Neuropsychology Degrees & Careers How to Become a Neuropsychologist
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Neuropsychologists study memory loss, learning disabilities, and brain injuries from a psychological perspective. As licensed psychologists, neuropsychologists can diagnose and treat patients who experience strokes, traumatic brain injuries, or other neurological conditions. They may specialize in areas like pediatric brain disorders, sports neuropsychology, or memory loss disorders.
The salary and career outlook for psychologists remains strong, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reporting that psychologists earned a median annual income of over $80,000 in 2019. Clinical neuropsychologists benefit from even higher earning potential. Like other clinical psychologists, most neuropsychologists need a doctorate and a license to practice.
This page provides a step-by-step overview of how to become a neuropsychologist. It also provides salary and job growth data, introduces common courses in neuropsychologist degree programs, and helps prospective students choose the right program for their needs.
What Does a Neuropsychologist Do?
Neuropsychologists research and treat nervous system disorders. They evaluate patients after an injury or illness, conduct assessments to determine how the patient's brain works, and diagnose conditions like Alzheimer's disease and traumatic brain injuries. Neuropsychologists may also develop cognitive rehabilitation plans or other treatments for patients.
When evaluating patients, neuropsychologists work closely with physicians and neurologists. In addition to examining brain scans, neuropsychologists use assessment tests to measure the brain's function. These tests can measure memory, problem-solving abilities, and cognitive abilities.
Depending on their specialty, neuropsychologists may treat patients with strokes, memory loss disorders, or learning disabilities.
Neuropsychologist Salary and Job Growth
Psychologists in many specialties benefit from above-average salaries and strong job growth. The BLS projects jobs for psychologists to grow 14% between 2018 and 2028.
According to PayScale, neuropsychologists earn nearly $93,000 per year, on average. With experience, neuropsychologists see their salaries increase. While early-career neuropsychologists earn an average of under $90,000 per year, neuropsychologists with 10 or more years of experience earn over $112,000 per year.
Salaries often vary by location and work setting. For example, psychologists in several states, including California, Maryland, and Washington, earn average salaries above $100,000 per year. Psychologists who work in government or hospital settings also reported higher wages than those in ambulatory healthcare services or school settings.
Four Steps to Becoming a Neuropsychologist
This section details how to become a neuropsychologist, including education and licensure requirements.
Pursuing an internship or gaining relevant work experience can help undergraduates strengthen their skills. After earning a bachelor's degree, students can apply to graduate programs in neuropsychology.
Earning a master's in psychology generally takes two years, while a doctorate in neuropsychology can take an additional 3-5 years to complete. During a doctoral program, students complete advanced coursework in neuropsychology, an internship, and a research-based dissertation.
Because the licensure process varies by state, prospective neuropsychologists should carefully research the requirements in their state. Neuropsychologists who specialize in research or pursue academic positions may not need a license.
Preparing to Become a Neuropsychologist: Schools and Programs
When researching neuropsychology programs, prospective students should consider several factors, including admission requirements, enrollment options, and faculty advisors. At the graduate level, for example, neuropsychology programs may require an undergraduate degree in psychology or a closely related field. Some doctoral programs require a master's degree for admission.
Prospective students should also review graduation requirements, such as the number of credits in the program, the average length of time it takes to complete the degree, and internship requirements. Researching a program's curriculum and specialty courses can also help students find a program that fits their interests and career goals.
Courses in Neuropsychology Programs
Neuropsychologist degrees train students in the brain-behavior connection, neuropsychological assessment, and cognitive rehabilitation. Learners explore the anatomy of the central nervous system and treatment methods to help patients with neuropsychological disorders. Students hone critical thinking skills, patient treatment abilities, and research skills.
Within a neuropsychology program, students may take specialized courses in areas like pediatric neuropsychological disorders, clinical techniques, or memory loss disorders. Graduate programs also incorporate an internship to give students hands-on experience in the field. While each program sets its own curriculum, the sample courses below cover common classes found in neuropsychology programs.
Foundations of Neuropsychology
Foundational classes introduce students to the subfield of neuropsychology. Students explore the neuropsychological assessment process, treatment techniques, and neuropsychological disorders. The class may also provide information on how to become a neuropsychologist, such as licensure requirements.
