Understanding Neuropsychology

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neurodiversity

In simple terms, neurodiversity describes differences in how humans experience the world. An estimated 15-20% of people around the globe show some form of neurodivergence.

Because neurodivergent individuals may experience challenges in traditional professional, educational, or social settings, it’s vital that they have access to qualified neurodiversity professionals to serve as advocates and empower them to be successful.

This article details how psychologists and other practitioners can support people with neurodiversity, explores relevant graduate psychology degrees, and details the licensure and additional training required to pursue a career in this rewarding field.

What Is Neurodiversity?

Neurodiversity refers to the fact that people process information and interact with others in different ways—and that there is no “correct” way to do so.

The term originates with an Australian sociologist named Judy Singer, who was part of the movement to increase the acceptance and inclusion of all people with neurological differences.

Advocates of neurodiversity embrace the use of nonjudgmental and respectful language when referring to people who consider themselves to be neurodivergent.

They also emphasize that brain differences should not be equated with abnormalities but rather specific strengths (such as enhanced memory and pattern recognition) and challenges (such as difficulties reading social cues) that neurotypical people may not experience.

People with the following conditions may consider themselves neurodiverse:

  • Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Intellectual disabilities
  • Learning disabilities
  • Tourette’s syndrome
  • Williams syndrome
  • Sensory processing disorders
  • Social anxiety disorders
  • Mental health conditions such as obsessive-compulsive disorder and bipolar disorder

How Neuropsychology Professionals Provide Support

When psychologists and therapists are neurodiversity-affirming, they recognize that neurodivergent people do not need to be “fixed.” Instead, the focus is empowering individuals to leverage their strengths and offering strategies to address their challenges.

When working with neurodivergent clients, it’s important to create an environment of understanding and support while considering the psychological, physical, and social impacts of neurodevelopment differences.

This may involve connecting patients with resources to help them seek flexible accommodations at work and school or with professional development programs designed specifically for people with neurodiversity.

Standard modes of therapy used by practitioners of neurodiversity psychology include:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Applied behavioral analysis (ABA)
  • Speech and language therapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT)
  • Art and music therapy

Neurodivergent affirming therapy can also involve advocating for neurological differences to be viewed in the same way as cultural, gender, race, socioeconomic, and other identities.

Doing so can help shift public perception to view sensory, cognitive, emotional, and other processing challenges as divergences rather than disorders while acknowledging the need for resources, equity, and inclusivity.

Graduate Psychology Degrees Related to Neuropsychology

Neuropsychology is a specialty field of clinical psychology that seeks to understand how biological processes in the brain relate to people’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors.

If you’re interested in pursuing a career in neurodiversity psychology, various graduate psychology degrees may help prepare you to do so.

Depending on your experience, interests, and goals, you may pursue a master’s degree or a doctorate in psychology focusing on neuropsychology, neuroscience, health psychology, or a related specialty.

Master’s in Psychology Degrees

Earning a master’s degree in psychology could be a great way to help prepare you for further graduate work in neuropsychology.

A Master’s in psychology degree typically takes two to three years to complete and includes an internship, practicum, or thesis component, depending on your chosen school.

There are two different types of master’s in psychology degrees. M.S. programs typically focus more on research, while M.A. programs tend to prioritize practical applications of psychology theory.

You will need to earn a doctoral degree if you want to pursue work as a licensed clinical psychologist. Some Ph.D. programs may allow you to enroll directly after you complete your undergraduate studies. So, verifying the eligibility requirements for the specific graduate program you’re considering is essential.

Below are two examples of different types of master’s in psychology programs that you may want to consider.

Master’s in Clinical Psychology

Master’s in clinical psychology degrees are typically designed to provide a background in theory, research, and evidence-based practice.

These graduate programs may help prepare students for doctoral degrees in clinical or counseling psychology or to pursue licensure as a substance abuse, behavior disorder, or mental health counselor.

