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How to Become a Neuropsychologist in 2021

October 4, 2021 | Staff Writers

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To become a neuropsychologist, you need to get a degree as a clinical psychologist with a specialty in neuropsychology. Most neuropsychologists obtain a master’s degree or doctoral degree, depending on the work they want to do. In total, most students complete their degrees within 11 years, starting with a bachelor’s degree and ending with a doctoral degree.

Neuropsychologists also need to be licensed with the state. To get this license, they must have a doctoral degree in most states and pass a psychology examination. They also need to have around 2,000 hours of clinical experience.

What a neuropsychologist does

A neuropsychologist has a few different career options and specialties available. They often work with learning disabilities, brain injuries, memory loss, and other psychological issues. They may help patients with cognitive impairment improve their brain function.

Some of the average duties that psychologists perform include:

  • Conducting studies of the brain and how its function relates to behavior
  • Supervising interns, counseling professionals, and clinicians
  • Discussing treatment options and plans with clients
  • Researching emotional patterns and behaviors
  • Identifying and diagnosing organizational, behavioral, psychological, or emotional disorders or diseases
  • Interviewing, surveying, and observing patients and others

On the whole, the job of a neuropsychologist is to both explain and understand emotions, behaviors, and feelings, so that they can help an individual understand how those interact. In a clinical setting, the neuropsychologist may work directly with patients, but there are also areas of the field without patient interaction.

What does a neuropsychologist do?

Neuropsychologists are licensed psychologists. They are doctors, so they have the ability to diagnose and treat many different kinds of conditions. Some conditions they can identify, diagnose, and treat include:

  • Pediatric brain disorders
  • Memory loss disorders
  • Traumatic brain injuries
  • Neurological conditions
  • Stokes
  • Sports injuries (neurological)

As a neuropsychologist, you will need to create treatment plans and work one-on-one with patients.

Since a neuropsychologist is focused on the relationship between behavior and the brain, they tend to work with patients many times over several months or years. They perform evaluations to begin with, but they may test the patient again in the future to see their progress.

Neuropsychologists focus on helping patients treat behavioral psychology problems, relieve issues, or cope with changes in the brain. They will also look at social cognition issues, such as problems with how the cognitive processes work during social interactions or how social interactions are managed by an individual.

You can choose what kind of psychologist you want to be. There are several different specialties. Neuropsychologists may work in forensics, in rehabilitation, in schools, in pediatrics, or in other fields. They may opt to research or teach, as well.

What happens during a neuropsychological evaluation?

During neuropsychology evaluations, patients go through a series of tests. Usually, these include tests for intellectual functioning (like IQ tests), reasoning, learning and memory, problem-solving, and attention span. A neuropsychologist may also perform tests for mood and personality, language, and visuospatial skills.

The test itself usually takes between two and five hours, though some patients may move more quickly or slowly depending on their brain’s function and any conditions they have. The complexity of their potential issues is usually what determines how long the test is. For example, if someone is fatigued or confused, then it may take longer to complete the tests.

It’s normal for the neuropsychologist to work with the patient, the patient’s friends or family, or others who know the patient well. They may also go through a medical record review to determine if there are any underlying medical issues that could be leading to neurological trouble.

After the assessment, a neuropsychologist interprets the patient’s test scores and lets the referring physician know the results. In a follow-up appointment, they may then go over their impressions, recommendations for the patient, their findings, and more. Usually, this part of the assessment follow-up takes around an hour.

What is the difference between a neurologist and a neuropsychologist?

A neurologist is a medical doctor who diagnoses and treats problems with the nervous system and brain. This can include treating physical disorders that impact the way the brain and spinal cord works. They may also treat issues with the autonomic and peripheral nervous systems.

A neurologist treats people who have had strokes, developed Parkinson’s disease, had seizures, or deal with other diseases and illnesses.

On the other hand, neuropsychology handles the relationship between the way a person acts and their brain’s chemistry and structure. A neuropsychologist may assess how well a person can recall or remember information, for example, as well as to figure out if they are dealing with disorders such as ADHD or being on the autism spectrum.

