Clinical neuropsychology: definition, what studies and objectives

Among the best known neurosciences is clinical neuropsychology , which is, fundamentally, the discipline responsible for understanding the functioning of the nervous system and how its involvement, especially at the cerebral level, implies symptoms.

This branch of knowledge is relatively new, although in the last two centuries it has contributed greatly to knowing how our brain works, especially when it is affected by some type of injury or other problem.

Let’s get a deeper understanding of clinical neuropsychology and what it does.

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What is clinical neuropsychology?

Clinical neuropsychology is a branch of psychology which is responsible for studying the relationships between the brain and behavior in the clinical context of disorders .

Based on this knowledge, professionals in this discipline, who are clinical neuropsychologists, are able to define a diagnosis based on what is observed in the patient, in addition to establishing a treatment to improve their standard of living.

Clinical neuropsychology is a psychological branch that requires a high degree of specialization from those who are dedicated to it . Clinical neuropsychologists have a deep understanding of the brain and its functions, in addition to having the ability to relate the symptoms that the patient manifests with the involvement of one or another area of ​​his brain. In this way, those who specialize in this area of ​​knowledge know what are the causes and consequences of a neuropathology manifested in the patient.

Although patients who come to this type of professionals usually suffer from a brain injury caused by some type of impact or disease that damages nerve cells, there are also those who come due to some type of infection, tumor or other medical condition that implies symptoms. psychological and alteration in their cognitive abilities, emotions and behavior in general.

It is a very scientific branch, which has been developing its theoretical and practical corpus through empirical and evidence-based research, in addition to making use of reliable tools such as neuroimaging, questionnaire batteries and diagnostic methods typical of medicine. . Neuropsychology combines knowledge from neuroanatomy, neurobiology, neuropathology, and psychopharmacology.

What are your areas of research and intervention?

What distinguishes a clinical neuropsychologist from a clinical psychologist is the degree of knowledge about the brain that it possesses, in addition to brain disorders and how they manifest themselves in the person in the form of psychopathology.

In neuropsychology, knowledge and knowing how to use various questionnaires is essential , such as the Stroop test, the MMPI and WAIS, among others. Thus, by means of their interpretation, the neuropsychologist can know what is the degree of cognitive impairment of the patient, seeing their deficits in learning, memory, attention, reading and writing, problem solving and decision-making.

Patients who come to this type of professionals can suffer all kinds of problems at the brain level , being the object of study and intervention symptoms due to traumatic brain injuries, strokes, brain turmoil, epilepsy, dementia, serious mental disorder, developmental problems , autism … Due to this, clinical neuropsychology is present in places like hospitals, especially in the area of ​​neurology and rehabilitation, in addition to psychiatry.

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Historical background

Although the term “clinical neuropsychology” was first coined in 1913 by Sir William Osler, the truth is that it could be said that its antecedents are well before the 20th century.

Although defining it as part of this discipline would perhaps be a mistake, the truth is that the primitive trepanations, carried out during the Neolithic period, could be considered as the first techniques remotely related to clinical neuropsychology.

These practices, which consisted of opening a hole in the skull of a person, have been supposed to have the objective of causing the ‘evil spirits’, causing the atypical behavior of the affected person, to abandon their head. Thus, it could be said that this practice was based on the belief that psychopathology had a brain base and that it could be dealt with by means of a surgical intervention in the brain.

However, the clearest and most solid roots of modern clinical neuropsychology can be found from the 19th century, when there were not a few European doctors who argued that there must be a relationship between the dysfunctional brain and the syndromes that its patients manifested. .

Many were the great characters of that century and the next that contributed to the development of this science. John Hughlings Jackson was the first to hypothesize that cognitive processes take place in parts of the brain and this was confirmed by the findings of Paul Broca and Karl Wernicke by their findings in language problems and affected brain areas.

Others, more from the perspective of statistics and methodology, such as Francis Galton and Karl Pearson, helped to establish research in psychology as we know it today and, therefore, also in neuropsychology.

Regarding the tools that neuropsychologists use, the important task of Alfred Binet and Theodore Simon, who jointly elaborated the Binet-Simon intelligence scale , should not be omitted , setting the precedent for the creation of cognitive evaluation batteries.

However, as has happened with medicine and pharmacology, it is misfortunes that have advanced clinical neuropsychology. The outbreak of the First and Second World War, in addition to the Korean and Vietnam wars, caused thousands of badly wounded soldiers, many of them with brain damage due to physical trauma, shooting or bleeding . Based on its symptoms and the area of ​​the injury, it was possible to obtain extensive information on which areas of the brain are responsible for certain functions.


Fundamentally, the task of the clinical neuropsychologist can be summarized in four main objectives.

1. Diagnosis

Through the use of questionnaire batteries, observation of pathological behaviors and the use of neuroimaging techniques, the neuropsychologist can establish a diagnosis for the patient . Thus, it is possible to know whether the person’s atypical behavior is due to a true injury, a brain tumor or hemorrhage or, on the contrary, the cause is rather psychiatric.

Also, based on the type of behavior that the patient manifests, it is possible to assume, both with and without the use of neuroimaging, in which area of ​​the brain the damage has occurred.

In this phase, various aspects such as the affected person’s cognitive abilities are evaluated , in addition to their ability to react to environmental stimuli.

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2. Patient care

Once the diagnosis is established, it is necessary to see the best way to care for the patient to avoid that their abilities are impaired .

Caring for the patient not only involves professionals, but must also educate the environment of the affected person to be a source of support in their recovery

The relative sensitivity of the questionnaires used in this field and their demonstrated precision allow determining the care required by the patient and avoiding deterioration , or at least delaying it.

Depending on the severity of the patient, it will be necessary to monitor and administer various tests over time, with the intention of observing how it evolves.

3. Treatment

The main treatment option for patients who have suffered a neurological injury is basically rehabilitation and recovery, to the extent possible, of cognitive deficits .

If possible and the intervention involves more benefits than risks, surgery, performed by a neurosurgeon, may be another option. However, it is normal to opt for less invasive techniques , establishing a treatment plan to achieve an increase in your daily performance and promote an increase in your well-being.

4. Research

Clinical neuropsychology is not only dedicated to diagnosing and treating patients. Also, as part of the science that it is, it aims to expand its knowledge through scientific research. In this way it manages to improve its treatment and diagnostic capacity , preparing new questionnaires and techniques that allow the improvement of the affected capacities in patients.

Since the brain is perhaps the most mysterious organ in the entire human body, it is constantly deepening further in its functioning and in establishing the areas behind specific symptoms.


by Abdullah Sam
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