What Does a Clinical Neuropsychologist Do? (With Skills)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 30 May 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Clinical neuropsychologists assess, diagnose and treat patients with conditions impacting their brains. They perform similar duties whether they work in hospitals, clinics or private practices. Understanding what clinical neuropsychologists do can help you decide whether to pursue this medical career. In this article, we explain what a clinical neuropsychologist is, describe what these professionals do and list the skills they use in their careers.

What is a clinical neuropsychologist?

A clinical neuropsychologist is a medical professional who helps patients with psychological issues caused by brain conditions. They help their patients and their families understand and manage these issues. Clinical neuropsychologists may help people with the following conditions:

  • Traumatic brain injuries, such as concussion

  • Dementia

  • Stroke

  • Multiple sclerosis

  • Epilepsy

  • Brain infections

  • Learning disorders

  • Autism-spectrum disorders

  • Mental health conditions

  • Drug and alcohol abuse disorders

Related: Clinical vs. Non-Clinical Jobs: Skills, Salary and Definition

What does a clinical neuropsychologist do?

To answer the question, 'What does a clinical neuropsychologist do?', clinical neuropsychologists use their understanding of the way brain damage impacts the way people think, feel and behave to help patients and society. They help patients with damage to parts of their brain understand and manage their conditions. They may also help society understand more about conditions related to the brain. Tasks can vary depending on a clinical neuropsychologist's workplace and specialty. Here are some of the most common duties for clinical neuropsychologists:

Evaluating people with cognitive issues

Clinical neuropsychologists see patients with various cognitive issues, including problems with memory and recall, difficulty learning and retaining information, issues with attention and focus and problems with decision-making and problem-solving. They ask their patients questions to learn more about their challenges and the way their brains work.

Ordering neuropsychological tests

Clinical neuropsychologists order diagnostic tests that they feel can help them make more accurate diagnoses. They may request patients book a brain scan, for example, which a technician administers.

Diagnosing brain conditions

Clinical neuropsychologists analyse information from their patient assessments and the results of any external testing to diagnose brain conditions and their severity. They may suggest patients have a single brain condition or a range of brain conditions impacting their cognitive function. An accurate diagnosis helps clinical neuropsychologists determine the most appropriate treatment options.

Creating patient treatment plans

Once clinical neuropsychologists diagnose a psychological issue, they create clear treatment plans to help patients overcome their challenges or reduce their impact. They may suggest cognitive, behavioural, psychosocial or educational methods of managing the condition. This treatment could help patients improve their focus or learn more effectively, for example. The best clinical neuropsychologists tailor treatment plans to each patient.

Helping patients adapt to daily life

Clinical neuropsychologists also help their patients adjust to a new way of living. They may make recommendations, such as suggesting the patient gets a full-time carer to help them with daily tasks. They may also suggest support services that can help their patients study or return to work. Additionally, they may also help their patients apply for the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) or access community-based support services. Clinical neuropsychologists listen to their patients' goals and work out the best ways to help them enjoy the best quality of life.

Counselling patients and their families

Coping with a brain illness or injury can be challenging for patients and their family. Clinical neuropsychologists help patients and their families accept their diagnosis and its impact on their life. They give people strategies for processing feelings of grief or loss and supporting one another.

Related: Your Guide to Careers in Counselling

Developing detailed neuropsychological assessments

Clinical neuropsychologists may create neuropsychological assessments for their patients. These assessments are detailed profiles of patient strengths and weaknesses. Other health professionals may consider a patient's neuropsychological assessment when they're diagnosing conditions and creating treatment plans. A neuropsychological assessment can also help businesses or schools understand the support an employee or student with brain conditions requires.

Liaising with other health professionals

People with brain conditions typically get the best outcomes when they have a strong network of health providers. As a valuable part of this network, it's important for clinical neuropsychologists to liaise with other health professionals, including their patients' general practitioners and speech therapists. Regular communication with other health professionals helps clinical neuropsychologists understand their patients and their treatments better.

Related: 20 Careers in Health Science

Monitoring patients and their progress

Clinical neuropsychologists monitor their patients over time. This monitoring may involve general assessments and periodic retesting, such as regular brain scans. Monitoring helps clinical neuropsychologists determine if a patient's condition is improving and they benefit from treatment programs. It also helps them understand the effectiveness of different medications. Clinical neuropsychologists may change a patient's treatment plans over time to improve their outcomes, especially as new medications become available.

Conducting research

Many clinical neuropsychologists conduct research that can help society understand the brain and the issues that brain impairments may cause. For this research, clinical neuropsychologists may study humans or animals with brain injuries or illnesses. They may also study humans and animals with healthy brains for comparison. Clinical neuropsychologists write papers or reports detailing their findings.

Giving evidence in legal proceedings

Attorneys often ask clinical neuropsychologists to give evidence in legal cases concerning people with brain conditions. A clinical neuropsychologist may explain how severe a person's brain condition is, how it impacts their life and whether the condition was preventable. The evidence a clinical neuropsychologist provides can help juries determine if someone's negligence caused the brain condition. The judge also considers the clinical neuropsychologist's evidence when determining an appropriate settlement.

Training and mentoring registrars

Once clinical neuropsychologists become experienced, they may pass on their knowledge to new registrars. Hospitals and large health facilities expect senior clinical neuropsychologists to train new staff and improve their training programs. Clinical neuropsychologists may also form one-on-one mentoring relationships with new clinical neuropsychologists and guide their careers.

Related: Training Program Examples (With Step-by-Step Guide)

What skills do successful clinical neuropsychologists have?

The best clinical neuropsychologists have excellent technical skills, which help them accurately diagnose and treat patients, and strong soft skills, which help them form connections with their patients, their patients' family members and colleagues. Here are some of the common skills clinical neuropsychologists apply to their duties:

Advanced knowledge of neuropsychology

Clinical neuropsychologists have an advanced understanding of all aspects of neuropsychology. They know the brain's structure and how it functions when it's healthy and when it's damaged. They also know how healthy brains make people think, feel and function and how thoughts, emotions and behaviours can change due to brain conditions.

Analytical skills

The best clinical neuropsychologists can apply their academic knowledge and information from research to clinical cases. They can analyse the information they have about patients and use it to form an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan. This is an ongoing process for the most successful clinical neuropsychologists, as they constantly consider whether there are better treatment options available for their patients.

Written and verbal communication skills

Clinical neuropsychologists with strong written and verbal communication skills can share their knowledge more easily. Strong written communication skills help them write clear reports about patients and specific neuropsychological conditions. Clinical neuropsychologists use their verbal communication skills when talking to patients, their patients' families and medical colleagues. It's important for them to speak clearly so people understand their patients' condition and the preferred treatment option. They understand the best way to communicate based on the understanding of their audience. They may simplify their language for patients and patients' families and use more advanced terms when addressing medical professionals.

Interpersonal skills

The best clinical neuropsychologists have warm personalities that help their patients, their patients' families and their colleagues connect to and trust them. When patients trust their clinical neuropsychologists, they find being honest about their condition and symptoms easier. They may also adhere to the recommended treatment more faithfully because they trust their clinical neuropsychologist knows best. A clinical neuropsychologist with good interpersonal skills can usually help the families of patients feel calmer and more confident about their loved one's prognosis. Interpersonal skills also help clinical neuropsychologists collaborate with colleagues working in other health specialties more easily.

Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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