Neuropsychology is the study of brain-behavior relationships. Through the administrations of neuropsychological and psychological tests, the trained neuropsychologist is able to understand how the brain of an individual is functioning, and what, if any, are the identifiable dysfunctions.
The neuropsychologist is trained to understand how brain dysfunction impacts on academic, vocational and social functioning, and to develop treatment plans which might help to ameliorate these difficulties. These dysfunctions may be developmental (present from early in childhood), or acquired, arising from an injury (like a car accident), illness (like meningitis), anoxic event (like stroke or heart attack), exposure to certain toxins, and similar kinds of experiences.
Neuropsychology is a recognized specialty within the general field of Psychology. All Neuropsychologists have earned a Doctoral degree in Psychology, but unlike the typical Clinical Psychologist, Neuropsychologists have at least one additional year of formal postdoctoral training specifically in Neuropsychology. While all licensed psychologists can administer the same tests, only the trained neuropsychologist has the additional training and experience necessary to place test findings within the larger context of brain-behavior relationships.
The easiest way to recognize a trained neuropsychologist is to check for his/her Board certification. Like physicians, neuropsychologists are eligible to take written and oral examinations, which will enable them to use the title "Board Certified Neuropsychologist." At the present time, only the American Board of Professional Neuropsychology (ABPN) and the American Board of Clinical Neuropsychology (ABPP-CN) are recognized to provide this higher level of credentialing by the National Academy of Neuropsychology and the Neuropsychology Division of the American Psychological Association.** A newer Board, the American Board of Pediatric Neuropsychology (ABPdN) which was recently reorganized in 2004 also appears to satisfy the criterion of requiring specific education training and experience, and written and oral examinations. Psychologists certified prior to 2004 by this board may not have subsequently passed those examinations, so you might want to ask. There are other recognized specialties and boards within psychology, but they do not confer advanced credentialing in neuropsychology.
You should also be aware that they are many "vanity" boards which do not require specific educational and training experiences or a written and oral examination. If the person to whom you have been referred for neuropsycholgical evaluation claims some other board, you may wish to attempt to gather additional information about that individual's practice and/or board.
Some well-trained neuropsychologists do not elect to seek board certification, but can be identified by exploring their training and experience. To obtain further information regarding what NAN and APA Division 40 consider to be appropriate training and experience to use the title, please contact NAN at: www.nanonline.org. You may also obtain further information about ABPN at www.neuropsychologyboard.org.
Most neuropsychologists focus entirely on neuropsychological evaluation (testing), and/or "neurorehabilitation" therapy. Very few do traditional psychotherapy or counseling, although many will engage in short term counseling to assist individuals and families in understanding dysfunctions and in adjusting to them.
The best way to find out if the person to whom you have been referred is a trained neuropsychologist is to ask him/her about educational, training, experience and the nature of their practice.
*These comments do not necessarily reflect the formal positions of any professional association
** The APA does not formally endorse any board
Neuropsychological Evaluation:What to Expect
The neuropsychological evaluation is a multi hour process during which the patient is administered a number of psychological and neuropsychological tests consisting of verbal responses, manipulation of materials, and more traditional pencil and paper tests. These tests are administered one to one, and formal testing may be conducted by the neuropsychologist or by a specially trained assistant usually called a technician. Requirements for technicians vary from state to state; you should contact your own state Board of Psychology if you have any questions about the credentials of a technician. In all cases, the neuropsychologist should meet with the patient/family, do all test interpretation and independently author the evaluation report.
The neuropsychological evaluation does not involve any intrusive procedures (although sometimes questions can be a little embarrassing), and while sometimes tedious, should not be terribly unpleasant. Some people find the experience quite enjoyable.
Following data collection, which may be spread over one or two days (or more in special situations), the neuropsychologist will complete a comprehensive evaluation report and, in most clinical circumstances, meet with the patient and/or family to go over the results and recommendations. In some cases the neuropsychologist will request additional follow-up visits to check progress, aid in adjustment, etc.
Typically, the evaluation starts with a history and clinical interview, and then is followed by formal testing. Some neuropsychologists ask the patient to fill out a written history form, which can be used to guide the interview. The patient or responsible person should also be asked to sign consent forms which specify who can receive information and under what circumstances. The evaluation report is considered protected health information under federal law and may not be disseminated without your consent.