Neuropsychologists are medical doctors who specialize in the brain, mental health, and human behavior. They use their knowledge of neuroscience to help people with any number of issues or conditions—including learning disabilities, traumatic brain injuries, mental illness, and more.
Neuropsychologists work primarily with patients. They typically diagnose individuals and help them come up with treatment plans to address their specific issues. Treatments may include medication, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), or other techniques designed to improve an individual’s quality of life. Neuropsychologists may also act as consultants who review the cases of other health care professionals to ensure that they’re on the right track.
Read on to learn more about what it’s like to be a neuropsychologist and what it takes to become one yourself.
Neuropsychologist Job Duties
Neuropsychologists perform a wide range of duties, including:
- Conducting in-depth interviews with patients and family members to gather information about each patient’s situation
- Conducting psychological and neuropsychological assessments of patients to determine the effects of brain injury or disease in order to create or modify treatment plans and recommendations
- Performing psychological testing such as cognitive tests, IQ tests, memory tests, reaction time measurement, and pattern recognition in visual stimuli
- Performing or requesting neuropsychological assessments such as EEGs, EKGs, MRIs, MEGs, PET scans, transcranial magnetic stimulations (TMS), transcranial direct current stimulations (tDCS), evoked response potentials (ERP), event-related potentials (ERP), and single-photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) scanning
- Explaining medical terminology and treatment options to patients and families in a way they can understand
- Ensuring that all case files, and other records, strictly comply with policies, regulations, and procedures
- Consulting with physicians and medical staff on patients’ cases to determine the best course of action and coordinate care
Neuropsychologist Salary & Outlook
The median annual wage for neuropsychologists is $120,914. The highest earners make over $367,000 per year.
The employment of neuropsychologists is expected to grow slowly over the next decade. This is due to a rise in cases of Alzheimer’s and other mental health issues that require neuropsychological care, but at a slower rate than in previous years due to greater public awareness and prevention efforts.
Neuropsychologist Job Requirements
The requirements for neuropsychologists are as follows:
Education: During their undergraduate studies, neuropsychologists often complete Bachelor’s degrees in psychology or related fields, such as behavioral neuroscience. Neuropsychologists then must complete a doctoral program in clinical psychology. These programs normally offer a neuropsychology specialization. Coursework can cover subjects like biopsychology, clinical practicums, and cognitive psychology.
Training: Neuropsychologists must complete a one-year internship or practicum in a clinical setting under the supervision of a licensed neuropsychologist. They generally spend this time learning how to complete assessments and working with patients to provide the best treatment.
Certifications & Licenses: Neuropsychologists are required to be certified by the American Board of Professional Psychology. They must obtain a license through their state and register with the National Register of Health Service Providers.
In addition to the extensive education and training requirements, neuropsychologists need to possess the following skills:
Interpersonal skills: It is crucial for neuropsychologists to have strong interpersonal skills because they interact with patients, colleagues, and other healthcare professionals on a regular basis.
Critical thinking skills: Critical thinking skills allow neuropsychologists to examine issues from multiple perspectives.
Observation skills: Neuropsychologists must be able to keenly observe patient behavior and note changes in mental status, such as confusion or lethargy.
Research skills: Neuropsychologists must be able to conduct research in order to keep updated with the latest developments, as well as to contribute to the field of neuropsychology.
Empathy: Neuropsychologists need to have a sense of empathy, compassion, and patience. Patients may take a long time to respond to treatment, and some may never show significant improvement. The ability to be patient with both the patient and yourself is crucial.
Writing skills: Neuropsychologists must be able to write detailed reports of their findings and conclusions. They may also use their writing skills to publish articles in professional journals.
Neuropsychologist Work Environment
Neuropsychologists work in a variety of settings. They may be employed by hospitals or other healthcare facilities, private practice clinics, rehabilitation centers, community programs, and nursing homes. Neuropsychologists spend most of their time working in an office, where they meet with patients and their families. The work can be emotionally demanding, as neuropsychologists often deal with people who are dealing with such things as memory loss or brain damage. Neuropsychologists also spend a lot of time on the telephone discussing patient progress with colleagues and families.
Most neuropsychologists work Monday through Friday during regular business hours, but their schedules can vary depending on the needs of their clients. For example, they might have evening or weekend appointments with adult psychiatric patients in hospitals or outpatient offices.
Neuropsychologist Career Path
A neuropsychologist in the early stages of a career must spend a considerable amount of time in education and training. In addition, the neuropsychologist must devote time to building a reputation and a referral network. Neuropsychologists can expect to be extremely busy with their own work, since most referrals come from doctors and from other professionals in the field.
