Neuropsychology is a field that handles most mental health problems and seeks to offer long-term solutions to people who are struggling with the problems.
It is a good branch of clinical psychology to pursue if you desire to understand the brain and its link to mental illnesses and behaviors.
In this beginner’s guide to neuropsychology, we look at what the branch is all about, its history, benefits, how it works, applications, and frequently asked questions about it.
What is Neuropsychology
Neuropsychology is a scientific study that looks into the connections between brain-related problems and their effects on thought, behavior, and feelings.
The word “Neuropsychology” comes from the words “neurology” and “psychology”.
Neuropsychologists seek to understand the relationship between the brain and our behaviors, and how they can prevent or treat mental health conditions linked to the nervous system.
They often make evaluations to point out the changes in cognition and behavior which are caused by problems in the central nervous system.
To become a neuropsychologist, you are required to get a doctorate in psychology and then pursue a specialty in neuropsychology.
History of Neuropsychology
The history of neuropsychology can be traced as far back as 1664 to one of the most renowned anatomists of the 1600s, Thomas Willis (2).
He presented a text called Cerebri Anatome that was based on his experiments. This text would, later on, have an influence on the development of neuropsychology for the next 200 years.
Throughout his career, he would often combine neurology and psychology while explaining his doctrines, making neuropsychology a commonly known term to many people in the field.
While Thomas Willis explained the soul and nerves using neuropsychology, other people after him like William Osier and Lashley used it to describe behaviors and their connections to brain-related issues.
In 1913, William Osier mentioned the term neuropsychology in his speech at John Hopkins Hospital’s clinic called the Phipps Psychiatric Clinic. He related the term to handling mental disorders.
Lashley also used the term in that context while making his presentations to the Boston Society of Psychiatry and Neurology.
Over the years, the definition of neuropsychology to mean the study of the brain and its link to behavior has been taken up and many scientific experts work with it to mean exactly that.
How Neuropsychology Works
In essence, neuropsychology looks at how brain injuries and other health conditions affect the normal functioning of the brain in terms of behavior, thoughts, and feelings.
When you have issues with your memory, learning abilities, and the nervous system, a neuropsychologist can help you solve the problem.
A neuropsychologist not only helps with diagnosing a condition other doctors are having difficulty with but also carries out evaluations to help you determine how much a condition has affected your brain and body.
Neuropsychology complements the work of other health specialists like physicians, neurosurgeons, neurologists, therapists, and psychiatrists to offer comprehensive treatment to patients.
Many neuropsychologists prefer specializing in a specific age group such as teenagers, older adults, or kids. Although, others find working with all age groups more rewarding to them and prefer to keep their options wide.
There are different types of neuropsychology including:
1. Clinical neuropsychology – This field is a specialty under clinical psychology that deals with the link between behavior and the brain, and the knowledge and understanding of the link can be useful in diagnosing brain disorders and creating efficient treatment plans. It also helps with assessing behavioral and cognitive function (3).
2. Human neuropsychology – This is a field within neuropsychology that focuses on the neural systems that are responsible for both simple and complicated behaviors in humans (4).
3. Cognitive neuropsychology – This is a study that works with small group designs and single case experiments with the aim of understanding how brain damage affects thought processes (5).
Understanding Neuropsychological Assessments Better
As earlier mentioned, neuropsychological assessments involve evaluations of how your brain works, so that health specialists can determine your brain’s integrity, both functionally and structurally.
The neuropsychological assessments are usually divided into interviews and pencil and paper evaluations, some of which you can do with the help of a technician. For the advanced evaluations, a neuropsychologist or well-trained, qualified, and experienced psychometrist is a necessity.
The specific areas the assessments or tests will focus on are the areas you, the patient, and the referring doctor are interested in.
Once you are done with the tests, your results are placed against the set expectations for your brain performance which ideally is the gold standard.
Also, the brain performance of someone who shares the same gender, age, ethnicity, and education background as you are compared with yours to determine the areas where you are strong and those where you fall short.
Some of the areas that the neuropsychological tests target are your memory, intelligence, attention, sensorimotor and executive functions, motor function, language, personality style, perception, feelings, and quality of life.
The success and smoothness of the tests depend on how comfortable and open you are, and how fast you and your technician can cover the questions in the tests. Roughly, the duration of the tests ranges from 3 – 6 hours divided into manageable sessions per visit and with breaks in between.
On completing the tests, a neuropsychologist draws up a report with the diagnosis and recommended treatment plan for any issues noted.
