Learn about neuropsychology programs and salary ranges.

careers in neuropsychology

Neuropsychologists are pioneers in psychology. When a person suffers brain damage in a car accident, he or she might undergo a neuropsychological examination.

A neuropsychologist would then determine whether that person has the cognitive ability to return to work. She can also suggest ways for the accident victim to maximize his or her cognitive strengths and compensate for weaknesses.

Clinical neuropsychology is the sub-specialty of clinical psychology that specializes in the assessment and treatment of patients with brain injury or disease. Some of their therapies may include cognitive rehabilitation, behavior management, psychotherapy or teaching coping strategies.

Neuropsychologists are different from other clinical psychologists in their deeper knowledge of the brain, especially their understanding of neurological disease and the anatomy of the central nervous system.

Neuropsychologists evaluate patients’ cognitive and emotional strengths and weaknesses, and they help manage, treat and rehabilitate people with neurological, medical, developmental or psychiatric conditions.

There are many reasons that people see neuropsychologists:

  • For diseases that affect the brain, such as:
    • Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia
    • Brain tumors
    • Epilepsy
    • Multiple sclerosis
    • Parkinson’s disease
    • Stroke
  • For Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • After accidents that cause a concussion or a more serious brain injury
  • For drug or alcohol abuse
  • After exposure to poisons, chemicals or pollution that can cause brain damage

In their day-to-day work, many neuropsychologists perform these primary tasks:

  • Assessment (evaluation, diagnosis and psychological testing)
  • Intervention (prevention and treatment)
  • Research
  • Supervision, teaching and management (such as supervising graduate students, program development and administration)

Testing is one of the main tasks of neuropsychologists, and their tests fall into three main categories:

  • Tests of attention span and memory
  • Tests of language and speech skills
  • Test of reasoning, planning and organizational skills

If this career sounds interesting to you and you want to help those in need, keep reading to learn about the education you’ll need to become a neuropsychologist.

Training and Education

Students interested in neuropsychology should first complete a bachelor’s degree in psychology, biology or pre-med to be competitive and well-prepared for a doctoral degree in neuropsychology.

While there are a few master’s degrees in psychology with an emphasis on neuropsychology, the majority of students complete a doctoral program in neuropsychology or clinical neuropsychology because a doctorate is generally required to practice psychology.

In these doctoral programs, students study brain function, brain anatomy, and neurological injury and disease. Students are also trained to administer and interpret tests that detect brain dysfunction and abnormalities.

As part of your education, you’ll do an internship with practicing neuropsychologists who will supervise your work so you can practice while getting real-world experience under their watchful (and helpful) eye.

Neuropsychology Programs

Regardless of which neuropsychology program you choose, you’ll be studying one of the most exciting areas in science today: the human brain.

Just as for other majors, you’ll have core courses that all students need to take, and then you’ll specialize in neuropsychology within your major. A degree in neuropsychology develops students’ scientific knowledge and skills in reading, writing, laboratory methods and experimental design.

Programs are normally interdisciplinary, and you’ll take courses from professors who come from different university departments and with varied areas of expertise:

  • Anatomy
  • Biochemistry
  • Chemistry
  • Biology
  • Math
  • Microbiology
    • Molecular and Cellular Physiology
    • Molecular Genetics
    • Neurobiology
    • Philosophy
    • Psychiatry
    • Psychology

    But once you start to focus on the substance of your neuropsychology studies, you’ll take courses in the following subjects, among others:

    • Child Health and Mental Health
    • Children’s Learning
    • Cognitive Psychology
    • Human Factors
    • Neuropsychology
    • Perception and Action
    • Personality and Clinical Psychology
    • Research Methods in Applied Psychology
    • Research Methods in Social Psychology
    • Research Methods in Stress and Health

    If these courses seem intriguing to you, you may want to pursue a degree in neuropsychology. Whether you’re interested in neuropsychology studies for your undergraduate degree, or already know that you’d like to pursue your master’s or doctorate, you’ll be glad to know that this is a field full of the potential to help others.

    Neuropsychology Graduate Programs

    With an advanced degree you’ll get a combination of classroom education, a pre-doctoral internship, and post-doctoral education and training experience.

    In addition to the core courses that all applied psychologists take, clinical neuropsychologists also have a foundation in neurology, neuroanatomy and neurophysiology. Two years of supervised training in clinical neuropsychology and two to three years of experience in the chosen specialty area (depending on the year candidates received their doctoral degree) are required before you’ll be eligible to take the required Examination for the Professional Practice in Psychology.

    Neuropsychology PhD vs. PsyD Programs

    To get a license to practice most forms of psychology, you’ll need a PhD or a PsyD. But what’s the difference between the two?

