Clinical neuropsychology: definition, what it studies and objectives

One of the best-known neurosciences is clinical neuropsychology, Which is basically the discipline responsible for understanding the functioning of the nervous system and how its involvement, especially in the brain, involves symptoms.

This branch of knowledge is relatively new, although over the past two centuries it has greatly contributed to understanding how our brain works, especially when affected by injury or other problem.

We learn more about clinical neuropsychology, its characteristics and functions throughout this article.

    What is clinical neuropsychology?

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

    On the basis of this knowledge, professionals in this discipline, who are clinical neuropsychologists, are able to define a diagnosis based on what has been observed in the patient, in addition to establishing a treatment to improve his level of life.

    Clinical neuropsychology is a psychological branch that it requires a high degree of specialization on the part of the one engaged in it. Clinical neuropsychologists have in-depth knowledge of the brain and its functions, as well as the ability to relate patient-manifested symptoms to involvement in specific areas of their brain. In this way, those who specialize in this area of ​​knowledge know what are the causes and consequences of manifested neuropathology in the patient.

    Although patients who see this type of professional usually suffer from a brain injury caused by some type of impact or from a disease that damages nerve cells, there are also those who do because of a type. infection, tumor or other medical condition involving symptoms and impaired cognitive abilities, emotions and general behavior.

    This is a very scientific branch, which has developed its theoretical and practical corpus through empirical and factual research, as well as the use of reliable tools such as neuroimaging, batteries of questionnaires and diagnostic methods specific to medicine. Neuropsychology combines knowledge of neuroanatomy, neurobiology, neuropathology and psychopharmacology. Thus, it acts as a bridge between the study of the brain and the general nervous system, on the one hand, and the psychological phenomena potentially affected by diseases that may have affected the previous one (for example, symptoms reflected in decision-making , regulation of impulses, evocation of memories, etc.).

    What are your areas of research and intervention?

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

    In neuropsychology, knowledge and knowledge of the use of different questionnaires are essential, Like the Stroop test, the MMPI and WAIS among others. Thus, through his interpretation, the neuropsychologist can know the degree of cognitive impairment of the patient, seeing his deficits in learning, memory, attention, literacy, problem solving and decision making.

    Patients who turn to this type of professional can suffer from all kinds of brain problems., Being the object of study and intervention of the symptoms due to a head trauma, cerebrovascular accident, cerebrovascular accident, epilepsy, dementia, severe mental disorder, developmental problems, autism … Therefore, neuropsychology clinic is present in places like hospitals, especially in the field of neurology and rehabilitation, as well as psychiatry.

      Historical context

      Although the term “clinical neuropsychology” was first coined in 1913 by Sir William Osler, the truth is that one could say that its antecedent dates well back to the twentieth century.

      If to define it as part of this discipline would perhaps be a mistake, the truth is that the primitive trepanations, carried out in the Neolithic period, could be regarded as the first techniques related at a distance to clinical neuropsychology.

      It has been speculated that these practices, which consisted of opening a hole in a person’s skull, were aimed at causing the “evil spirits”, which were the source of the atypical behavior of the affected person, to give up their hats. Thus, one could say that this practice was based on the belief that psychopathology had a brain basis and that it could be treated with brain surgery.

      However, the clearest and strongest roots of modern clinical neuropsychology can be traced back to the 19th century, when few European physicians argued that there should be a relationship between the dysfunctional brain and syndromes manifested by their patients.

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

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

      As for the tools used by neuropsychologists, we must not forget the important work of Alfred Binet and Théodore Simon who jointly developed the Binet-Simon intelligence scale, setting the precedent for the creation of cognitive assessment batteries. .

      However, as has happened with medicine and pharmacology, it was misfortunes that advanced clinical neuropsychology. The outbreak of World War I and World War II, in addition to the Korean and Vietnam wars, led to thousands of wounded soldiers, many with brain damage from physical trauma, gunfire or bleeding. Based on their symptoms and the area of ​​the lesion, it was possible to obtain detailed information on the areas of the brain responsible for certain functions.


      Basically, the work of the clinical neuropsychologist can be summed up in four main objectives.

      1. Diagnosis

      By using batteries of questionnaires, observing pathological behavior and using neuroimaging techniques, the neuropsychologist can diagnose the patient. Thus, it is possible to know whether the atypical behavior of the person is due to a real injury, a brain tumor or a hemorrhage or, on the contrary, the cause is rather psychiatric.

      In addition, depending on the type of behavior exhibited by the patient, it is possible to assume, with and without the use of neuroimaging, in which area of ​​the brain the damage has occurred.

      At this stage, various aspects such as the cognitive abilities of the affected person are assessed, In addition to its ability to respond to environmental stimuli.

        2. Patient care

        Once the diagnosis is established, it becomes necessary see the best way to care for a patient to prevent their abilities from being impaired.

        The care of patients involves not only professionals, but also the environment of the person concerned must be educated so that it is a source of support in his recovery.

        The relative sensitivity of the questionnaires used in this field and their proven accuracy allow determine the care the patient needs and prevent further deterioration, Or at least lagging behind.

        Depending on the severity of the patient, it will be necessary to follow up and administer different tests over time, with the intention of observing his progress.

        3. Treatment

        The main treatment option for patients who have suffered a neurologic injury is basically rehabilitation and recovery, where possible, of cognitive deficits.

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

        4. Research

        Clinical neuropsychology is not only dedicated to the diagnosis and treatment of patients. In addition, as part of the science that it is, it aims to expand its knowledge through scientific research. In this way, he manages to improve his ability to treat and diagnose, Develop new questionnaires and techniques that improve affected capacities in patients.

        Since the brain is perhaps the most mysterious organ in the entire human body, it is constantly deepening its function and establishing the areas behind a specific symptomatology.

        Bibliographical references:

        • Antoni, PP (2010). Introduction to neuropsychology. Madrid: McGraw-Hill.
        • Broks, P. (2003). In the silent country: trips in neuropsychology. Atlantic Monthly Press.
        • Davis, Andrew, ed. (2011). Manual of pediatric neuropsychology. New York: Springer Publishing.
        • Finger, S. (2000). Spirits Behind the Brain: A History of the Pioneers and Their Discoveries. New York: Oxford
        • Hall, J .; O’Carroll, RE; Frith, CD (2010), Neuropsychology. Companion in psychiatric studies. New York: Elsevier,

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