clinical and therapeutic settings, though collaboration between treating professionals and leading scientists is critical for quality care.

What Does a Neuropsychologist Do?

The job duties of a neuropsychologist vary depending on your particular interests and place of employment. As a neuropsychologist, you might conduct research related to neurological disorders or other topics related to how the brain functions in relation to psychological processes. To conduct research, you might work in a university setting or in another research-based agency.

In another area of neuropsychology, you might work in a hospital working with people who have suffered a stroke, a head injury, or another type of neurological problem. You might also work with forensics to evaluate individuals for neurological disorders. You might also conduct brain scans, neurological tests, or other methods of evaluating or monitoring people’s neurocognitive processes. As you can see, the job duties varies, but they all relate to looking at how the brain relates to people’s behaviors and functioning.

What are the Requirements to Become a Neuropsychologist?

Education

In order to become a neuropsychologist, you need to obtain a doctorate degree, a Ph.D. in neuropsychology. A Ph.D. can take approximately five to eight years of coursework including a research project (your dissertation) and an exam. To obtain a Ph.D., you first need to obtain a bachelor’s degree. A bachelor’s degree can usually be completed in four years of full-time coursework. You can obtain your bachelor’s degree either in psychology, biology, or pre-med.

After your bachelor’s degree is complete, you can either go into a master’s degree, or more ideally, go straight into a Ph.D. program. Ph.D. programs can be very competitive, though, so you will want to gain as much experience and knowledge while in undergrad (and in your master’s, if you take this route) as you can. The main courses you will need to take may relate to the history and theories of psychology.

You may take certain courses related to developmental, cognitive, biological, and personality psychology. You may also obtain a specialization in neuropsychology or take courses specifically related to this area while completing your degrees to show interest and obtain knowledge in the field. Especially in your Ph.D. program, may learn about brain functioning and anatomy and neurological disorders, as well.

Training/Licensing

Throughout your education, you will be required to obtain in the field training, such as by completing at least one or more internships. You also have to go through a process of fees and testing in order to obtain licensure. Each state varies on the exact costs and requirements, but they all require licensure before being able to practice in any area of psychology. Also, continuing education (training hours) is required yearly to keep up on current knowledge. Oftentimes, this is around forty hours of training per year. It is also recommended that you obtain certification in neuropsychology as most employers prefer this credential.

What Skills and Qualities are Needed for a Neuropsychologist?

To be a neuropsychologist, you should have an interest and have motivation in learning about and conducting research. This is because you will be doing a lot of this in your education and you might even be doing this as part of your career in the future. You should also be interested in biology, how the brain works, and how people function and behave.

Your academic (and even job) experiences may also benefit from having good reading comprehension skills and good problem solving skills. You should also have good awareness of people in regards to being able to observe how they act, what they do, and to hypothesize about why they do the things they do. Although your workplace will vary in the importance of this skill, it is almost always necessary to be reliable and dependable as your actions and choices could impact the quality of someone’s life.

What is the Salary for a Neuropsychologist?

The average annual salary of a neuropsychologist varies depending on the location and type of your workplace. For instance, you are likely to earn more if you work in the scientific or technical field and earn less if you work as an educator. Overall, the average annual salary is $89,000 but this varies from about $65,000 up to about $100,000 (recruiter.com).

Where Does a Neuropsychologist Work?

Neuropsychologists typically work in the following environments:

  • Private practice
  • Physicians’ offices
  • Legal settings (courts)
  • Colleges and universities
  • Rehabilitation centers, hospitals and clinics
  • Private or government research facilities
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