A neuropsychologist collects information during an evaluation that is then later used to assess the person’s weaknesses and strengths in brain function. They may help monitor improvements after brain injuries or help determine a diagnosis when two disorders are similar.

To put it simply, the neurologist usually works with the functionality and structure of the brain and nervous system, while the neuropsychologist works with behavior and the brain.

Which other medical professionals do neuropsychologists work with?

Neuropsychologists may work with a patient’s primary care physician, psychologists, counselors, nurses, and other parties on the patient’s medical team.

It is not uncommon to see neuropsychologists working side-by-side with psychologists and counselors in behavioral health groups. They may also work in hospital settings or in independent offices.

Which conditions can neuropsychologists treat?

Specifically looking at injuries, neuropsychologists can treat strokes, concussions, traumatic brain injuries, and functional recovery following aneurysms. They may work with patients who have or who are at risk of developing dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, ADHD, autism, and other conditions as well.

Requirements to become a neuropsychologist

To become a neuropsychologist, you will need to obtain a doctoral degree from an accredited program that meets your state’s requirements. You will also need to complete an accredited internship or complete a specific number of clinical hours. After this, you need to obtain a psychology license to be able to practice within the state. If you want to exhibit that you are an expert in your field, then it’s also smart to get your board certification.

What are the requirements to become a neuropsychologist?

To start with, you will need to find a program where you can get a master’s degree or doctoral degree. Most states do require you to have a doctoral degree to practice as a neuropsychologist. At most, it takes around 11 years to become a neuropsychologist, and this is considering four years in college, two years in a master’s program, and five years in a doctoral program.

It may take more or less time to become a neuropsychologist depending on the kind of courses taken and if the program is accelerated.

After you complete the program, you need to meet the state’s requirements for clinical hours. Usually, you need to complete around 2,000 hours of experience under the supervision of other licensed medical professionals. Once you do that, you can go on to take your state examination.

Keep in mind that some neuropsychologists don’t need to have a license. If you intend to remain in academia or to work in research, then you may be able to avoid the licensing requirements.

What should you major in to become a neuropsychologist?

To become a neuropsychologist, it’s normal to major in psychology or a closely related field. You might opt to get a degree in neurology instead, for example.

How long do you have to study to become a neuropsychologist?

Usually, the maximum length of time it takes to become a neuropsychologist is around 11 years. However, it could take between 10 and 15 years depending on if you take an accelerated program, attend part-time, opt to obtain more clinical hours, or choose special certifications.

Can neuropsychology students get special certifications?

Neuropsychologists can get a board certification, which shows that they have gone above and beyond when seeking a license. You may also specialize within your field with a neuropsychologist certification. Neuropsychology is a specialty of psychology, but there are additional options and career pathways. For example, you may opt to become a clinical neuropsychologist, forensic neuropsychologist, pediatric neuropsychologist, cognitive neuropsychologist, or pediatric neuropsychologist.  

Which school offers the best neuropsychology program?

There are many excellent colleges and universities that offer a neuropsychology path. The best school for you may depend on how much money you want to spend on your degree, your location, the graduation rate, or how many of the staff members are tenured.

For example, looking at the graduation rate, the University of Florida has an 88% graduation rate, which is much higher than other schools. Stanford boasts a top program in neuropsychology and has its own clinic.

The right program for you may not be the “top” program in the country, because the term “top” is subjective. You should base your decision to join a specific school based on your preferences, such as the clinical hours you need, the language you speak, the location where you want to work, and where you intend to get your license.

What makes a good neuropsychology program?

A good neuropsychology program has a few benefits. First, the school’s admissions office is willing to meet with you and talk to you about the program. The admissions team should prepare for your arrival and be ready to answer any questions that you have. They should give you a tour and help you meet with any staff members you would like to speak with before you enroll.

A good program will have a straightforward curriculum that you can review before you enroll. It’s not advisable to enter into a program when you haven’t seen the full curriculum, because you will want to be sure that the curriculum is one that matches your goals and intended outcomes.

If you want to complete your degree in a specific amount of time, look for a neuropsychology program that is accelerated or that is flexible enough for your schedule. There are part-time programs, hybrid programs, accelerated programs, and other types that may help you complete your degree faster or in a set amount of time that you can handle with other responsibilities.