Neuroanatomy courses examine the structure and function of the central nervous system. Students learn about the role of neurons, neuronal communication, and neural systems within the human brain. The course also covers the biological bases of behavior through an anatomical lens. Students interested in clinical and research careers benefit from understanding neuroanatomy.
In classes on neuropsychological assessment, students learn to identify and diagnose neuropsychological disorders. The course covers assessment techniques for pediatric and adult patients in addition to major cognitive areas, like executive functioning, language, and memory. Students also learn about different assessment instruments and the reporting process.
In this course, students explore theoretical and applied issues in cognitive rehabilitation, such as therapeutic cognitive activities, the theoretical process of assessing brain-behavior disorders, and treatment approaches for impaired neurological systems. Students also examine empirical research on the cognitive rehabilitation of memory and executive function.
Child and Adolescent Disorders
In courses on child and adolescent disorders, neuropsychology students learn about disorders that affect learning, memory, and behavior. Topics may include attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, seizures, and brain injuries. Learners explore the diagnosis and assessment process, direct evaluation techniques, and treatment options.
Accreditation for a Neuropsychology Program
Prospective psychology students should always check a program's accreditation status before applying. Accredited schools and programs meet high standards for educating students. To earn accreditation, universities must undergo a rigorous review from an independent agency. During the review, the accrediting agency evaluates the school's student learning outcomes, graduation requirements, and faculty qualifications.
Schools may hold regional or national accreditation, with regional accreditation generally considered the more prestigious of the two. Accreditation benefits students in several ways. For example, only students at accredited schools qualify for federal financial aid, and many schools only accept degrees and transfer credits from accredited institutions. Additionally, many professional licenses and certifications require an accredited degree.
Programs within a school may also hold accreditation. Neuropsychology programs may hold programmatic accreditation from an organization like the American Psychological Association (APA) or approval by the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards. In many states, psychologists must attend an APA-accredited program to earn a license.
The U.S. Department of Education provides a database of accredited schools and programs.
Neuropsychologists specialize in the brain-behavior connection. They evaluate and treat patients who experience strokes, brain injuries, and memory loss disorders. Within the field of neuropsychology, professionals may specialize in a certain brain disorder or age group. For example, some neuropsychologists focus on children with learning disabilities, while others work with aging patients with dementia. Other specialty areas include clinical neuropsychology and sports neuropsychology.
While pursuing neuropsychologist degrees, doctoral students can focus their training through specialized courses and internship opportunities. Students interested in clinical work can complete internship hours working with patients to build hands-on skills. Research-focused graduate students may instead conduct laboratory-based research projects.
A specialty may require additional coursework or work experience. The licensure requirements for clinical neuropsychologists often include a minimum of 2,000 hours of internship experience.
Components of a Successful Neuropsychologist Career: Skills, Credentials, Tools, and Technology
Successful neuropsychologists bring several skills to their field. They rely on analytical skills to reach logical, evidence-based conclusions about their patients or research. Patience and communication skills help neuropsychologists connect with patients managing memory loss disorders and treat neurological problems.
Neuropsychologists build these skills throughout their education, which emphasizes treating patients, diagnosing disorders, and conducting research. After completing a doctoral degree and internship, neuropsychologists planning to work in clinical settings must apply for a license. Research neuropsychologists and those who do not treat patients directly may not need a license.
In addition to a license, neuropsychologists can pursue board certification. Certification requirements include a doctoral degree from an accredited program, completion of an accredited internship program or the equivalent, and a psychology license. Board certification helps neuropsychologists demonstrate expertise in the field.
Whether it's conveying instructions to a patient or explaining an idea to a colleague, being able to communicate effectively is extremely important. This includes not only in speaking and presenting ideas, but writing them succinctly as well.
Neuropsychology is a research-driven field. This means most neuropsychologists must be able to create and administer research studies. Even those who don't engage in much research will need research skills to be able to properly understand and interpret data from other researchers.
Being able to interpret and analyze data, as well as design and conduct research, requires critical thinking skills and being able to take unconventional approaches to problems or issues. Critical thinking is also useful in translating recently discovered ideas to practical applications.
Whether it's diagnosing a patient or researching the cause of a neurological disorder in a group of people, problem solving skills are essential for neuropsychologists.
