Clinical neuropsychology is an applied branch of clinical psychology that assesses, diagnoses, treats and rehabilitates patients who have neurological, medical developmental or psychiatric conditions. Clinical neuropsychologists often treat patients who have suffered a stroke or a traumatic brain injury or who have brain-based diseases like Alzheimer’s or attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder.
Clinical neuropsychologists depend upon the research provided to them by cognitive neuropsychology, an experimental branch of psychology that studies the effects that brain damage has on a person’s behavior and mental state. Cognitive neuropsychologists use neurological, physiological and psychological techniques to evaluate the mental and emotional state of brain-damaged patients and compare these results to those of patients with normal nervous system functioning. Clinical neuropsychologists then use this data and other research results to diagnose neurobehavioral disorders and counsel their patients concerning treatment methods.
Clinical neuropsychologists conduct patient interviews to help in their assessment of the patient. They also administer a battery of formal psychological tests to assess their patients’ abilities. These abilities normally include:
- Learning and memory
- Verbal functions
- Formation of concepts
- Motor abilities
- Emotional condition
- Visual perception
- Management of cognitive processes
Clinical neuropsychologists must make thorough and clear reports on their patients, written in laymen’s terms so that patients and their families can easily understand them. These reports should cover the reasons for assessment, relevant history, observations of patients’ behavior, tests administered, results of tests, additional findings, summary and recommendations.
Clinical neuropsychologists also consult with their clients’ other health care professionals in order to develop and coordinate treatment plans. Some clinical neuropsychologists also conduct some of their own research and share the results with colleagues.
Types of Degrees
Students of clinical neuropsychology typically start off by getting a bachelor’s degree in psychology, preferably a Bachelor of Arts in clinical psychology. Those who plan to perform a lot of research and don’t mind taking extra lab courses might consider getting a Bachelor of Science in clinical psychology instead.
Neuropsychology students must have a solid foundation in neuropsychology, including classes in clinical psychology, neurology, neuroanatomy, and neurophysiology. Additional recommended classwork may include:
- Biology for science majors
- Experimental psychology
- Research methods
- Developmental psychology
- Cognition and learning
- Sensation and perception
- Neurodevelopmental disorders
- Physiological psychology
- Behavioral genetics and analysis
- Psychological research
- Learning and motivation
- Human Heredity and development
- Human psychophysiology
Clinical neuropsychologists are normally required to get a doctorate degree. For most, the best of these is a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) degree, but for those neuropsychologists who plan to do quite a bit of research, a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) might be better. For those who also want to teach, a Doctor of Education (EdD) might be better, though there is actually little difference between it and a PhD.
After gaining a doctorate, clinical neuropsychologists must undergo at least a one-year internship followed by at least a two-year supervised residency before they can become a licensed psychologist. Some must also take periodic continuing education classes or workshops in order to keep their status current.
Most clinical neuropsychologists work in a hospital and spend a large part of their time working with patients. Some also spend time in research, particularly those who work in university hospitals. Many of those who work in university hospitals also spend time teaching.
Some neurologists act as supervisors or managers of an administrative department, and a few work part-time or full-time as consultants.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics website has stated that the estimated 2013 median annual wage for clinical, counseling and school psychologists was $72,710, while the mean hourly wage was listed at $34.96.