One thing to look closely at with any neuropsychology program is the staff that works there. You want to learn from the best if possible, so look for staff members and speakers who are at the top of the field and find out where they work. If there are a few specific neuropsychologists that you follow and want to learn from, see if they teach and consider enrolling in their classes. Remember, though, that you will want to check to see if those school credits will transfer if you take them at a school and intend to transfer later on.

Another major selling point of a good neuropsychology program is that the school helps with clinical hours. Some schools will ask you to talk to local hospitals or behavioral health groups to set up internships. Others have their own clinics. Some will help you find intern and externships. Find a program that has the support you need to start your clinical hours as soon as possible, because you will likely need to complete at least 2,000 before you can get your license.

Some programs vary in terms of doctoral dissertations and thesis studies as well. If you aren’t interested in doing a dissertation, there are some programs that will require an additional course or several additional clinical hours to bypass it. This is worth discussing with the admissions team, especially if you won’t want to risk failing your dissertation and missing out on getting your license after putting in so much work.

Finally, when you’re looking for a school, don’t forget about your budget. You need to ask about financial aid, scholarships, grants, and other opportunities at the facility to help you pay for your education and move forward with your career. Some schools give students with a master’s degree or other education to teach courses to younger students and students in other programs in exchange for pay and free courses. Others reduce the cost of courses for those who become faculty.

It’s worth asking about financial aid, payment plans, and how the school expects you to pay. Of course, you should also look at the tuition rate, but wait until you see the final total before selecting a school. Oftentimes, the initial rate that you see is not what you’ll be charged, which is something to keep in mind.

Typical degrees for a clinical neuropsychologist

There are a few degrees that can lead to becoming a neuropsychologist, though a degree in psychology is the most common. There are not specific bachelor’s degree options that are for this field, so any base degree still gives students the option to move into psychology when they pursue a master’s degree. Keep in mind that not all master’s degree programs accept students from all bachelor’s degree fields.

What degree path do most clinical neuropsychologists take?

Interestingly, there isn’t usually any kind of formal requirement for a bachelor’s degree. However, those who want to go into this field tend to get degrees in biology, biochemistry, neuroscience, or psychology. It’s not typical to see neuropsychology available as a bachelor’s degree option, so look for it at the school you choose at the master’s or doctoral level.

Why earn your doctorate in clinical neuropsychology?

Most states do require clinical neuropsychologist to get a doctoral degree before they can receive a license. Getting a doctoral degree specifically in clinical neuropsychology allows you to specialize in this area of neuropsychology rather than in forensics or another area.

Get a doctorate in clinical neuropsychology also prepares you to work with patients who have brain fog, traumatic brain injuries, and other conditions that benefit from proper diagnosis and treatment.

Why study for a master’s in clinical neuropsychology?

A master’s program is meant to bridge the gap between a bachelor’s degree and a doctoral degree. You may still be able to work as a counselor or psychologist with a master’s degree, but you will need to go on to your doctorate degree, in most cases, to work as a clinical neuropsychologist and get licensed.

A master’s degree isn’t usually enough to work in neuropsychology, but it can still get you a good job in a related field. This may help you get additional clinical hours for your future licensure.

Some other jobs that you can have with a master’s degree include becoming a:

  • Marriage and family therapist
  • School or career counselor
  • Survey researcher
  • Sociologist
  • Social worker

All of these careers, as well as others, are able to be done with a master’s level education. They also pay decently, which can help students afford to continue on with their doctoral studies.

In some cases, businesses will cover the costs of their employees going on to complete further education. For example, a psychiatric office may encourage counselors to get licensed and to go on to specialize with a doctoral degree to fill a position that is opening up in the future.

How much will you earn as a neuropsychologist?

Neuropsychology is a well-paid field. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics states that psychologists without a specialty average $82,180 per year, which equates to around $39.51 per hour.

Neuropsychologists earn more because they have specialized in working with the brain. In government, these psychologists earn an average of $96,400. In hospitals, the average is $86,500.

The highest-earning psychologists earned over $137,590, according to the BLS. The lowest-earning neuropsychologist earned under $46,270.  

