Training for a Career as a Clinical Neuropsychologist: Post published by Dr. Jenni Ogden Ph.D

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Training for a Career as a Clinical Neuropsychologist: Post published by Dr. Jenni Ogden Ph.D

Post by Admin on Wed Feb 25, 2015 11:01 pm

Training for a Career as a Clinical Neuropsychologist

Is this really for me, and if so, what courses should I take?

Over the last few weeks I have received a steady stream of e-mails from students asking for advice on training to become a clinical neuropsychologist. They have read my earlier Psychology Today posts on neuropsychology as a career, and often one of my clinical case study books which has fired them up, but want more detail on what undergraduate and postgraduate courses they should take, whether there are specific degrees in neuropsychology, whether they need a doctorate or can become a neuropsychologist without studying for the lengthy time a doctorate would take, and which universities and colleges have the best programmes. Some students are just beginning to plan their first college or university courses, but already have an interest in clinical neuropsychology, others are part-way through an undergraduate degree, and some are about to embark on post-graduate studies. Quite a number are ‘mature’ students who are contemplating a return to study after years doing something else: full-time parenting, working in another profession, travelling. Most are primarily interested in working clinically as a neuropsychologist; that is working with patients in assessment and rehabilitation, and a few are more interested in the research aspects of clinical neuropsychology; that is, carrying out research on patient groups, both to find out more about brain disorders and to find out more about how the mind works. I have had e-mails from students in the USA, Canada, and many countries in Europe.

It is wonderful to read these e-mails and feel the excitement and passion these students have for the area I have had so much fulfilment from, but I can only give, at best, a very general reply because neuropsychology training differs from country to country, and even, in minor ways, from State to State in the USA. So I thought I would provide a few pointers to help you if you are in this situation; how should you go about exploring the possibilities open to you?


Before I get to that however, it is important to stress that training to become a clinical neuropsychologist is long and challenging, and a passion for it is definitely a pre-requisite. In most countries a doctoral-level degree is required (although this is often a ‘taught’ doctorate with a minor research component and many applied courses, rather than a research-based PhD), and after the doctorate has been achieved, years of supervised post-doctoral internships are required as well. Internships are usually paid, and are in fact the beginning of working as a ‘real’ neuropsychologist. Selection criteria for postgraduate programmes in Clinical Neuropsychology always include grades of relevant courses (they must be impressive), but often also take into account the personal characteristics that the selectors believe are important for professional practice.

If you are still trying to decide if you want to become a clinical neuropsychologist, given this long training, my suggestion is that, if possible, you borrow or buy one or two neuropsychology books and read or browse them (depending on their size!). Are you still excited, fascinated? Can you see yourself happy in that role, year after year? The BIGGEST book to browse (it would take you a year or three to read from start to finish, and a wheelbarrow to cart it around) is the book that has been dubbed the neuropsychology Bible by decades of students. Neuropsychological Assessment, Fifth Edition(link is external), by Oregon neuropsychologist, Muriel Lezak (the original author) and her colleagues Diane Howieson, Erin Bigler, and Daniel Tranel. When I began training, the first 1976 edition of ‘Lezak’ (another common nick-name for this giant text) was the first book in the field I bought. If you do begin serious training in neuropsychology this will almost certainly be one of your set texts, and will remain as your most important reference book when you become a fully-fledged neuropsychologist. Mind you, around 2020 there may well be another edition published, so if you haven’t even begun college or university yet, borrow it from a library if possible, and later on purchase the latest edition (or this Fifth Edition, 2nd hand!). Another excellent book to browse is Clinical Neuropsychology, Fifth Edition(link is external), edited by Florida neurologists, Kenneth Heilman and Edward Valenstein. This has chapters on most of the neuropsychological disorders you will come across as a neuropsychologist, and it covers causes, symptoms, assessment and theories in a very readable way. However, both these books are definitely in the ‘advanced’ and ‘textbook’ categories, and primarily about ‘how to do it’ once you have been accepted into a clinical neuropsychology training programme.

If you are still at the stage of wondering whether this career would give you satisfaction, you might find one of my case-study books a better starting point. I first wrote Fractured Minds: A Case-study Approach to Clinical Neuropsychology(link is external) (now in its 2nd edition) for this very reason; there seemed to me to be a gap in the plethora of neuropsychology textbooks, and I wanted to take my students along with me as I sat down with individual patients and their families, and found out how their particular brain damage had affected them. The book does have some more advanced theoretical detail as well, as it was intended to be a beginning text in the area.

