What is a Clinical Neuropsychologist?

–By Jason Swift

Jerry’s father was not himself. He became confused easily and was no longer leading conversations or coming up with witty retorts. He had great difficulty remembering things he normally retained easily, like current events and sports results. He became lost in places that should have been familiar to him.

“I’m concerned about Dad,” Jerry confided in his mother. “You and me both,” she replied. “But what am I supposed to do?”

Like most people who have a loved one suffering from dementia, they are not sure where to go for help. A primary care doctor? A neurologist? While those are certainly good starting options, Jerry’s father will, more than likely, end up at the office of a clinical neuropsychologist. But what on earth is a neuropsychologist?

“Neuro” is a term that means ‘related to the brain’ whereas “psychology” is the study of cognition, emotion, and behavior. Thus, neuropsychology is the study of the relationship between cognition, emotion, and behavior as they relate to brain functioning. Neuropsychologists differ from traditional psychologists in that their focus is more on assessment and less on treatment*.

A neuropsychological assessment typically includes: a clinical interview, a variety of neurocognitive tests, and assessment of psychological functioning. The number of tests used varies depending on clinician preference and as well as the referral question.

Types of Tests

  • Intelligence testing is often included in a “battery” of neuropsychological tests; however, intellectual functioning is only one aspect of neuropsychological functioning.
  • Other domains of functioning that may be evaluated include language, learning & memory, attention/concentration, visual spatial functioning, and motor functioning.
  • Psychological assessment is another important component of a neuropsychological battery because symptoms of depression, anxiety, and trauma can influence scores on neurocognitive tests (not to mention impact daily functioning).

Diagnosis and Treatment

Neuropsychologists are trained to evaluate all of the information gathered to diagnose and make treatment recommendations for numerous neurodevelopmental disorders (e.g., autism spectrum disorder, intellectual disability, ADHD) and neurodegenerative diseases (e.g., dementia, cognitive disorder).

Neuropsychologists are also commonly employed to assess and follow individuals who have undergone treatment of diseases like cancer because radiation and chemotherapy can negatively impact neurocognitive functioning. Neuropsychologists work in hospitals and private practices and collaborate with a variety of providers.

To find a board certified neuropsychologist in your area, please see the following links:

If you are in Portland, Oregon, the Pacific Psychology and Comprehensive Health clinics offer neuropsychological assessment services at competitive rates.

*Neuropsychologists receive training in therapy as part of their doctoral program. Therapy conducted by neuropsychologists may include treatment of post-concussion symptoms such as depression, fatigue, and low motivation.



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