A neuropsychologist looks more closely into a patient’s cognitive functions and help individuals who are faced with such conditions as dementia, Parkinson’s disease, stroke, traumatic brain injury, neurodevelopmental disorders and other problems.
Neuropsychology is a specialty branch of clinical psychology and as such, neuropsychologists are skilled in evaluating and providing interventions for different kinds of brain disorders for patients of different ages. Neuropsychologists can generally handle clients across the lifespan but pediatric neuropsychologists take the specialization further by focusing on the youth and their families.
When a patient comes to you for help, you’ll be talking with him and making observations using neuropsychological assessment techniques so you can ascertain his condition. In addition to doing clinical evaluations, you’ll also be doing brain scans on patients to gain a more thorough understanding of his situation. You’ll also be conducting other neurocognitive tests if these are necessary.
After determining what the problem is, you’ll come up with a proposed treatment plan to help improve the patient’s condition. In many cases, you’ll be working with other members of the patient’s healthcare team to provide comprehensive care.
For example, if there is a brain tumor that needs to be removed, you’ll be coordinating with surgeons and other medical doctors. Even for treatment strategies that require medication, neuropsychologists have to coordinate with physicians since in most states clinical psychologists cannot prescribe medication on their own. It is only in Louisiana and New Mexico where they are allowed to prescribe medication.
To succeed in this profession, you will first need to love working with people. You’ll love listening to what they have to say and are interested in why they act and behave the way they do. You also need to possess analytical and keen observation skills since you will be drawing on these to help you identify what their problem is.
You must be a problem solver since you will first need to find out the cause of a person’s neuropsychological issues before you can recommend the treatment interventions that would address the problem. You also need to be trustworthy since confidentiality is an essential requirement of the job. You also need to be patient since treating patients with neurobehavioral issues can be a lengthy process. You also need to be able to express yourself well since you need to be clear when communicating with your clients.
Why Become A Neuropsychologist
For many neuropsychologists, the main motivation to work towards becoming a neuropsychologist is the opportunity it provides to help those suffering from various brain disorders. It’s a given that they are interested in the inner workings of the brain but clinical neuropsychologists use this knowledge and their skill in drawing out a person’s thoughts to improve an individual’s mental condition.
On the practical side, this career is worth striving for because it is expected to provide good employment opportunities in the next few years. It also gives excellent pay, with those who are well-established in the profession earning six-figure incomes.
Neuropsychologist Work Environment
Neuropsychologists work in a variety of settings. They are employed in clinics, hospitals and mental health facilities. They may also have their own private practice. Many clinical neuropsychologists also teach in colleges and universities or work as consultants. Some neuropsychologists prefer to work in research and as such, they don’t directly meet clients. Rather, they work in the laboratories of pharmaceutical firms and come up with new medications that help treat neurological disorders.
The work is typically fulltime and done during regular hours. However, private practitioners running their own clinics have the flexibility to schedule meetings with clients on weekends, evenings or any other time that best suits the latter’s needs.
The Occupational Employment and Wages report of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics does not gather data specifically for neuropsychologists. It does have salary data for clinical, counseling and school psychologists, where neuropsychologists are categorized in. This shows that the mean annual wages of those belonging to this category is $72,710. This is comparatively lower than the $87,960 paid to industrial-organizational psychologists.
Neuropsychologist Career Outlook
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed that overall demand for psychologists is expected to be positive in the next few years. The employment rate of clinical, counseling and school psychologists is forecasted to grow 11 percent in the ten-year period covering 2012 to 2022. This is about the same as the national average for all occupations.
The need for neuropsychologists and clinical psychologists in general will come from the fact that more people will be turning to them to help with their mental and emotional issues. Depression, stress and problems on the job or with their families are situations where the interventions provided by psychologists are widely needed. Those who have survived trauma or are suffering from strokes and dementias will also need neuropsychologists, further fueling the demand for this career.
Preparation for a career as a neuropsychologist starts with a four-year bachelor’s degree in psychology, biology or related fields. The next step lies in obtaining a doctoral degree in neuropsychology or clinical neuropsychology which takes anywhere from three to seven years. It is in the doctoral program where a closer study of brain anatomy, function and disease takes place.
An important component of the study is teaching students how to administer and interpret standardized tests that can diagnose brain abnormalities. To get hands-on training, students then undergo an internship with experienced neuropsychologists so that they know what working in the field is really like.
Many neuropsychologists opt to get certification to show that they are competent in the field even if this isn’t really required by law. Besides, most employers prefer to hire those who are certified. Certification can be obtained from the American Board of Clinical Neuropsychology or the American Academy of Clinical Neuropsychology.