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What is Neuropsychology?

Neuropsychology is the study of brain-behavior relationships. In other words, how we think, feel, and act depend upon how the brain works. Brain function is measured by testing various cognitive abilities, such as attention, memory, and other thinking skills. How individuals perform on various measures of these skills reveal something about how the brain works.


What is a Neuropsychologist?

Clinical neuropsychologists are licensed psychologists who have a doctorate degree in the area of psychology. In addition, they must have additional educational background in brain anatomy, brain function, brain injury/disease, and specialized coursework/training in administering and interpreting specific tests used. Furthermore, they receive internship training with at least some specialization in the field of neuropsychology. Clinical neuropsychologists also undergo two years of post-doctoral fellowship training. At the current time, board certification is not required.


What is a Neuropsychological Evaluation?

Testing how the brain works is done by seeing how a person performs on various cognitive measures. These measures are essentially "samples" of behaviors -- how a person performs a particular task. Over time, research has helped clarify and associate various behaviors with certain brain functions and brain areas. The tests are noninvasive (no poking or prodding) and usually involve a variety of pencil-and-paper tasks or other items.

Another way to look a neuropsychological examination is using an analogy of taking a car in to a garage for a check-up. The garage may have two "mechanics" in this "shop." One mechanic may be thought of as a person who pops open the hood and attaches various diagnostic machines to the engine. A neurologist may be viewed in this manner as he/she may evaluate various structures of the brain with CT, MRI, or other imaging tools. The second mechanic may take the "car" for an actual test spin to see how it performs under different conditions. In this way, the neuropsychological tests can be seen as seeing how the brain is "performing" in a similar manner.

For individuals who may be referred to undergo a neuropsychological evaluation, the most important question may be, "How is this going to help me?" This may vary, depending upon the reason a person is seeking an exam and/or the question(s) a doctor may have in making the referral.
  • Briefly, testing may help with diagnosing not only the type, but also the extent of possible brain impairment/alterations.
  • In addition, an evaluation addresses a person's strengths and weaknesses that may impact certain abilities/skills at home, work, etc.
  • Testing may also provide a "baseline" to assess how individuals perform at certain time periods, such as pre-/post-surgery, evaluation of improvements/changes of certain conditions, and potential treatment/medication effects.
  • Depending on the nature of the evaluation, recommendations for treatment may be made as well.