Benefits of Neuropsychology
Some of the ways neuropsychology proves to be beneficial in our lives are:
– Helping us have a deep understanding of brain science
– Helping us know the functions of different brain regions
– Helping us know how brain-related disorders like multiple sclerosis, seizures, Down’s syndrome, brain injuries, and brain tumors affect brain function
– Through neuropsychological evaluations, neuropsychology helps us understand hard-to-decipher health issues and the best treatment plans to pursue
– Helping us understand the current performance of our brains relative to the normal functioning and set brain performance expectations
– Helping us understand the severity of brain-related illness and injuries and the exact effects the conditions have on our behaviors, cognitions, and emotions
– Helping us understand our strengths and weaknesses in brain performance and how to work on the weaknesses
– Helping us understand effective ways through which we can boost and maintain our brain health throughout the lifespan
Applications of Neuropsychology
In the grand scheme of things, neuropsychology is applied in clinical settings and research.
In hospitals, it helps to provide a diagnosis and the best treatment options to deal with the diagnosed symptoms in the patient.
It allows neuropsychologists to combine their efforts with other health specialists to help the patient know the exact brain-related problem they are suffering from.
Also, it lets them understand how the problem is affecting other crucial areas of the patient’s life like emotions, thoughts, and behavior, and to what extent.
The field of neuropsychology has provided light on many brain health issues that previously proved difficult to handle and has helped millions of patients across the globe improve their health.
In research, neuropsychology helps researchers to understand the link between the brain and behavior more accurately.
It makes it easy for them to understand various memory, learning, attention, problem solving, reasoning, and academic shortcomings and figure out their cause and effect.
In turn, the development of this field allows for better treatment techniques to be created that address specific health problems entirely or at least a way to better manage them and regulate their negative effects.
On large scale, neuropsychology helps us learn more effective ways to improve upon our brain health and maintain optimal health in the long term.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQS) About Neuropsychology
Here are some commonly asked questions about neuropsychology and their respective answers:
Question: What are some of the treatment plans recommended by a neuropsychologist?
Answer: The treatment plans may include but are not limited to surgery, counseling, medication, and rehabilitation therapy.
Question: What are some of the reasons a neuropsychological evaluation is recommended to patients?
Answer: Some common reasons why a patient may be asked to go through a neuropsychological evaluation are to:
– Help the healthcare provider know the areas the patient needs help with
– Help with evaluating the effectiveness of a treatment option before and after the patient goes through a neurosurgical procedure
– Help with understanding if the changes a patient’s experiences are due to the treatment they are receiving, the brain illness they’ve been diagnosed with, or another unknown brain illness
Question: What are some of the ways a patient can smoothen the process of a neuropsychological evaluation?
Answer: Some tips to keep in mind to make the neuropsychological evaluation seamless include tagging a relative or friend along in case the patient may require help with the evaluation, bringing previous neuropsychological evaluation tests and reports, and being able to reveal the current medication the patient is taking.
Question: Which health conditions cause a change in cognitive function?
Answer: Brain tumors, Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord infections, traumatic brain injury, Parkinson’s disease, stroke, and transient ischemic attack.
Question: What things can make a neuropsychological evaluation unfruitful?
Answer: If the patient experiences irregular changes, they are extremely emotional, or not willing to be fully invested in the evaluation, or they are affected by the medication they may be currently on, there is a high chance the evaluation will not be efficient.
Question: Which symptoms in a patient express the need for a neuropsychological evaluation?
Answer: Some of the common symptoms whose presence causes the recommendation for a neuropsychological evaluation or test include:
* Language difficulty
* Irregular functioning of the short-term memory
* Low concentration and attention levels
* Poor decision-making skills
* Difficulty with financial management
* Difficulty applying visuospatial skills like reading maps
Question: How do I find a neuropsychologist?
Answer: Most comprehensive health centers or centers that deal with the brain often have neuropsychologists on site. Your physician or healthcare provider may also recommend a good neuropsychologist that they know as a colleague.
Question: What does it take to become a neuropsychologist?
Answer: The requirements to pursue a career in neuropsychology varies from one country to the other. Make sure you look through your country’s conditions to become a practicing neuropsychologist.
Question: Are neuropsychologists classified as medical doctors?
Answer: No, they are not. Neuropsychologists don’t hold medical degrees despite them being referred to as doctors by patients and other laypeople who have specialized in medicine.