Neuropsychology is a specialty within the field of clinical psychology. It refers to the study of brain-behavior relationships. Clinical psychologists who practice neuropsychology use their special training and knowledge in brain anatomy, brain function, clinical psychology, and brain disease to provide neuropsychological treatment/therapy or neuropsychological evaluation to help identify, resolve or minimize the effects of brain related problems such as stroke, traumatic brain injury, multiple sclerosis, attention deficits, brain tumors, and associated cognitive problems.
A neuropsychologist is a licensed psychologist specializing in the areas of brain functioning and the relationship between the way the brain is functioning and behavior. Although a neuropsychologist has a doctoral degree in psychology, he or she does not just focus on emotional or psychological problems. The neuropsychologist has additional training in the specialty field of clinical neuropsychology. That means a neuropsychologist is educated in brain anatomy, brain function, and brain injury or disease.
The neuropsychologist also has specialized training in administering and interpreting the specific kinds of tests included in your neuropsychological evaluation. As a part of the required education, a neuropsychologist also has years of practical experience working with people who have had problems involving the brain. You can learn more about clinical neuropsychology from the National Academy of Neuropsychology website (www.NANonline.org).
A neuropsychological evaluation is an individualized examination by a neuropsychologist that helps answer specific questions about brain functioning. Common reasons for a neuropsychological evaluation may include, among others:
A neuropsychological evaluation typically involves assessment (testing) with a group of standardized tests that are sensitive to the effects of brain dysfunction. Unlike CT or MRI scans which show abnormalities in the structure of the brain, or EEG, which shows electrical abnormalities in the brain, neuropsychological assessment is used to show the ways in which a person can or cannot perform certain functions or tasks that are dependent upon brain activity.
These functions or tasks (for example, memory and learning) form the necessary building blocks of successful living in the individual’s daily life. Impairment in many of these functions may exist because of brain abnormalities that cannot be detected on CT or MRI scans. Therefore, neuropsychological assessment is a procedure with a unique purpose; it can be used to reveal or diagnose brain dysfunction when no structural brain abnormalities can be seen. Furthermore, when structural abnormalities have been found, neuropsychological assessment provides a way to determine what functions may be impaired because of the structural defects, and to determine the degree to which they may be impaired.
The standardized tests used in a neuropsychological evaluation typically assess functioning in the following areas:
Assessment of academic skill development and emotional functioning, while not exclusive to neuropsychological evaluation, is typically performed, as well. The perspective of the neuropsychologist is frequently requested to understand subtle brain-related factors involved in memory problems, academic failure or impaired emotional functioning, even when no biological causes are suspected. However, the specific areas assessed depend upon the referral questions presented.
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