Subjects you may study in this type of master’s degree include:

  • Psychological Testing and Assessment
  • Psychological Basis of Behavior
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Rehabilitation Neuropsychology
  • Principles of Learning
  • Foundations of Psychopathology
  • Child Development

Master’s in Applied Behavioral Analysis

Some master’s in applied behavioral analysis programs are designed specifically for students who want to work with clients on the autism spectrum or with related neurodiversity conditions.

These graduate programs typically prepare students to take the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) exam. Behavior analysts work with individuals with different mental health or behavior challenges to help improve their learning, social, communication, health, professional, and coping skills.

Potential coursework may include:

  • Applied Behavioral Analysis
  • Ethics for Behavioral Practice
  • Abnormal Psychology
  • Functional Behavioral Assessment
  • Childhood Developmental Disabilities and Disorders
  • Research Methods
  • Behavioral Supervision and Management

Doctorate in Psychology Degrees

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, aspiring clinical, counseling, and research psychologists typically need to earn a doctorate as part of the educational requirements.

A Ph.D. in psychology is a research degree that involves authoring a dissertation based on original data and typically prioritizes psychological testing and evaluation.

A Psy.D. in psychology is a clinical degree based on the practical work involved in providing therapy in clinical settings rather than research.

Earning a doctorate in psychology can take anywhere from four to six years and usually includes an internship as part of the program.

Curriculums in Clinical Neuropsychology Degrees

A doctorate in clinical psychology with a neuropsychology concentration may allow you to obtain knowledge in theory and foundations of clinical practice, conduct original research (such as a thesis and dissertation), and gain hands-on assessment and intervention experience in clinical neuropsychology settings.

Specialized coursework in clinical neuropsychology may include:

  • Biological Basis of Behavior
  • Clinical Aspects of Health Psychology
  • Neuropsychological Evaluation
  • Neuroscience
  • Neuroanatomy
  • Personality Assessment
  • Pediatric or Geriatric Neurophysiology
  • Psychopharmacology
  • Neuropsychology practicum

Supervised Clinical Experiences

Clinical experiences at university hospitals, in-patient or outpatient clinics, or community centers are an essential part of earning a doctoral degree in neuropsychology.

For example, you may participate in neuropsychological evaluations, academic testing, memory screening, or concussion programs as part of your clinical experience.

It’s important to work with your doctoral professors or other members of your graduate program to find a research or clinical-based internship that meets the APA guideline requirements and aligns with your career goals. Otherwise, you’ll need to participate in a post-doctorate internship once you graduate.

Research initiatives in graduate-level neuropsychology tracks may include:

  • Early detection and diagnosis of autism
  • Development of new neuropsychological assessment tools
  • Cognitive processes fundamental to language development
  • Biopsychosocial mechanisms underlying mental health
  • Contributing factors for and treatment of behavioral disorders

Career Paths: Working with Neurodivergent Individuals

As mentioned above, most clinical, counseling, and research psychologists require a doctorate and licensure to practice. School psychologists typically must obtain an education specialist degree (ED.S.) or a doctoral degree and either licensure or certification.

Below are three career paths related to neuropsychology wherein you may have the chance to empower neurodivergent people to be successful.

Neuropsychologist

If you’re fascinated by the connection between the human brain and behavior, consider a career in neuropsychology.

Clinical neuropsychologists use their expertise in psychology and neuroscience to assess, diagnose, and treat patients with concentration, coordination, reasoning, memory, language, or personality issues. These symptoms may stem from neurological, medical, psychological, or genetic origins.

A typical neuropsychological evaluation may involve:

  • Gathering relevant historical information from medical and other records
  • Interviewing the patient and family members regarding key aspects of symptoms
  • Administering standardized tests and questionnaires that focus on cognitive function and psychological facets of emotional style, mood, and behavior

In addition to working with neurodivergent patients, clinical neuropsychologists may also treat people dealing with concussions and traumatic brain injuries, epilepsy, stroke, dementia, or brain cancer.

Some neuropsychologists devote all or part of their work to research to help practitioners better understand the workings of the brain, how it can affect information processing and behavior, and aid in diagnosing and treating neuropsychological disorders.

Neuropsychology research is also crucial because it can inform government funding and public policy to support civil rights and access to services and benefits that support the neurodivergent community.