More recently I wrote Trouble In Mind: Stories From A Neuropsychologist's Casebook(link is external) which is simply case studies; the stories of individual patients a neuropsychologist might meet on a hospital ward, and it is a novel-like read (although every story is true). It will give you an idea of WHY so many neuropsychologists love their job, without the complexities of assessment tools and advanced theories of how the mind works. Look around the library shelves for recent texts on neuropsychological rehabilitation (the ‘therapy’ side of neuropsychology), and books on child neuropsychology (called ‘developmental neuropsychology’) if you think working with children might be the area you could be most interested in. After all this reading research (and talking with a clinical neuropsychologist if you can locate a friendly one at a local hospital or rehabilitation centre), if you are still excited, then it is time to begin the real journey.

Usually students start by earning an undergraduate degree in psychology, sometimes in clinical psychology, and then go on to specialise in neuropsychology in a post-graduate degree. A wide range of courses at the undergraduate level are useful; any courses related to clinical psychology, neuroscience, behaviour, cognition, psychological assessment, statistics, and psychological research will be strengths. Such a degree will stand you in good stead for other careers, which is comforting if you change your mind about clinical neuropsychology or don’t get into a post-graduate clinical neuropsychology programme.

If you are already at a university, find the faculty members most closely related to clinical neuropsychology and make an appointment to talk to them about your situation. Faculty members in clinical psychology or neuropsychology programmes should be able to give you information relevant to your country or State. If this is not possible find out if the universities you would like to go to have clinical psychology or neuropsychology programmes, and if they do, e-mail them and see if there is a Faculty member who could answer your questions.

Most countries have professional societies in clinical neuropsychology, often as part of the umbrella Psychological Society, and as a student you may be able to join these, and even attend their conferences. They will often be able to help you understand the complicated and confusing paths to becoming a clinical neuropsychologist in your country. (Click on the name to go to the website link for the organisation). In particular the International Neuropsychological Society (INS)(link is external) is a good place to start wherever you live, and a great society to join. Although it is based in the USA, it has members worldwide, and is very student-friendly. Their high-quality journal, Journal of The International Neuropsychological Society (JINS) is provided in electronic form as part of membership, and they have two excellent conferences every year; one in America or Canada in February and another outside America (usually in Europe, but sometimes in South Africa, Asia or Australia/NZ) in July. There is always a very strong student presence, and lots of fabulous workshops and keynote addresses useful for both students and clinicians. Their annual Associate Membership for students is US$60 (including the journal which will give you an excellent idea of the breadth and depth of clinical research in the area, and seed lots of ideas for research projects you will have to come up with at some point in your training.)

Another society in the USA, which also welcomes international members, including students, is the National Academy of Neuropsychology (NAN)(link is external). They too have a journal and one conference a year with lots to interest students.

The American Psychological Association (APA) has many Divisions (Interest groups) and Division 40 is for Clinical Neuropsychology(link is external). Within this is an association especially for students called the Association of Neuropsychology Students In Training (ANST), and the annual student affiliate fee for this is just $5! Check their website out and read through the ‘Houston Guidelines’ they have on their website to get an idea of the ideal training programme in the USA for clinical neuropsychologists. It is a bit overwhelming, but don’t lose sight of the important fact that the journey itself is stimulating, exciting and challenging. Ask many clinical neuropsychologists who have been working for years and they might say their student years were the best of their lives!

But what about all the students who don’t live in North America, I hear some of you sigh. The USA and Canada (see the Canadian Psychological Society: Clinical Neuropsychology section(link is external)) are undoubtedly the best endowed when it comes to clinical neuropsychology training programmes, conferences, workshops, societies and job opportunities, but other countries do have their own societies and programmes. If you live in Europe, the website to go to is the Federation of the European Societies of Neuropsychology(link is external), and within that you can click on this link(link is external) that will take you to a list of the professional neuropsychology bodies in many countries in Europe. If you live in Australia, you are in luck; it is second only to the USA in its richness of post-graduate clinical neuropsychology programmes, some of which are at the Masters level and some at the Doctoral level. You can certainly check out the website of the Australian Psychological Society(link is external) and look up their College of Clinical Neuropsychologists. But you should also search for ‘clinical neuropsychology programmes’ within the websites of most of the universities in Australia; Melbourne alone has three, one at Monash, one at La Trobe and one at Melbourne University. Sydney also has multiple programmes, and many other universities from Queensland to Western Australia also have excellent programmes.

Some smaller countries, New Zealand amongst them, do not have specific post-graduate clinical neuropsychology programmes, but instead students complete a post-graduate specialist Clinical Psychology programme (either a Masters or Doctorate), with specialist training, research and internships within it in neuropsychology, followed by supervised internships in the area. Often after this, students go to overseas countries and complete a post-doctoral internship in clinical neuropsychology.

In the end, skilled clinical neuropsychologists come about as the result of passion, a great deal of hard work, and excellent on-the-job training and supervision, so whether you come from a country as large and well-endowed as the USA, or as small and creative as NZ, you CAN become a fine clinical neuropsychologist!

https://www.psychologytoday.com/experts/dr-jenni-ogden-phd
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