What if the way you behaved, your memory and your ability to learn new things could be enhanced by changing the way your brain works? The answer is not so simple.
Neuropsychology is a multidisciplinary and diverse field of science that explores new horizons in the diagnosis and treatment of certain problems concerning the mind-brain connection.
Clinical neuropsychology has influenced various other therapeutic traditions and it is hoped that advances in this field will provide even more solutions for the ever-present mind-brain riddle.
Neuropsychology: What is it?
As a specialty field in clinical psychology, neuropsychology is dedicated to the understanding of how the functioning of the brain is closely related to human behavior. This specialty mainly focuses on the diagnosis of brain disorders, the assessment of behavioral and cognitive functioning and the design of valuable treatment models.
The main challenge of neuropsychology is to understand the ways in which abnormal behavior is affected by the faulty processing of information in the central nervous system.
Neuropsychologists not only look at the effects of psychological conditions on the nervous system; but they also study the ways in which brain injury, hormonal imbalances, and environmental factors affect mental health.
Even though neuropsychology is a relatively young science, it has always been an interesting topic. Traditionally, the associations between psychological defects and focal brain lesions were the main focus; but modern neuropsychology uses refined methods and theories for understanding how the mind and the brain are interconnected.
Neuropsychology is a diverse science and it includes:
- Experimental neuropsychology
The study of how the brain functions and behavior are connected in non-humans.
- Cognitive neuropsychology
This is the study of cognitive behavior in humans.
- Behavioral neuropsychology
This is a blend of behavioral theories and neuropsychological principles.
- Clinical neuropsychology
Which is the study of the relationships between brain functioning and behavior in humans.
For thousands of years, it has been known that our brains affect our psychological state. In early times (around 3500 B.C.E.); the Egyptians started studying the effects of the brain on people’s behavior. Even Hippocrates himself argued that our behavior was directly affected by our brains. Philosophers used to fascinate about the mind’s origin and they attempted to understand how the brain and the body worked.
Late during the 19th century, the science of neuropsychology started to emerge and it continued to advance in the years thereafter. Through extensive research, scientists began understanding how certain brain parts control certain functions of the body.
It was discovered that chemicals like neurotransmitters and certain hormones affect the way in which signal transduction takes place within the brain; and between the brain and other body parts.
Knowing all of this, neurologists have an arsenal of powerful knowledge to use in practice. It is also interesting to note that from the awareness of these connections came the birth of neuropsychology in the modern world.
How Does Neuropsychology Suggest the Mind Works?
Cognitive functioning includes intellectual activities like attention span, learning abilities, memory, the processing of information, executive functions, verbal fluency and working memory. In other words, your cognitive functioning is what gives you the capabilities of acknowledging things happening around you or with you, forming associations, remembering things that happen, using information to reach certain goals and expressing overt behavior.
In clinical neuropsychology, it is thought that your overt behaviors provide information that can be used to assess whether your central nervous system is functioning as it should.
It has been suggested that cognitive function can be influenced by either localized areas of the brain or connections between multiple areas of the brain or both.
Neuropsychology is a science that studies the effect that changing brain chemistry has on mental health. Moreover, it also considers the effects that certain psychological conditions and other non-neurologic conditions have on the central nervous system.
Due to scientific advances and the development of technology in recent years, a lot of new knowledge has come to light. Scientists now have a better understanding of the relationship between chronic diseases and cognitive abilities.
It is now thought that diseases like thyroid disease, diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis may affect the way in which the central nervous system functions. To boot, some treatment methods for controlling these diseases may amplify neuropsychological symptoms or cause new symptoms.
How Do Neuropsychology Interventions Cause Change?
The field of Neuropsychology is quite the “game-changer” and it has influenced different therapeutic traditions. For instance, mindfulness-based psychological approaches to stress management are partially based on the idea that mindfulness can affect mental health by changing brain activity.
One pattern that has been observed through the ages is that our brains tend to fixate on negative feelings and negative events. It goes on to reveal that we focus on things that threaten our well-being instead of paying attention to positive experiences. These patterns may stem from genetics or evolution or they may be based on personal life experiences.
The theory of neuropsychology suggests that we may be able to change these patterns.
Our brains keep changing throughout our lives and this is known as “neuroplasticity”; a term that has gained a lot of attention recently in the mental health profession.
What Happens in a Neuropsychology Session?
Clinical neuropsychologists perform psychometric assessments that they use to measure neurological health.
During a neuropsychological evaluation, the practitioner needs to gather relevant information about the patient. This can be done by taking a detailed patient history and by performing a neuropsychological examination.
History can be obtained through medical records and interviewing. Family members may be asked to disclose more relevant information that may help the cause, with the permission of the patient.
Typically, the examination involves testing using:
- Verbal questions
- Paper and pencil questionnaires
- Computer testing
- The manipulation of puzzles or blocks or other materials
The practitioner may focus on evaluating cognitive functions like memory, attention, visuospatial functioning, language, reasoning, problem-solving, academic skills and sensory-motor skills.