Counseling Psychologist

Counseling psychology could be a good fit if you’re interested in a career where you can help neurodivergent people improve their well-being, leverage their unique strengths and talents, and advocate for equity and social justice.

Counseling psychologists help people understand and cope with issues at home, work, or in their communities and develop strategies to help them function better in their daily lives.

Although both clinical and counseling psychologists practice psychotherapy, counseling practitioners typically focus on improving well-being across the lifespan, while clinical clients often suffer more severe symptoms of mental illness.

For example, as a counseling psychologist who works with neurodivergent patients, you may:

  • Assess patients for conditions such as Autism or ADHD
  • Provide culturally informed counseling and psychotherapy
  • Help clients alleviate distress and resolve crises
  • Develop workshops that foster awareness of stigmas, discrimination, and other systemic challenges related to neurodiversity
  • Help promote inclusivity and support of neurodivergent people in educational, healthcare, and work settings.
  • Connect patients with essential resources

School Psychologist

If you’re interested in working with neurodivergent children and youth, you may want to pursue a career in school psychology.

School psychologists apply psychological principles and interventions to help children with developmental, behavioral, and learning disorders. This may include conditions such as autism, ADHD, social anxiety, and difficulties with reading, math, and writing.

As a school psychologist, it’s essential to be well-versed in psychology and education so you can develop and implement programs that promote positive learning experiences for children from diverse backgrounds (including those with neurodiversity).

Additional responsibilities in this role may include:

  • Counseling students and families to help alleviate cognitive, social, behavioral, and emotional issues
  • Providing psychoeducational assessment and diagnosis
  • Designing and executing performance plans
  • Offering suggestions to enhance instruction, learning, and administrative strategies with
  • Advocating for equitable student access to educational, health, and psychological services
  • Earn your degree from a university with a “Whole Human Education” approach that focuses on assisting you in all aspects of your education: academic, emotional, career, financial, and family.
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  • National University is regionally accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC).

Important Skills, Credentials, and Training

Whether you specialize in neuropsychology or another aspect of psychology, it’s essential to realize that your training doesn’t end when you earn your graduate degree.

Key Skill Sets for Neurodiversity Professionals

Patience, empathy, and understanding are essential when working with neurodivergent people.
Below are five additional skills to cultivate as an aspiring psychology professional.

  1. Communication skills: To facilitate patient conversations, effectively describe research, and relay diagnoses and treatment plans.
  2. Observational skills: To aid in understanding the inferences of facial expressions, body movements, and other aspects of attitude and behavior.
  3. Interpersonal skills: To support successful relationships with neurodivergent individuals who may struggle with verbalization, communication, or social interaction.
  4. Problem-solving skills: To aid in data collection, research design, and evaluation of treatment options or strategies to address emotional and behavioral challenges.
  5. Research/Analytical skills: To draw logical conclusions that assist in patient diagnoses and treatments, investigate and analyze data in research, and understand innovative research findings.

The Board Exam, Licensure, and Certification

Although laws vary by state and type of position, according to the BLS, most psychologists in clinical practice must become licensed.

Before applying for licensure, you must obtain a doctorate in psychology, an internship, and 1-2 years of supervised professional experience and pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP).

You can get information on the requirements for your state from the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards. Depending on where you live, you may also need to complete continuing education courses to maintain your license.

Pursuing additional specialty certifications after you pass the board exam can help you illustrate your expertise and competency in neuropsychology, network with other professionals, and remain competitive in your field. You may want to consider earning certification from one or more of the following organizations:

Neuropsychology Training Checklist

  • Earn your doctorate in psychology or neuropsychology
  • Complete a pre- or post-doctoral internship
  • Take part in 1-2 years of supervised residency
  • Pass the Examination for the Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP)
  • Apply for your license and additional certification
working with neurodivergent individuals

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Psychologists and other neurodiversity professionals are pivotal in supporting patients, conducting ground-breaking research, and advocating for the rights of neurodivergent groups.

If you’re considering earning your graduate degree and pursuing a career in neuropsychology, you can harness the opportunity to help change lives and create more inclusive communities.

Best of luck in your journey!

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