What Should You Major In to Become a Neuropsychologist?

by Clayton Browne

The relationship between human behavior and the brain is still a mystery in many ways. The brain is an extremely complex organ, and while modern medicine has deciphered a great deal about the gross anatomy of the brain and the locations involved in functions such as breathing, language processing or listening to music, many questions remain unanswered. The study of the structure of the brain as it relates to behavior is known as neuropsychology. Brain development and rehabilitation are two major subfields in neuropsychology.

Undergraduate Major

Most professional neuropsychologists majored in psychology as undergraduates. However, a few come from other backgrounds such as linguistics or anthropology. Those interested in a career in neuropsychology should also take biology, anatomy and physiology classes in their first few years of college. An in-depth understanding of brain structures and functions -- neuroanatomy -- is required for graduate classes in neuropsychology.

Graduate Programs

While a growing number of graduate programs offer master's and doctorate degrees in neuropsychology, most practitioners traditionally earned a Ph.D. in clinical psychology with a focus in neuropsychology. Modern neuropsychology doctorate programs typically include advanced coursework, lab research and a several-months long Clinical Practicum in neuropsychology supervised by an experienced neuropsychologist.

Professional Certification and Licensing

All states require clinical psychologists, including neuropsychologists, to be licensed. Most states require a doctorate in psychology, some period of professional experience and a passing score on the national Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology in order to be licensed. Many neuropsychologists choose to earn a certification from the American Board of Clinical Neuropsychology. Becoming ABCN-certified requires passing a rigorous, multi-part exam and demonstrates your expertise as a clinician.

Neuropsychology Practice

Neuropsychology practice varies by subspecialty, but most clinical neuropsychologists spend a significant amount of time working with patients rehabilitating from stroke or other brain injuries or conditions. Brain injuries often result in unexpected behavioral changes, and neuropsychologists can help patients understand and adjust to these changes. A clinical neuropsychologist interested in research might compare groups of brain-damaged patients to healthy people in a series of specialized cognitive or performance tests.

About the Author

Clayton Browne has been writing professionally since 1994. He has written and edited everything from science fiction to semiconductor patents to dissertations in linguistics, having worked for Holt, Rinehart & Winston, Steck-Vaughn and The Psychological Corp. Browne has a Master of Science in linguistic anthropology from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

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