Clinical Neuropsychology Defined

If you were like me a few years ago I had no idea what clinical neuropsychology was. I guess I should first start out with what clinical psychology is and how it differs from other disciplines. One common misconception that I run across is that I am studying to be a psychiatrist. Nope, psychologists are different from psychiatrists. Psychiatrists go to medical school, receive an MD, and specialize in psychological disorders after that. Since they are MDs they can prescribe drugs (and often believe – if I can stereotype – that drugs are pretty close to panaceas). Psychologists earn PhDs (or, PsyDs) in the United States from clinical psychology programs. After grad school and an internship, psychologists need to pass the licensing exam in a state to be able to see clients and patients.

Neuropsychologists specialize in brain functioning and typically see clients with brain disorders. The problems can range from epilepsy to autism to learning disorders to traumatic brain injuries to dementias. Neuropsychologists generally want to understand how brain (dys)function affects performance on various tests. Conversely, they believe that test performance reaveals much about how the brain is or isn’t working and where any damage might be. Neuropsychologists also commonly use MRIs and other brain imaging techniques to provide more information about their clients.

What are the job options for someone with a PhD in Clinical Psychology (emphasizing neuropsychology)? There is always academia, where research and teaching are king. Many neuropsychologists in academia also see patients clinically. Neuropsychologists can also work in hospitals, clinics, or private practice. A number conduct forensic evaluations for legal cases (e.g., work-related injuries, automobile collisions, etc.). The military also employs a number of neuropsychologists. Some neuropsychologists also work for business or governmental agencies as consultants, statisticians, or psychologists. While psychologists do not make as much money as MDs, they generally are paid well, have good hours, and good job security.

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