Traveling the labyrinth of the brain requires a map, a map that shows travelers the areas relegated to memory storage, activity planning, attention, visual and auditory regions, and the control centers for language, perception, sensory and motor attributes.

Without a map, those treating individuals who have suffered brain damage or have brain deficits would be without help. Rehabilitation for strokes and traumatic brain disorders wouldn’t exist. Finding medications to treat brain diseases would be futile. Help for children and adults with developmental disorders wouldn’t exist. Research into the early detection of different forms of dementia would languish.

The work of neuropsychologists is that of understanding brain-behavior relationships; they’re not only mapmakers, but tour guides to the brain as well. Using empirically based studies of the brain, neuropsychologists prove the integral, interrelated link between cognition and physiology, and how an impairment in physiology directly relates to specific cognitive and behavioral outcomes.

Thanks to neuropsychologists, those in the healthcare field understand how, why, and to what extent brain dysfunction occurs, and what can be done to ameliorate and treat a wide range of brain diseases and disorders.

For those pursuing a career as a neuropsychologist, they generally choose between two broad categories of specialty: clinical neuropsychology; and cognitive neuropsychology. Within each specialty, however, neuropsychologists specialize further. For example, a clinical neuropsychologist can specialize in pediatric clinical neuropsychology, or become a clinical neuropsychologist working with stroke and aphasic disorders.

Similarly, those who become cognitive neuropsychologists – a research specialty – can focus their research in one area, such as how a stroke affects the ability of adults to speak grammatically correct sentences, or how brain tumors in a specific region of the brain affect memory. The following summarizes each career in neuropsychology:

Clinical Neuropsychologists

Clinical neuropsychologists are the practitioners of brain science. They administer neuropsychological assessments to determine the extent and prognosis of individuals with brain dysfunctions. In clinical settings, they work with other healthcare practitioners diagnosing and planning rehabilitation treatments for those with brain damage, dysfunction, and disease.

As consultants to schools, clinical neuropsychologists advise staff and parents on ways to teach, mentor and nurture those with a range of developmental and neurological disorders.

Clinical neuropsychologists generally specialize in working either with children and adolescents, or with adults. They diagnose and treat numerous conditions and injuries, but the following are some of the more common disorders.

For clinicians working with children and teens, they treat

  • Spinal bifida and Hydrocephalus
  • Pediatric epilepsy
  • Brain tumors
  • Autistic disorder
  • Non-autistic pervasive developmental disorders
  • Low birth weight
  • ADHD
  • Nonverbal learning disorder
  • Mental retardation
  • Down syndrome
  • Fragile X syndrome
  • Cerebral palsy

For clinicians who work with adults, they often treat

  • Stroke and aphasic disorders
  • Dementia
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Epilepsy
  • Traumatic brain disorder
  • Brain tumors
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Effects of substance abuse
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Huntington’s disease
  • Lupus erythematosis
  • Sports-related injuries
  • Aging
  • Amnesia
  • Depression

For more information, see clinical neuropsychology.

Cognitive Neuropsychologists

Cognitive neuropsychologists conduct the empirical studies on the brain that clinical neuropsychologists and other healthcare providers use to treat those suffering with brain disorders. Their research, which focuses on abnormal brain-behavior disorders, complements the work of cognitive psychologists who study normal brain functioning. They work in research laboratories for the government, universities, or for private organizations. For more information, see cognitive neuropsychology.

Cognitive neuropsychologists are the dedicated cartographers or mapmakers of the brain. By observing patients with brain and neurological disorders, forming hypotheses and theories about ensuing brain dysfunctions, and testing their theories with technological tools and neuropsychological assessments and tests, these psychologists come up with the topography of the brain’s structures and the functioning of neural processes.

The studies conducted by cognitive neuropsychologists take place with real “patients” who have suffered some type of brain dysfunction, but these psychologists don’t “diagnose, treat, and/or prescribe interventions” for patients. Their main goal is to add to the growing body of brain research.

Understanding the Brain

Both clinical and cognitive neuropsychologists use a combination of tools and technologies. Neuroimaging technologies provide brain scans or real-time images of living human brains. Clinical neuropsychologists use these technologies to diagnose brain dysfunctions or diseases, such as brain tumors or different forms of dementia.

Cognitive neuropsychologists also use these technologies to study the brain as it performs certain tasks, giving these researchers a “functional” view of what is occurring or not occurring in terms of information processing. For more information, see neuroimaging.

Neuropsychological assessments are another tool used by neuropsychologists to help diagnose brain disorders, and predict the course of recovery. Assessments are used mainly in clinical settings, however, cognitive neuropsychologists also employ this tool when the results from the assessments would add to and benefit their research. For more information, see neuropsychological assessments and tests.

If you are interested in becoming a neuropsychologist, in diagnosing and treating individuals suffering from brain dysfunctions, or in conducting brain research, contact schools offering degrees in psychology. Most positions in this field require a Ph.D.

Additionally, most clinical neuropsychologists must have certification by the American board of Clinical Neuropsychology (ABCN) or the American Academy of Clinical Neuropsychology (AACN).

In addition, many clinical positions also require licensing. To learn more about the licensing requirements for a psychology career at Psychology Career Licensure.

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