The Powers of Observation
Neuropsychologists study human behavior and brain function. Not surprisingly, they must have excellent observation skills to recognize particular human gestures, movements and other actions as well as review and analyze research data and findings.
Statistical data software
Magnetic resonance imaging
Functional magnetic resonance imaging
Positron emission tomography
Computed axial tomography
Neuropsychologists must have state licensure in order to practice as a psychologist. State licensure is also needed for certification. Each state will have its own licensure requirements, but minimum requirements usually include a doctoral degree, several years of relevant experience and passage of the Examination for Professional Practice of Psychology.
One of the most widely recognized certifications for neuropsychologists is given by the American Board of Clinical Neuropsychology (ABCN). Certification requirements are intense and require a doctorate degree, completion of an APA certified internship, state licensure, documented didactics, several years of postdoctoral training, approval of two practice samples and passage of ABCN written and oral examinations.
Neuropsychologist Professional Organizations
Professional organizations can help neuropsychology students build a professional network and strengthen their skills before entering the workforce. Many of these organizations offer networking opportunities and access to new research. Students may also benefit from discounted membership rates, professional development resources, and job boards.
National Academy of Neuropsychology
NAN offers neuropsychology resources on assessment, treatment, and consultation. The organization also publishes research and provides continuing education resources to help professionals stay current in the field. Students can access specialized resources and use the job board to look for openings.
American Psychological Association
The largest professional organization in psychology, APA serves over 121,000 members. The association hosts multiple conferences and events throughout the year, which offer networking opportunities. Professionals and students also benefit from the organization's publications and career resources, including job postings.
The Society for Clinical Neuropsychology
A division of the APA, SCN studies the brain-behavior relationship and the clinical application of neuropsychological knowledge. The society promotes the use of empirical research in clinical work and develops training and practice standards. SCN also offers resources aimed at students and early-career professionals.
American Academy of Clinical Neuropsychology
AACN maintains standards for the field of clinical neuropsychology by offering board certification in the specialty. The academy oversees the exam process for board-certified clinical neuropsychologists and holds an annual meeting with continuing education programs. AACN also provides a directory and job listings.
Sports Neuropsychology Society
SNS promotes the field of sports neuropsychology and provides evidence-based information on brain-behavior relationships in sports. The society disseminates scientific research on sports neuropsychology, advocates for the health and safety of athletes, and offers resources and publications for specialists. SNS also hosts an annual symposium and admits student members.
What exactly does a neuropsychologist do?
Neuropsychologists research and treat nervous system disorders. They may work with children who have ADHD, elderly patients with memory loss disorders, or people who experience traumatic brain injuries.
Is a neuropsychologist a licensed psychologist?
Yes. Neuropsychologists are licensed psychologists who specialize in brain disorders and injuries.
How much does a neuropsychologist make?
Salaries vary by factors like experience, location, and work setting, but the average salary for a neuropsychologist exceeds $92,000 per year, according to PayScale.
What is the difference between a psychologist and a neuropsychologist?
Neuropsychologists specialize in a subfield of psychology dedicated to nervous system disorders. Like psychologists, neuropsychologists need a doctorate and a license to practice with patients.
Resources for Neuropsychologists
A resource designed for neuropsychology clinicians and students, Neuropsych Now publishes articles on the field and provides current information in an accessible format. Visitors can access resource guides and assessment tools and listen to podcasts on the site. Neuropsych Now also provides a list of mobile apps for practitioners.
The American Board of Clinical Neuropsychology
ABCN, a specialty board of the American Board of Professional Psychology, administers the examination for specialists in clinical neuropsychology. Candidates who pass the ABCN exam can become board certified in clinical neuropsychology and join the American Academy of Clinical Neuropsychology.
Mental Health America
A nonprofit organization established in 1909, Mental Health American addresses the needs of people living with mental illness. The organization provides information on prevention services, interventions, and integrated care. MHA also publishes research in the field and runs programs designed to prevent mental illness.
An open-access scholarly journal, Clinical Neuropsychology publishes research on the diagnosis, pathology, and treatment of neuropsychological disorders. The journal also publishes studies on neuroscience and neurology. Neuropsychologists can read the journal to stay current in the field or submit pieces for publication.
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