How Do I Become a Clinical Neuropsychologist?

Human nervous system depicting the sympathetic chain. From Henry Gray's Anatomy of the Human Body (1918)
Human nervous system depicting the sympathetic chain. From Henry Gray's Anatomy of the Human Body (1918) | Source

Overview

Clinical neuropsychology involves the study of clinical psychology with a particular focus upon the interconnected association of the brain with behavior. An understanding of this relationship is important, having significant implications for patients diagnosed with brain disease, trauma and cognitive disorders. If you would like to become a clinical neuropsychologist, you will need to commit to many years of training and education as it typically takes longer to become a clinical neuropsychologist than a medical doctor.

To become a clinical neuropsychologist, you will need to:

1. Complete a four-year undergraduate degree in psychology.(4 years)

2. Complete a doctorate in clinical psychology (PsyD or PhD) accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA). (5 years)

3. Complete a clinical internship (1 year) and obtain the clinical license to practice in your region.

4. Complete a residency in clinical neuropsychology (2 years)

5. Obtain board certification from the American Board of Clinical Neuropsychology (ABCN), or the American Board of Pediatric Neuropsychology (ABPN), or the American Board of Professional Neuropsychology (ABPN). Although this is completely voluntary, most employers require it.

As you can see, it takes 10-12 years of training to become a clinical neuropsychologist, a little longer if you decide to complete a master's degree along the way. These professionals require a lot of knowledge, particularly in neuropathology, neuroanatomy, and neurological rehabilitation. Clinical neuropsychologists do work in private practice, but many are employed by hospitals, medical centers and medical schools. Most juggle several responsibilities and roles, including express involvement in research. They are the highest paid psychologists.

While the above information is directed towards U.S. psychology students, this can be applied to most of the world. No matter where in the world you reside, becoming a clinical neuropsychologist requires a post-graduate education.

The Human Brain is the Heart of Neuropsychology

The human brain is the most wondrous organ in the body, but still not completely understood and in many ways remains a mystery to us. Responsible for regulating every organ and organ system in the entire body, the brain is frequently likened to a master computer. For without the brain, we cease to live. The brain is necessary for many functions we do automatically without conscious effort or thought: breathing, beating of the heart, sensing pain or temperature, digesting food, seeing, hearing and so much more. What's even more impressive is that it controls and affects behavior, the things we do, how we think, feel, reason and decide.

"Men ought to know that from nothing else but the brain come joys, delights, laughter and sports, and sorrows, griefs, despondency and lamentations. And by this, in an especial manner, we acquire wisdom and knowledge, and see and hear and know what are foul and what are fair, what are bad and what are good, what are sweet and what are unsavory...And by the same organ we become mad and delirious, and fears and terrors assail us...All these things we endure from the brain when it is not healthy...In these ways I am of the opinion that the brain exercises the greatest power in the man."

Hippocrates of Kos, Father of Western Medicine (c. 460 BCE - c. 470 BCE)

Source

It is the duty of neuropsychologists to know, explain and interpret the many ways the human brain governs our thinking and behavior. More specifically, neuropsychology is the branch of psychology specializing in understanding neurophysiology and its effect on human behavior and cognition. Neuropsychologists are concerned with analyzing and evaluating the effects of brain disease or injury upon a person’s thinking processes, reasoning, mood and discernment. The history of neuropsychology is rooted in neuroscience, a relatively new science, although study of the human brain itself spans back thousands of years. From the dawn of humankind, people have had a preoccupation with learning about and understanding the principle organ of behavior.

How was it then, that mankind came to realize that the nervous system (brain, spinal cord and peripheral nerves) is absolutely necessary for survival? How did we figure out and come to know the inner-workings of the brain, the location of essential organs such as the brain stem and cerebellum? How is it that we know where the speech centers are located? Archeological evidence consistently indicates that people have been learning about the brain since prehistoric times. Hominid skulls dating back millions of years exhibit trepanning, a kind of prehistoric brain surgery which oftentimes resulted in death. This was not the intention, but it suggests that finding a cure was the goal.

Trephination

Skull from the Bronze Age. Evidence of trephination and subsequent healing. Although the procedure was dangerous, some people survived it.
Skull from the Bronze Age. Evidence of trephination and subsequent healing. Although the procedure was dangerous, some people survived it. | Source

Trepanning was a kind of surgical procedure done during ancient times for the purpose of either releasing pressure caused by brain disease or injury, or to get rid of bad spirits (i.e. mental disorder). It was thought that by easing the pressure through boring a hole in the cranium, an individual will experience elevated consciousness and wellbeing. Many trephined skulls show evidence of bone regrowth around edges of the hole, indicating healing had taken place postoperatively. Likely the oldest known surgical procedure, trepanning was quite common as indicated by the large number of trepanned skulls found.

During ancient Egyptian times, writing of early physicians suggests a knowledge of brain disease and accompanying symptoms. Interestingly, it was thought that the heart contained the soul of man and therefore was where memories were held. Upon death and embalming, the body was meticulously prepared for burial, taking care to preserve vital organs in separate jars. The brain was extracted and thrown out, however. The understanding that the consciousness of mankind resided in the heart was not disputed until Hippocrates.

Duties of a Neuropsychologist

A large part of a neuropsychologist's responsibilities revolve around testing. Neuropsychological assessments are used to test functioning or lack thereof in the following areas:

  • cognition, learning, attention and memory
  • Intelligence
  • academic performance
  • language
  • sensorimotor abilities
  • emotion and mood
  • personality
  • conceptualization

An individual is referred to a neuropsychologist when neurological impairment is probable, needs clarifying, or to follow-up and get an update. Neuropsychologists are useful for making a diagnosis in conditions such as ADHD/ADD, stroke, Parkinson's disease, neurodevelopmental disorders, dementia, traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and substance abuse disorder effects. The neuropsychologist is very helpful in determining the course of treatment and rehabilitation.

Want to Learn More?

If neuropsychology interests you and you would like to learn more about this subject, please see the following articles:

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Comments 3 comments

Warren Baldwin profile image

Warren Baldwin 5 years ago from Kansas

Demanding! I'm working on a doctorate now in the humanites. From your article I assume you are a Clinical Neuropsychologist? Interesting post. wb


AuniceReed profile image

AuniceReed 5 years ago from Southern California Author

Hi Warren,

Nope not a clinical neuropsychologist...yet. Working towards it. I have a nursing background. Good luck with your studies!


Warren Baldwin profile image

Warren Baldwin 5 years ago from Kansas

Thanks Aunice. Good luck with your studies, too! wb

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