Furthermore, the neuropsychologist will provide questionnaires and tests to evaluate the psychological aspects of personality, mood, behavior and emotional style.
A neuropsychology technician may administer parts of the testing under the direct supervision of a clinical neuropsychologist. Such an evaluation may be a brief screening or it may be an extended comprehensive screening that may take as long as several appointments.
Techniques Used in Neuropsychology
The techniques used in neuropsychology are used by skilled neuropsychologists to assess and treat brain disorders.
Some of the most important skills of a neuropsychologist include:
- Neuropsychological assessment techniques
- Intervention techniques
- Research design and analysis
- Being ethical and other professional issues
- Understanding the implications of certain conditions
Brain Scans: MRI, EEG, and PET Scans
Test results are effective for helping your neuropsychologist to understand the causes of problems you may have with thinking and understanding.
Your neuropsychologist may want to use your neurological examination results along with other test results like those of brain scans, blood tests and EEG’s to reach a diagnosis from where treatment can commence.
Functional brain imaging techniques can also be used to pinpoint the areas of the brain from which certain functions originate when used along with neuropsychological findings.
Most of the tests that are used for assessment in neuropsychology are standardized. This means that everybody takes the same tests in the same way. The patient’s performance on the tests is compared to that of other people of the same age or educational background.
Test results may be used to clarify the causes of issues you may have with mental performance. The causes may range from normal aging to neurological illness to depression.
Do Neuropsychology Interventions Work?
Clinical neuropsychologists use their specialized knowledge to assess, diagnose and treat people who suffer from neurological, neurodevelopmental and other related medical disorders during their lives.
Many neuropsychologists make use of a trial-and-error approach by making relatively small changes to a treatment regimen over certain time periods to test their effectiveness. Sometimes, a therapist may recommend certain medications before considering any other changes. Moving forward, lifestyle changes may be added to enhance the results.
One treatment approach, known as “neurofeedback,” is used to observe brain activity as it happens. The therapist can then provide the patient with feedback on how they can change or even improve brain activity for improved mental health.
What Kinds of Concerns are Neuropsychology Interventions Best For?
Neuropsychological interventions may be helpful for conditions like:
- Neurodegenerative disorders
- Seizure disorders
- Traumatic brain injury
- Learning disabilities
- Neurodevelopmental disorders
- Neuropsychiatric disorders
- Infectious disease that affects the central nervous system
- Metabolic disease affecting the central nervous system
- The neurological effects caused by medical disorders
How Are Neuropsychologists Trained?
Different routes can be taken to become a neuropsychologist. These professionals usually have doctoral degrees in neurology or psychology.
Neuropsychologists also need to have completed specialized training in the field of neuropsychology.
Concerns/Limitations of Neuropsychology
For many years mental health experts had to work with an organ, the brain, which they could never see. Even though the brain still holds many mysteries today still, neuropsychology has provided therapists with a better understanding of how the brain works.
Some neuropsychological methods may be quite new and, in some cases, they have not been tested. It is, therefore, recommended that people should learn as much as possible about the specific type of treatment that is recommended by their therapist.
Important Practitioners in Neuropsychology
Neuropsychology truly began to emerge during the last years of the 19th century and it made great advances throughout the 20th century. Scientists came to learn how certain brain parts were responsible for controlling certain bodily functions. Some influential names in the field of neuropsychology include:
- Franz Joseph Gall
- Paul Broca
- Karl Spencer Lashley
- Ward Halstead
- Alexander Luria
How to Find a Therapist
Neuropsychologists practice in various settings like hospitals, private practices, outpatient clinics, rehabilitation centers and governmental agencies. You may be referred by other physicians or health care providers to see a neuropsychologist. Alternatively, you can also discuss your options for referral with your doctor.
The AACN website has a member directory containing a list of certified Clinical Neuropsychologists.
What Should I be Looking for in an LMHP?
Clinical neuropsychologists are skilled professionals who assess and treat brain disorders. They may also be involved in research concerning the connections that exist between the brain and the psychological state of a person.
A neuropsychologist may be involved in the research conducted during the development of new medications. Furthermore, they may also work in clinical settings like psychiatric hospitals.
A competent practitioner will have proper interviewing and counseling skills, appreciate social as well as cultural practices and have the knowledge of a clinical psychologist. They should also have statistical knowledge and be familiar with neuropsychological testing.
Neuropsychologists generally meet all of these requirements on top of an all-encompassing understanding of the nervous system and the pathologies that affect it.
Questions to Ask a Potential Therapist
If you are interested in knowing more about neuropsychology, speak to a professional in the field. They will be able to assist you in taking the steps needed to benefit from this type of approach to psychological well-being.
Contact a neuropsychology specialist to start following the steps to renewed psychological health!
Brain Health Equals Mind Health
The science of neuropsychology has enhanced our understanding of the brain‐mind relationship. This has provided us with novel ideas about the diagnosis and treatment of various disorders involving this connection.
Research has also opened our eyes to the ways in which changing brain chemistry can affect mental health.
It looks like it may be true, a healthy mind could house a healthy body and vice versa.