What Does A Cognitive Psychologist Do?

Perception, learning, memory, reasoning and language are just some of the areas that cognitive psychologists are concerned with. In a nutshell, they are fascinated with how the brain processes information and use the scientific knowledge they have gained about the workings of the brain in helping individuals. Cognitive psychology is a departure from the dominant school of thought in the 1950s which was behaviorism. Unlike behaviorists who focused on behaviors that can be observed, cognitive psychologists utilize traditional scientific methods to understand the human mind. The term “cognitive psychology” was coined by Ulric Neisser, an American psychologist, in 1967.

Cognitive psychologists help individuals who have problems with learning and memory. For example, they may work with children who have learning disabilities or have issues processing and synthesizing information. They may also work with the elderly who have memory problems and are struggling with dementias like Alzheimer’s Disease. They may also help individuals whose memories have been traumatized by a violent event.

In the area of language and linguistics, cognitive psychologists help individuals who may have issues with their speech. Together with speech therapists, they help correct speech problems. They may also conduct research on the strategies that can be implemented in order to improve how foreign language is taught. Through the findings of their research, they are able to suggest ways of making students more fluent in second, third or succeeding languages at a faster pace.

Cognitive psychologists usually specialize in one particular area. Some of them may focus only on memory or learning while others may decide to work with those who need help with their problem solving or information processing skills. Others may choose to center their practice on language and linguistics. Depending on the problems that their patients are dealing with, the length of treatment may vary. Those with serious conditions such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s or Huntington’s Diseases may need long-term therapy while others may just require short-term therapy.

When a patient first sees a cognitive psychologist, the latter talks with and observes him in order to make an assessment. He may also administer standardized tests and/or order brain scans in order to help them come up with an accurate diagnosis. After determining what the problem is, the cognitive psychologist will then recommend the most appropriate course of treatment to treat or manage the condition.

Treatment approaches will vary depending on the disease. Treatment for dementia may involve mental exercises such as computerized brain training that have been proven to help maintain specific areas of the brain. Psychotherapy may be used to treat certain types of amnesia. They may also provide counseling to others who may be suffering from anxiety or depression. When treating other mental disorders, cognitive psychologists may have to work together with psychiatrists since only the latter can prescribe medications. Patients suffering from delirium, for example, have difficulty processing new information and may need to be given benzodiazepines or other antipsychotic medications. Save for the states of Louisiana and New Mexico, psychologists in other states cannot prescribe medication. This makes it necessary for them to collaborate with other medical health professionals.

During the course of treatment, cognitive psychologists track the progress of their patients. They ensure that the developments are correctly recorded so that they can make adjustments to the treatment regimen if it is necessary.

Some cognitive psychologists don’t only see patients. They combine their clinical practice with teaching duties, passing on their knowledge and skill to aspiring psychologists. As teachers, they may supervise students who are conducting their research, giving them advice on the direction that their study should take. They also prepare lesson plans, evaluate the curriculum and give grades to students.

Other cognitive psychologists perform research in the field of cognitive psychology. While a lot of headway has already been made in the field since it was born in the 1970s, there is still so much to be learned in this area. The brain is a very complex organ and is the center of all our human functions and as such, there are still so many areas that have not yet been explored. Through their research, they are able to widen the scope of cognitive psychology and improve our understanding of the human brain.

Career Spotlight: Cognitive Psychologist

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