    PhD Degrees PsyD Degrees
    • PhD graduates receive a Doctorate of Philosophy.
    • PhD students get more training in psychological testing and evaluation.
    • PhD programs tend to emphasize the scientist-practitioner model (for people more interested in psychological research).
    • A PhD prepares students to work as researchers, teachers and practitioners.
    • PsyD graduates receive a Doctorate of Psychology.
    • PsyDs focus more on practical clinical training.
    • PsyD programs tend to emphasize the practitioner-scholar model (for those more interested in helping clients in their clinical practice).
    • PsyD prepares students to work in a variety of clinical settings, from family therapy and substance abuse counseling to working with severely disturbed patients in mental institutions.

    The degree you pursue depends on your interests and the type of psychology that you’d like to practice when you’re done with your studies. Which one is right for you, the PhD or the PsyD?

    Neuropsychology Licensure and Certification

    Neuropsychologists, like all other psychologists, must be licensed to practice in their state. This ensures consistent education, training and proficiency, and protects clients from unqualified practitioners.

    Although each state has its own rules for licensure, the following are fairly common requirements for most states. Before beginning your studies, contact your state board of psychology to find its specific criteria.

    • Complete a doctorate in neuropsychology from an accredited school
    • Do a one-year psychology residency
    • Submit an original dissertation based on your research
    • Complete a supervised internship
    • Get a passing score on the Examination for the Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP)
    • Take and pass any other required state exams
    • Apply for your neuropsychology license

    While every psychologist must be licensed to practice, some neuropsychologists also choose to get additional certification from the American Board of Clinical Neuropsychology (ABCN) or the American Academy of Clinical Neuropsychology (AACN).

    These certifications attest to a practitioner’s knowledge and clinical skill in neuropsychology, and provide further evidence of competence in the specialty. Though you are not legally required to be certified to practice neuropsychology, many employers do prefer (or require) board certification. (But remember: all psychologists must be licensed before they can practice.)

    If you decide to apply for certification to increase your credibility, in addition to general psychology requirements, neuropsychologists must comply with the American Board of Professional Psychology requirements. These fall into two categories: didactics and postdoctoral training.

    Didactics: There are eight core knowledge areas. You can get this experience at any time during your training, but most didactic requirements get fulfilled during your graduate coursework. Some may be learned through less formal educational activities, such as seminars, conferences, specialty rounds and case conferences. The core knowledge areas include the following:

    • Basic neuroscience
    • Clinical neurology
    • Neuroanatomy
    • Neuropathology
    • Neuropsychological assessment
    • Psychological assessment
    • Psychological intervention
    • Psychopathology

    Postdoctoral Training: All applicants must demonstrate a formal foundation in the neuropsychological skill set. Residencies must be the equivalent of two full years of education and training in clinical neuropsychology, on at-least a half-time basis. And training in neuropsychology-related activities must make up a minimum of 50% of a resident’s time and may include supervised clinical activities done as part of research projects.

    The American Board of Clinical Neuropsychology requires that postdoctoral programs provide a structured and sequenced set of clinical and didactic experiences, and have on-site supervision of all clinical cases. Contact the ABCN for more details on neuropsychology certification.

    Work Environment

    Neuropsychologists often work as part of a multidisciplinary team, planning and putting into practice rehabilitation programs that include neuropsychology, speech pathology, occupational therapy, physical therapy, vocational training, and individual, group, and other therapies.

    They work in many different settings:

    • Laboratories: To study the brain functions of healthy humans or to monitor the effects of experimental pharmaceutical drugs
    • Clinical settings: Rehabilitating patients with neurological disorders
    • In schools, hospitals or rehabilitation clinics
    • Conducting academic research at large universities
    • Testifying as expert witnesses in the court system

    Where you work will depend on the specialty you pursue and the type of work you want to do (do you want to have a more clinical practice, or do you want to do more research?).

    Neuropsychologist Salary

    Neuropsychologists are part of the broader field of psychologists. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) 2014-15 Occupational Outlook Handbook, the median national annual salary for “psychologists, all others” is $90,020. The BLS doesn’t specifically track salaries for neuropsychologists.

    Actual salaries may vary greatly based on specialization within the field, location, years of experience and a variety of other factors. National long-term projections of employment growth may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth.

    Becoming a Neuropsychologist

    So, whatever your reasons for wanting to become a neuropsychologist are, you’ll surely agree that this is one of the most cutting-edge fields within psychology today. If you think that neuropsychology is the specialty for you, get the education you need to diagnose and treat those who need it most.

    Sources: www.anpaonline.org/what-is-neuropsychology, www.abpp.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageid=3304, www.webmd.com/brain/neuropsychological-tests, www.artsci.uc.edu/departments/interdisciplinary-studies/neuroscience/undergrad/ns-np.html, www.doh.wa.gov/LicensesPermitsandCertificates/ProfessionsNewReneworUpdate/Psychologist/LicenseRequirements, www.psychologytoday.com/blog/trouble-in-mind/201111/so-you-want-be-neuropsychologist, www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/members/apssc/undergraduate_update/spring-2010-volume-3-issue-2/the-clinical-neuropsychological-experience, www.liu.edu/CWPost/Academics/Schools/CLAS/Dept/Psychology/PsyD2/PsyD-vs-PhD,