What is a Neuropsychologist? Quick, you have 15 seconds!

Written By: S. Marc Testa, Ph.D. & W. Howard Buddin, Jr., Ph.D.
Published On: 07/27/2015
tags: Advocacy

The job of a neuropsychologist is not easy sometimes, especially when we have to explain what a NEUROpsychologist is! Importantly, we often encounter people who have never heard of a neuropsychologist. Unfortunately, some of these individuals are patients who could benefit from an assessment or potential referral sources!Because of this, we at Neuropsych Now made a request to neuropsychologists on various neuropsychology listservs for their neuropsychology “elevator pitch.” That is, how would you explain the job of a neuropsychologist to an innocent bystander in 15 seconds?

Overall, the entries we received tended to be descriptive and succinct. Others were heavier with jargon, or seemed to exceed the attentional/interest capacity of the would-be listener. Also, we got some verification that 15 seconds seems to be the amount of time allotted before a listener’s eyes glazed over.

A couple of very focused pitches came in:

“A psychologist is a doctor who helps people feel better. A neuropsychologist is a doctor who helps people think better.”

“I am a neuropsychologist who works with children. The “neuro” in my title means that I use knowledge of how the brain works to understand how children think and learn, and what can go wrong following injury or disease.”

“Neuropsychological testing consists of a series of tasks, or tests, which have been found to be sensitive to brain circuitry. CAT scans and MRIs are great, but they don’t tell you what works and what doesn’t. That’s my job.”

“Neuropsychology is a branch of psychology that studies how the structure and function of the brain affect psychological functions such as memory, perceptions, and emotions.”

“We test people who have brain injuries, learning disabilities, or might have Alzheimer’s Disease and things like that to see what types of cognitive deficits they have. Like an if an elderly person has memory problems it might mean they have Alzheimer’s disease, or with kids we can see if they have a learning disability.”

Here are a few examples of longer pitches (each took at least 30 seconds to read):

“Nearly everybody has seen somebody who has survived a stroke that has resulted in an inability to use one side of his/her body or is unable to speak. Those are dramatic changes in abilities as a result of a major injury to the brain. More subtle injuries to the brain result in more subtle changes in abilities. Neuropsychologists use interviews and psychological testing to uncover those more subtle changes. Optional, if necessary: Neuropsychological examinations establish the nature of behavior changes to determine their impact on a person’s ability to function and to determine if other factors like depression and anxiety, which can be treated, are also impacting one’s abilities.”

“I’m a neuropsychologist. Basically, neuropsychology is the study of the relationship between brain and behavior. So, if something happens to your brain—like a head injury or a stroke—how does that affect your thinking, behavior, and mood? We use paper-and-pencil and computer tests to put your brain to work and compare your performance on tests of attention, memory, etc. to other individuals who are similar to you and see if they’re where we’d expect them to be. Based on your history and pattern of performance on these tests, we get a sense of what might be going on/causing problems.”

Though not an elevator pitch, the 2007 AACN Board of Directors authored the American Academy of Clinical Neuropsychology (AACN) practice guidelines for neuropsychological assessment and consultation, in which they listed some definitions of clinical neuropsychology, including:

‘‘an applied science concerned with the behavioral expression of brain function and dysfunction’’ (Lezak, Howieson & Loring, 2004)

‘‘the impact of brain injury or disease on the cognitive, sensorimotor, emotional, and general adaptive capacities of the individual.’’ (Vanderploeg, 2000)

‘‘the scientific study of how the brain produces mind and how disorders of the brain cause a variety of mental and personality disturbances.’’ (Prigatano, 2002)

From these, an aggregate description was offered:

“…clinical neuropsychology is an applied science that examines the impact of both normal and abnormal brain functioning on a broad range of cognitive, emotional, and behavioral functions.”

The authors also added:

“The distinctive features of neuropsychological evaluations and consultations in assessing brain function and dysfunction include the use of objective neuropsychological tests, systematic behavioral observations, and interpretation of the findings based on knowledge of the neuropsychological manifestations of brain-related conditions. Where appropriate, these evaluations consider neuroimaging and other neurodiagnostic studies and inform neuropsychologically oriented rehabilitation interventions.”

Considering the submissions we reviewed, along with the AACN’s definition, it seemed that perhaps a best-practices approach is to start with a brief:

“A neuropsychologist is a doctor who evaluates brain function.”

Or maybe something more entertaining:

“Everyone knows that zombies eat brains. In a manner of speaking, I figure out if that has happened to you.”

Whether we are talking to the general public or other clinicians, part of advocating for neuropsychology is to state clearly what it is we do. Otherwise, we risk not being utilized to our full potential. At least, of course, until the zombie apocalypse!

REFERENCES

Board of Directors. (2007). American Academy of Clinical Neuropsychology (AACN) practice guidelines for neuropsychological assessment and consultation. The Clinical Neuropsychologist, 21(2), 209–231. http://doi.org/10.1080/13825580601025932

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