Five Years Out
At the five-year mark, most neuropsychologists have completed their hospital training and are working independently. Those who work for hospitals administer tests, interpret results, and assist with patient rehabilitation. Those who work for private practices still may not conduct actual treatment sessions, but they will see patients individually and perform full psychological evaluations. A few neuropsychologists go into academic positions, where they teach and conduct research.
Ten Years Out
Ten-year practitioners are highly respected in their field and are eligible for many leadership positions within their agencies or organizations. They hold more senior positions within their departments, oversee budgets, and coordinate treatment programs for various disorders (i.e., Alzheimer’s disease). Neuropsychologists who have chosen to work independently may enjoy greater freedom in choosing clients, but they may also face increased pressure to produce profitable results with fewer resources than if they worked within a larger organization.
Here are three trends influencing how neuropsychologists work. Neuropsychologists will need to stay up-to-date on these developments to keep their skills relevant and maintain a competitive advantage in the workplace.
Increased Use of Virtual Reality
Virtual reality technology is becoming more common as a way to help people with learning disabilities, anxiety disorders, and other conditions overcome challenges that might otherwise hinder their progress.
For example, one study found that using virtual reality for exposure therapy could help individuals conquer phobias and other anxiety disorders by creating a safe environment where they can work through the problem without physical consequences.
Increasing Demand for Neuropsychologists
Brain health is becoming a growing focus in our society, with many people looking for ways to keep their brains functioning at their best. In the coming years, neuropsychologists will find themselves in high demand as individuals look to maintain their cognitive abilities throughout life.
Furthermore, neuropsychologists who can help patients with mental illnesses, brain injuries, and neurological disorders are in high demand as the prevalence of these conditions is on the rise.
Personalized Brain Training
Neuropsychologists will increasingly rely on personalized brain training to help patients overcome obstacles in their lives, which may include anything from ADHD to Alzheimer’s disease.
These types of services are already available for consumers who want to learn how to improve memory and cognitive function through the use of special brain training software. However, neuropsychologists can offer additional insights into each individual’s personal needs based on assessment results. For example, neuropsychologists might identify weaknesses in visual-spatial processing or working memory, which can be addressed with specialized software.
How to Become a Neuropsychologist
1. Planning Your Career
The field of neuropsychology requires a very specific set of skills. Those who are interested in pursuing this career should first think about why they want to become a neuropsychologist. Neuropsychologists typically work with patients who have suffered traumatic brain injuries or other neurological conditions, which means that it is crucial to have the right mindset if you want to be successful in this role.
Successful neuropsychologists are not only extremely patient but also extremely empathetic. They are passionate about helping others and are always looking for new ways to improve their patients’ lives. There are no shortcuts to developing these skills, so aspiring neuropsychologists should start by volunteering at local hospitals or clinics. If you’re not able to do this, consider taking some psychology classes or working with patients on a one-on-one basis through an independent study program.
2. Writing a Resume
The best resumes for neuropsychologists are tailored to the needs of the position. If you’re applying for a position that will require research, be sure to emphasize your scientific research skills, knowledge of specific programs, and previous publications. If you’re applying for clinical work, highlight your ability to work with clients in person as well as via phone or Skype.
You should emphasize your experience working with patients suffering from specific problems such as anxiety or depression. If you have worked with populations specifically write further detail on how well you were able to communicate with them and tailor treatment plans to their needs.
3. Applying for Jobs
Because neuropsychologists work with patients, many of whom are in dire need of their help, it’s important to get your foot in the door by building strong connections with the communities in which you’d like to work. A number of resources can help you get started, including online forums for therapists and counselors, professional associations, social media groups, and even popular blogs run by practicing professionals. These groups can give you the opportunity to share information about yourself.
Another good way to land a job as a neuropsychologist is to find out what kind of organizations are most likely to be hiring. Schools, hospitals, and other types of educational facilities all typically look for people with degrees in psychology or related fields. If you want to work for one of these places, make sure to build connections with professors who could help point you in the right direction when it comes time to start hunting for jobs.
4. Ace the Interview
If you’re applying for a new job in the field of neuropsychology, it’s important to understand what this specific role entails. Be sure to read up on the responsibilities of the job, so you can reflect on your past experiences and how they would align with such a position.
A neuropsychologist interview will focus on your educational and professional experience, as well as your current position. Be prepared to discuss your research and clinical experience. You may be asked about your technique for approaching new clients and working with them on a case-by-case basis.
Most interviews also ask candidates about their knowledge of general psychology topics such as learning theory or cognitive development. Make sure your answers are detailed enough to demonstrate your understanding of this particular field of psychology.