What is a Neuropsychologist?
Neuropsychology is a discipline that is concerned primarily with cognition. Neuropsychologists can have a number of different job functions, from examining the effects of traumatic brain injuries on a person’s mood, behavior, and ability to think, to exploring how effective different treatments are for individuals whose brain functioning has been diminished.
Many neuropsychologists work in the research sector, spending much of their time developing experiments to answer questions about the brain’s structures and functions. Others work in clinical settings and are responsible for carrying out assessment, evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment of brain-based disorders.
To become a neuropsychologist, apart from earning a doctorate degree, you will need to complete postdoctoral work. Salaries in this field are quite good, and with steady to higher-than-average growth expected over the next decade, job prospects for neuropsychologists should be many.
What Does a Neuropsychologist Do?
The focus of neuropsychologists is on the relationship between brain structures and functions and emotions, behavior, cognition, and overall mental abilities. There are two primary settings in which neuropsychologists approach this task: in a laboratory or a clinical setting.
Neuropsychologists that work in a lab setting will devise and conduct experiments with human and non-human subjects that seek to shed light on the brain’s functioning. They will work with subjects that are both perfectly healthy and those that are ill in order to compare the populations in terms of how their brains carry out specific tasks.
Neuropsychologists may devise experimental treatments for specific brain injuries as well, and track the progress of participants receiving the treatment. In this environment, the neuropsychologist’s work is on data collection and analysis that will advance the field’s understanding of brain-based conditions that impact cognitive, emotional, and behavioral functioning.
Reporting on methods, findings, and successful treatments in respected publications is a primary duty in this realm as well. Neuropsychologists that conduct research most often do so in government-run facilities or for private companies.
A central part of a neuropsychologist’s job in a clinical setting is to assess and evaluate persons who either overtly display symptoms of brain injuries or who are suspected of having abnormal brain functioning. This may include patients that have had a stroke, have Alzheimer’s disease, or have dementia as a result of old age.
Neuropsychologists may be responsible for carrying out tests of certain mental faculties, such as recall and recognition, ability to follow directions, concentration, mood, personality, and tests of language or mathematical skills. They might also oversee testing that utilizes positron emission tomography (PET scan), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or other sophisticated brain scans.
Such examinations are typically undertaken in a clinic or hospital setting to assist medical staff in devising proper modalities of treatment. In this setting, neuropsychologists typically work as members of a much larger team, including physicians, nurses, physical and occupational therapists, speech therapists, and the like, in order to help the patient achieve their treatment goals.
Neuropsychologists may also be called on to perform evaluative duties in a forensic context. This set of duties usually revolves around offering expert opinions in legal proceedings in which a person develops a brain injury as a result of the actions of another person, or in which a defendant himself commits a crime due to his already diminished brain functioning.
What are the Requirements to Become a Neuropsychologist?
The path to becoming a neuropsychologist begins with obtaining a bachelor’s degree. Typically, the most appropriate undergraduate degrees for a later career in neuropsychology focus on psychology, neuroscience, biology, or pre-med studies.
After completing their undergraduate studies, students must then go on to get a master’s degree in neuropsychology, neuroscience, or a very closely related field. Master’s degree programs focus on more advanced studies in the field of neuropsychology and include internship requirements in which students must conduct research and clinical work.
However, the vast majority of jobs in neuropsychology require a doctorate. Doctorate programs typically last 3-7 years, including a period of supervised pre- and postdoctoral studies. Work at this level is heavily focused on research and clinical practice, with most instructional time devoted to subjects related to pathology, psychology, research methodologies, and clinical practice.
To be board certified as a neuropsychologist, individuals must complete a doctoral program from an accredited institution, including internship and residency experiences, and be able to demonstrate completion of didactic experiences in a host of specialties, including neuroscience, neuropathology, psychopathology, and psychological assessment, to name a few.
Certification also requires applicants to be licensed and have specific number of hours of supervised experience. Licensure as a neuropsychologist in most cases involves a generic state license in the field of psychology, although some states offer neuropsychology as a separate licensure designation.
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.
Is Neuropsychology a Good Career?
Overall, neuropsychology can be a rewarding career both financially and personally for those interested in the intersection of neuroscience and psychology. Neuropsychologists can work in a variety of settings, including private practice, clinics, hospitals, and academic institutions. Neuropsychologists may also have the opportunity to work with a diverse range of clients.
However, like any career, there are also certain challenges and demands associated with working in the field of neuropsychology. For example, neuropsychologists may work with clients who have severe cognitive or behavioral impairments, and may need to manage the emotional demands of this work. This can be emotionally demanding, as neuropsychologists will need to help not only their clients but also their families to navigate complex issues related to communication, decision-making, and daily living skills.
What Jobs are Available With a Master’s in Neuropsychology?
- Practising Neuropsychologist – This is one of the only ways into the area of clinical neuropsychology, the specialist knowledge offered throughout is vital to becoming a successful professional in this field.
- Other area of practice – Working directly with patients in a counseling role is well supported by the information covered around mental health issues and abnormalities of the brain leading to problem behaviours. This path also supports those in a more generalized clinical psychology role as well as opening up other specialized area such as forensic or educational psychology.
- Researcher – This can be either as a participant in a PhD program to undertake an even more specialized area of study, or as an employee of a research lab working to perform the experiments and supporting research work necessary for scientific advancement of the field.
- Teaching – Although, usually preceding or accompanied by research, some students will go on to teach the next generation of students interested in the field.
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
What is the Job Outlook for Neuropsychologists ?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not provide estimates of job growth specifically for neuropsychology. However, the agency predicts that the overall field of psychology will grow at an average rate of 6% through 2031.
When examining the possibilities for job growth in the neuropsychology sector, one can assume it will be steady at the very least, and optimistically very strong. Since 2 million people each year suffer a brain injury, demand for qualified neuropsychologists should remain steady.
However, with increasing interest in the brain and how it works, as well as rapidly improving imaging technologies, demand for workers in the field of neuropsychology could see more rapid growth over the course of the next 10-20 years.
Growing numbers of older adults, who are more susceptible to Alzheimer’s, dementia, and stroke, will also fuel the need for more neuropsychologists.
What is the Salary for a Neuropsychologist?
According to PayScale.com, as of December 2022, the average annual salary for a neuropsychologist is $91,129, making it one of the most lucrative fields of psychology in terms of salary. With some neuropsychologists making in excess of $130,000 per year, the potential for a six-figure income is likely. Many workers in this field report having excellent benefits as part of their salary package, including vision, dental, and medical insurance.
The level of income for neuropsychologists is most heavily dependent on the level of experience, with workers new to the field earning much less, likely in the $50,000-$60,000 range. With five years of experience, the average income jumps to $80,000 per year while someone with 15+ years of experience can expect to make just over $100,000 per year, on average.