How to Become a Neuropsychologist

| Nina Chamlou

How to Become a Neuropsychologist

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When it comes to determining the cause of an individual's mental health condition, psychologists often ask themselves the age-old question of "nature versus nurture." Clinical psychologists mainly focus on the role of nurture: how an individual's life experiences affect them. But neuropsychologists dive into nature: genetics and other biological factors.

If the link between the human brain and human behavior fascinates you, you might consider a career in neuropsychology. While neuropsychology is now a well-established profession, it is still growing significantly in prevalence and recognition. The American Psychological Association (APA) highlights it as one of the fastest-growing fields of psychology.

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What Is Neuropsychology?

In short, neuropsychologists study how an individual's cognition and behavior relate to the brain and nervous system.

A clinical neuropsychologist, not to be confused with a neurologist or neuroscientist, is a licensed psychologist with extra training in how the human nervous system works.

Neuropsychologists diagnose and treat people with terminal illnesses, like Alzheimer's disease, and nonlife-threatening conditions, like autism.

Neuropsychology Salaries

Psychologists
Lowest 10% Median Annual Salary Highest 10% Projected Growth Rate (2020-2030)
Less than $46,270 $82,180 More than $137,590 8%
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics does not keep track of data on neuropsychologists' salaries, specifically. Their median annual salary figure of $82,180 includes neuropsychologists as well as other specializations. According to Payscale, neuropsychologists make an average of $94,130 per year in the U.S. as of November 2021 — about 14% more than the average psychologist.

How Do I Become a Neuropsychologist?

It takes 10-13 years in postsecondary education and supervised experience to become a neuropsychologist. Neuropsychologists usually need a doctoral degree in psychology with a neuropsychology concentration, plus a year or more at an internship (depending on the state).

To practice clinically, you also need to apply for a state license and pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP).

Education for Neuropsychologists

Most students choose psychology, biology, pre-medicine, or another related program. Completing a master's degree can help you be more competitive when applying for doctoral programs but is not required. A doctoral degree from an APA-accredited school in psychology or neuropsychology is required to qualify for the EPPP. During your doctoral studies, you will write a dissertation to be submitted for publication or presentation. After completing the dissertation, you will appear before a board of professionals to defend your thesis. During your psychology postdoc fellowship, you can get the necessary number of supervised clinical hours to qualify for licensure, which vary depending on the state. All clinical psychologists must take and pass the EPPP before practicing.

Licensure for Neuropsychologists

The path to becoming a licensed neuropsychologist is generally the same as the path to becoming a clinical psychologist because neuropsychology is a specialization within clinical psychology.

Your specialization in neuropsychology begins during your doctoral studies and continues during your postdoc. Many universities do not offer a degree specifically in neuropsychology. Instead, they will offer a doctorate in psychology with a concentration in neuropsychology or clinical neuroscience.

Once you pass the EPPP, the other main qualifier employers look for is relevant experience in neuropsychology, which you can gain during internships and/or postdoc experiences.

Board Certification for Neuropsychologists

The American Board of Clinical Neuropsychology (ABCN) offers a certification for psychologists interested in specializing in neuropsychology. You do not need this certification to seek employment as a neuropsychologist, but some employers prefer it or might require it.

To qualify for this certification, you must hold a doctoral degree, complete an APA-approved internship, and pass your EPPP. You will then submit two practice samples and take a written and an oral exam.

Preprofessional Experience for Neuropsychologists

While academics is crucial to your education, your experiences outside the classroom are just as important. During this time, you will learn skills specific to neuropsychology, such as administering and evaluating tests for brain dysfunction and diagnostics.

Each state requires you to complete a certain number of supervised postdoctoral hours, which will range from 1,500-6,000 hours. For specific requirements, contact your state's relevant psychological association.

Every year, the Association of Postdoctoral Programs in Clinical Neuropsychology hosts a resident matching program, similar to the well-known Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Centers Internship Match program. It can help you find neuropsychology postdocs in the United States and Canada.

What Does a Neuropsychologist Do?

A major part of a neuropsychologist's job is administering and interpreting tests. Choosing which tests to administer and making sense of their results requires a high level of knowledge. Some neuropsychologists say this is the most interesting part of the job.

Evaluations include language assessments, mental exams, personality tests, and other cognitive tests. They help measure a patient's intelligence, memory, perception, attention, or personality.

Most neuropsychologists specialize in working with a particular age group, like children or older adults. But some prefer to work with all ages.

Patients see neuropsychologists for various reasons. They could have suffered a head injury that affects their cognitive functions. They could be dealing with an undiagnosed learning disability. They could be experiencing the initial symptoms of dementia.

Neuropsychologists often collaborate with other medical professionals like neurologists, physicians, psychiatrists, and neurosurgeons to ensure patients receive proper treatment.

Another part of a neuropsychologist's job is to read current literature, attend conferences, talk with colleagues, and participate in professional organizations. These activities help keep them up to date on developments in the industry.

Skills and Competencies

Becoming a neuropsychologist takes dedication and determination. You will spend a decade or more in pursuit of this profession.

Although the responsibilities of a neuropsychologist differ from a clinical psychologist, many of the necessary skills, competencies, and personality traits align.

You will often interact with patients that may have recently suffered trauma or are in the beginning stages of developing a neurological disorder. This can be an emotional experience for patients and their families, so the ability to empathize is important for this role.

At the same time, you must avoid becoming overwhelmed by what you may witness day-to-day. Like an emergency room doctor or a hospice nurse, your goal is to strike the balance of being caring and resilient. If you find yourself overwhelmed by the distress of others, you may need to reconsider this career or develop coping mechanisms to avoid burnout.

Neuropsychologists must also possess strong analytical skills. Much of their job consists of matching patients' symptoms with potential causes and interpreting test results.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is a neuropsychologist a doctor?

Neuropsychologists are not medical doctors, but they do hold doctoral degrees and can be addressed as "doctor." However, they do not attend medical school.

What is the difference between a neuropsychologist and a neurologist?

Unlike neuropsychologists, neurologists are medical doctors that can prescribe medication. They do more hands-on work, such as performing procedures. Neurologists and neuropsychologists often work together to diagnose and treat patients.

Do you need to get board certification to become a neuropsychologist?

No. The ABCN offers a special certification for neuropsychologists, but it's not required to practice.

Where do neuropsychologists work?

Most work in clinics, laboratories, universities, hospitals, mental health facilities, or research offices at pharmaceutical companies.

Neuropsychology Resources and Professional Organizations

Featured Image: Luis Alvarez / DigitalVision / Getty Images

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