A neuropsychologist is an expert in how brain injuries and conditions affect your behavior, mood and thinking skills. They perform neuropsychological evaluations to assess how your brain and mind are working and suggest treatment plans.


What is a neuropsychologist?

A neuropsychologist is a healthcare provider who has specialized knowledge of how brain conditions affect your behavior and cognitive skills (how you use your brain). This includes things like your:

  • General intellect.
  • Attention and concentration.
  • Processing speed.
  • Language skills.
  • Learning and memory abilities.
  • Reasoning and problem-solving.
  • Visuospatial abilities.
  • Mood and personality.

There are two main types of neuropsychologists:

  • Cognitive neuropsychologists: These experts conduct research that helps further the field of neuropsychology.
  • Clinical neuropsychologists: These experts work directly with people seeking care and other healthcare providers. They perform tests to assess cognitive function and design treatment plans alongside a healthcare team. Clinical neuropsychologists may further specialize in certain age groups, such as pediatrics.

The field of neuropsychology explores the connections between the thoughts and perceptions of the human mind and the brain structures and biological processes that form them. Neuropsychology is a subspecialty of psychology, not of neurology.


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Why would you see a neuropsychologist?

You’d see a neuropsychologist if your healthcare provider (such as your primary care physician or neurologist) referred you for neuropsychological testing. This most often happens when you experience changes to your cognitive functioning, such as new issues with memory, focus, language or personality. The change(s) may be due to certain medical, neurological, psychological or genetic causes.

Neuropsychologists perform task-oriented testing for people of all ages, including infants, children, adolescents and adults.

Some of the more common conditions neuropsychologists assess include:

It’s important to note that care for these conditions often involves a variety of specialists.

What does a neuropsychologist do?

Clinical neuropsychologists perform neuropsychological exams to help you and your healthcare team understand how the different areas and systems of your brain are working.

Several different task-oriented tests assess specific cognitive functions. For example, you may have to recall a list of words or draw a copy of an object.

Clinical neuropsychologists assess people who’ve had sudden injuries, such as a concussion or a stroke. They also assess people who have chronic neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. They may be involved in diagnosing certain conditions or in assessing the progression of an already-diagnosed condition.

For an exam, a clinical neuropsychologist:

  1. Gathers relevant information, such as your medical and psychological history and a history of your symptoms.
  2. Talks with your family members and others close to you to learn about their observations of your cognitive changes.
  3. Provides you with tests or tasks to evaluate your cognitive functions. This could include oral (spoken) questions, written tests, computer tests, handling materials such as blocks, doing puzzles and other tasks.
  4. Puts together a detailed report explaining how different aspects of your cognition are functioning, which they’ll share with you and your healthcare team.
  5. Provides you with feedback about the tests and helps you understand how your strengths and weaknesses may affect your everyday life.

Neuropsychologists work closely with other healthcare providers as part of a holistic care team. The report they put together after testing helps other providers fully understand the effect of your brain injury or condition. It helps guide your team in making any treatment decisions.

Cognitive neuropsychologists

Cognitive neuropsychologists mainly work in research. They conduct research studies to expand the field of neuropsychology and develop new testing practices. Unlike clinical neuropsychologists, they don’t usually work directly with people seeking care.


What is the difference between a neuropsychologist and a psychologist?

The main difference between a neuropsychologist and a psychologist is how they approach aspects of human behavior.

Psychologists have specialized knowledge of how your life experiences affect your mental and behavioral health. Neuropsychologists have specialized knowledge of how biological factors and brain issues affect your behavior and other cognitive functions.

What is the difference between a neuropsychologist and a neurologist?

A neurologist is a medical doctor who diagnoses, treats and manages disorders that affect your nervous system — your brain, spinal cord and nerves. They’re experts on the anatomy, function and conditions that affect your nervous system.

A neuropsychologist focuses on how brain issues affect behavior and cognitive functions. They aren’t medical doctors and they can’t prescribe medications, unlike neurologists.


Additional Common Questions

How do you become a neuropsychologist?

To become a clinical neuropsychologist, you must complete:

  • An undergraduate education at a college or university, resulting in a bachelor’s degree.
  • Graduate school, resulting in a doctoral degree — either a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree in a field of psychology or a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) degree.
  • A one-year, full-time internship during graduate school, usually in neuropsychology.
  • A two-year post-doctoral fellowship in neuropsychology.
  • A national exam and additional exam(s) specific to the state in which you’re practicing.

Licensed neuropsychologists also need to complete continuing education every year to stay up to date with advances in their field. Continuing education may include conferences, research and classes.

Do neuropsychologists go to medical school?

No, neuropsychologists don’t go to medical school for their profession. You don’t need a medical doctoral degree (MD or DO) to be a licensed neuropsychologist.

How long does it take to become a neuropsychologist?

It typically takes 10 to 13 years to become a licensed neuropsychologist. It depends on how quickly you can earn a bachelor’s degree and a doctoral degree. You’ll also need to complete a one-year, full-time internship during graduate school and a two-year fellowship in neuropsychology.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

It can be worrying to experience changes in how your brain works. Know that a neuropsychologist can help you better understand these changes and how they’ll affect you. They’re experts in their field and have up-to-date knowledge of the ways in which your physical brain and mind are connected. Your neuropsychologist will work with you and your healthcare team to determine a treatment plan that works best for you.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 02/10/2023.

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