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  • Writer's pictureLaura Humphreys

What is neuropsychology?

Updated: Mar 17, 2020

How can a clinical neuropsychologist help?

How can a clinical neuropsychologist help?

Neuropsychology is often described as the study of brain-behaviour relationships. It is a branch of psychology that focuses on the interaction between the structure and function of the brain and thinking skills,

emotions, behaviour, and day-to-day


What is a clinical neuropsychologist?

Clinical Neuropsychologist is a title given to psychologists by the relevant registration board in their country. To be given the title they have to prove that they have the training and experience to work as a clinical neuropsychologist. In Australia, to call yourself a clinical neuropsychologist you need to have endorsement from the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA). Currently, to gain endorsement you need to have completed four years of undergraduate study in psychology, a postgraduate degree in clinical neuropsychology (either a Masters or a Doctorate), and a registrar program that involves working in a supervised capacity for 1 to 2 years after graduating.

This training program means that clinical neuropsychologists initially gain training in the general skills that all psychologists are expected to have. They then go on to develop advanced skills in the assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of psychological disorders associated with brain-based conditions

There aren’t many clinical neuropsychologists in Australia: in March 2018 AHPRA reported that only 2.2% (651) of the 29,213 registered psychologists in Australia hold an endorsement in clinical neuropsychology.

At YCP, we are proud to have a team of highly experienced clinical neuropsychologists, which currently includes Dr Asawari Henderson, Dr Mary Castellani, Dr Kerryn Pike, and Simone Mangelsdorf.

You can read further information about clinical neuropsychologists on the website of the Australian Psychological Society.

What makes clinical neuropsychologists so helpful?

Input from a clinical neuropsychologist can be particularly valuable because of their ability to combine strong psychological skills with precise and reliable assessment techniques and advanced knowledge of how the structure and function of the brain impact behaviour, thinking, emotions, and functioning.

* Psychological skills: A clinical neuropsychologist knows that it is frightening to think that there has been a change in your memory or thinking skills or to find out that there has been an injury to your brain. Their psychology training means that they can help you feel a bit more comfortable during an assessment. They will take a clinical history to get a good understanding of what you are concerned about and some information about your history (such as your education and medical history).

* Precise and reliable assessment techniques: The specialised assessment tools used by clinical neuropsychologists allow for precise assessment of a range of cognitive functions including attention, learning, memory, and processing speed. They can also look at specific components of each of those functions. For example:

  • When assessing attention, they can examine different types of attention such as sustained attention (how long you can concentrate on one thing), divided attention (concentrating on more than one thing at once), or attentional switching (the ability to switch your attention from one thing to another).

  • When assessing verbal learning and memory, they might ask you to remember different types of information (such as a list of words, pairs of words, or short stories), some of the information might be repeated, some might need to be recalled after a short delay and some after a longer delay, and prompts may be used to help recall some information. This is done to help determine why memory problems might be occurring; is it due to difficulty concentrating, difficulty organising information as you take it in, difficulty storing information, or difficulty recalling information after a delay?

* Advanced knowledge of brain-behaviour relationships: Clinical neuropsychologists’ knowledge about the structure and function of the brain helps them interpret the results from the assessment in the context of the clinical history and observational data they’ve gathered. They can help determine if the areas of weaknesses shown in an assessment make sense in terms of what is known about your history and any injuries or illnesses, or if there is something else that needs to be considered. They can help predict how well you will adapt to any identified changes and what supports you may need.

Importance of the individualised approach

The combination of skills possessed by clinical neuropsychologists means they can consider many of the factors that impact a particular person and gain an individualised understanding of how a brain-based condition is influencing their thinking, behaviour, emotions, and function.

I’ll give you an example to help explain why the individualised approach is so important:

Mild injury but big impact: Imagine a clinical neuropsychologist is asked to see a primary school teacher who has had a mild brain injury. Perhaps the teacher has recovered well overall, but hasn’t been able to return to work. The clinical neuropsychologist could add a couple of key things to this person’s overall assessment and treatment plan.

* Precise and reliable assessment techniques: let’s say the assessment shows a subtle change in the teacher’s attention, speed of thinking, or ability to multi-task. This could have a marked impact for a teacher who needs to be able to concentrate for extended periods and to multi-task. For someone in a different career, the subtle changes may be barely noticeable.

* Psychological skills: It might be that being an excellent teacher was key to their ‘sense of self’, to their sense of why they mattered in the world and what they contribute in the world. As such, a subtle change in this person’s functioning could impact their career and therefore their emotional state dramatically.

* Advanced knowledge of brain-behaviour relationships: The clinical neuropsychologist will help clarify if the change in function is consistent with the injury the teacher had. They will also consider whether factors such as depression or anxiety could increase the difficulty with attention, speed, and multi-tasking. Documenting these factors together can help the treatment team best meet this person’s needs. It might guide their treating doctor/s, the occupational therapist, and/or a mental health clinician.

I hope the above information helps you have a better understanding of what neuropsychology is and how a clinical neuropsychologist can help you. At YCP we’ve created blog posts about our clinical neuropsychologists so that you can get to know them and their areas of expertise:

* Dr Mary Castellani (flyer coming soon)

Also, keep an eye out for our upcoming blogs:

* What to expect if you’re having a neuropsychological assessment

In the interim, if you have any queries about neuropsychology and the services that clinical neuropsychologists offer, please feel free to contact us via our website.

© Laura Humphreys, Yarra City Psychology, 2018. You are welcome to share this blog as long as it is shared in full and unchanged and with credit provided to Laura Humphreys and Yarra City Psychology.

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