The idea of a neuropsychological evaluation may sound quite intimidating, as thoughts of electrodes and brain scans often arise; however, those are not part of a neuropsychological evaluation, although they may certainly be recommended. If recommended, EEGs, brain MRIs, or other medical procedures would be ordered and reviewed by a medical practitioner, such as a neurologist. Broadly speaking, the process of a neuropsychological evaluation is much like pulling all the pieces of an individual’s puzzle together in order to assess general medical, neurological, emotional, behavioral, family, and school- or work-based functioning into a cohesive and meaningful whole. While a neuropsychological evaluation can certainly assist with clarification of an individual’s potential psychiatric diagnoses, an evaluation can also clarify an individual’s strengths and weaknesses in a wide variety of areas. These areas of functioning can include intellectual and academic functioning, adaptive functioning, language abilities, learning and memory skills, executive functioning, attention and processing speed, visual-spatial skills, fine motor skills, and psychological functioning. Lastly, a neuropsychological evaluation should provide guidance to the most important intervention or accommodation recommendations.
It is important to note that neuropsychologists are first psychologists, who have broad training in evaluation and intervention through their doctoral level training. Unlike general psychologists, however, neuropsychologists have advanced training in several important areas, including neuroanatomy (i.e., brain structure), psychopharmacology (i.e., psychiatric medications), typical and atypical development patterns, and neurologically impairing disease processes or injuries (e.g., epilepsy, cancer treatment, stroke, traumatic brain injury), among others. In order to obtain this advance training, neuropsychologists undergo a formal two-year postdoctoral fellowship, which occurs after they complete their classroom, practical, and internship training, and receive their doctoral degree, which may be a PhD or PsyD. It is important to know that very few states regulate the use of “neuropsychologist” as a title, and thus the public is encouraged to seek out those with the highest level of vetting through board certification. Board certification widely accepted by the community is through the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP) and the American Board of Professional Neuropsychology (ABPN). ABPP certifies psychologists in a large number of areas, with Clinical Neuropsychology (ABPP-CN) being one of the most demanding processes. While there are numerous other boards through which individuals seek board certification, some are quite easy to come by and may even be regarded as “vanity boards” (i.e., getting more “credentials” to appear to have more qualifications). Essentially, board certification ensures that a psychologist, specializing in neuropsychology, has the bare minimum knowledge and skill to identify as a neuropsychologist. The board certification process is a peer-review process, by which the neuropsychologist’s work samples, knowledge, ethics, and practice methods are fully vetted by qualified peers.
A word to the wise…most any psychologist can hang their shingle out as a neuropsychologist, and they may even administer the same test measures to you or your children that a board-certified neuropsychologist might. However, their interpretation may be very basic and not provide you with the full scope of understanding required for moving through complex school, medical, or social services environments, or to understand the long-term ramifications or trajectory of certain situations. Those seeking neuropsychological services are encouraged to research, in the same manner you would a medical professional, those with the highest level of qualifications. The above mentioned boards have search tools so you can locate board-certified neuropsychologists within your area.