Remember that most psychologists are able to set their own office hours, which makes this career more flexible than some. They may also work as independent consultants part-time, which helps them earn extra income on top of the yearly averages stated above.

Sometimes, psychologists do work on the weekend or in the evening because of their clients. This is particularly true if they work on rounds in a hospital or clinical setting. However, most psychologists who work in schools, the government, or in industry have normal office hours.

What is the job outlook for aspiring clinical neuropsychologists?

If you are planning on going into clinical neuropsychology, it’s important to keep track of the current job availability and the percent change in employment that is expected in the future.

Between 2019 and 2029, it’s believed that the field of psychology will expand by around 3%, which is about as fast as average for any occupation. Demand for psychologists will increase as the population ages.

The BLS states that there were 192,300 jobs in psychology as of 2019. By 2029, there should be an additional 5,700 jobs available.

Skills and qualities needed for a successful neuropsychologist

Good neuropsychologists are real problem solvers. They are ethical and reliable, focused, and research savvy.

What skills and qualities will help you study to become a neuropsychologist?

If you want to study to become a neuropsychologist, you probably already know that this will take dedication and years of work. To make that work easier, it helps if a candidate has good active listening skills, good reading comprehension, writing skills, and critical thinking skills. They should be able to identify and solve complex problems.

Neuropsychologists do need to spend time speaking with colleagues, groups, and patients, so they must be well-spoken and comfortable speaking with others. They should be active learners, which means that they can take and apply new information.

Good judgment and decision-making skills help, as does a good understanding of basic science and analysis. Time management is a must, as these professionals often have to see multiple patients in a day and stick to a tight schedule.

What skills are required for neuropsychologists and clinical neuropsychologists?

Once in the field, it’s essential that a neuropsychologist has a good understanding of the law and government, because there are strict guidelines and laws that apply to this field. They should be able to work well with others and have integrity. One mistake with a patient does have the potential to cost a medical professional their license, so understanding the ethics and rules of the career is key to avoiding trouble.

A good neuropsychologist has great attention to detail and is analytical. They’ll listen to the patient but take into consideration their actions, others’ thoughts about them, test results, and more to really put together the person’s diagnosis and to come up with reasonable treatment options. Persistence is a must, as is flexibility.

This is a very social career, so those who enjoy speaking with others and having a service-related career may enjoy working in neuropsychology.

What soft skills help you become a successful neuropsychologist?

There are five major soft skills that you should have to become a successful neuropsychologist. These include:

  • Being a good communicator
  • Remaining ethical and having good ethics
  • Patience
  • Open-mindedness
  • Interpersonal skills

Each of these helps you become the best psychologist possible. Here’s how.

Being a good communicator

Being a good communicator is essential because you need to talk to your patients about what they are going through. It’s also important to be a good communicator as you build patient-psychologist and colleague-to-colleague relationships that you can rely on.

Remaining ethical and having good ethics

Another important aspect of psychology is your ethical standpoint. Ethics do play a major part in this career, so you need to develop the ability to understand how to reassure your clients and how to protect their privacy. A good psychologist is not easily manipulated.

Patience

Good patience matters, too, because there will be patients who push back as well as colleagues you don’t necessarily agree or get along with. Some cases will take longer than others, too, so it’s important to be patient as you develop your relationship with your patient.

Open-mindedness

Everyone is different, and people go through all kinds of challenges. You may have opinions about the best treatment methods, but your patient does get to say if they want to participate. Learn to be open-minded and to listen to your patient without judgment. When you’re open-minded, you’re also more likely to use the latest treatments and technology to help patients instead of relying on past options.

Interpersonal skills

Finally, there are interpersonal skills. These are skills that make it easier for you to work with teams or patients. For example, you may need to communicate with researchers or colleagues, so having good interpersonal skills is a must. Good interpersonal skills also help you make the best decisions on behalf of your patients.

Is neuropsychology the same as clinical psychology?

Neuropsychology isn’t quite the same as clinical psychology, although the fields are similar. Both careers work with people needing mental health treatment to provide them with the medications or skills needed to overcome their diagnoses and live more comfortably.

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