Differences between psychology and neuropsychology

Psychology is the science responsible for studying and intervening in the cognitive, affective and behavioral processes of people.

It is a discipline that spans several areas and has a multitude of branches; one of them, neuropsychology, is the science that specializes in the diagnosis, evaluation and treatment of cognitive and behavioral disorders caused by brain damage.

Then, we will see what these two disciplines consist of and what are the main differences between them.

Psychology: definition and characteristics

Psychology is a discipline that has many specialtiesAmong the best known: clinical psychology, which focuses on psychological issues that affect people’s quality of life; educational psychology, focused on the management of learning difficulties; and organizational and work psychology, the aim is to apply psychological techniques in the workplace.

In addition to having multiple specialties, psychology, in its clinical specialty, also cherishes several “schools” or orientations, each with different methodologies, although all have in common the goal of improving people’s lives.

However, cognitive-behavioral orientation is the one that currently has the most scientific evidence on its effectiveness and efficiency in the vast majority of psychological disorders.

Neuropsychology: definition and characteristics

Neuropsychology represents a specialized discipline in the field of psychology which mainly focuses on cognitive processes. (Memory, attention, executive functions, etc.) and their relation to the effects of brain damage and disease.

The main function of a clinical neuropsychologist is to understand how psychological processes relate to certain brain structures. Neuropsychological assessment determines which cognitive functions are damaged and which are preserved in order to perform a neuropsychological intervention which includes the rehabilitation of damaged functions, with the aim of returning the person to normal social functioning.

Differences between psychology and neuropsychology

Psychology and neuropsychology share a common goal of improving the quality of life for the clients or patients they treat..

Both are two disciplines that work with people who need to improve certain aspects of their lives, either because of a psychological problem (in the case of clinical psychology) or because of acquired brain damage (if we let’s talk about neuropsychology). But they also differ in several ways. Let’s see which ones.

1. Differences in training

Currently, to work as a psychologist it is necessary to have the corresponding university education: a 4-year diploma in psychology and a master’s degree that will allow you to work in the field of health. To work in the public sphere, the only way is to access, via the resident internal psychologist or PIR system, a period of 4 years of hospital residency for different areas of training.

As for the work of neuropsychologist, in Spain, this profession is not recognized as such; that is, to be able to work in the field of neuropsychology, what is usually required in the private field is postgraduate training which proves that you have the knowledge to work in this field.

On the other hand, training in neuropsychology focuses more on higher cognitive processes and a more detailed study of the brain and its neuroanatomy, unlike what happens with psychology, which prioritizes the study of processes.

2. Assessment differences

Another difference between psychology and neuropsychology is in the way it assesses the patient.. A clinical psychologist assesses a person’s history, intellectual, academic and personality traits. However, this type of assessment does not include evidence to obtain data on the difficulties associated with different cognitive functions.

The neuropsychologist will focus on preserved and impaired cognitive functions, and for this, he will perform a thorough assessment of memory, attention, language, executive functions, praxis and gnosis, among others. This type of assessment then aims to develop a complete rehabilitation program taking into account all the cognitive deficits observed.

While neuropsychology also takes contextual factors into account when assessing a person, it is true that in general psychology more such elements are covered, such as present and past personal experiences, traumatic events, the subjective effects of certain relationships, etc. .

3. Differences in the intervention

In terms of intervention, the differences between psychology and neuropsychology are also evident. In the clinical setting, the psychologist will work with tools such as psychotherapy, a process that includes verbal and cognitive-behavioral techniques that help the patient understand and change their thinking and perceive their own difficulties.

In the field of neuropsychology, interventions generally focus on the use of cognitive rehabilitation techniques which involve: the restoration of functions altered by their formation; remuneration or training in alternative skills; and the use of external aids (eg calendars and alarms for people with memory problems).

On the other hand, neuropsychologists tend to specialize in neurodegenerative disorders and disorders caused by brain damage (e.g. dementia, epilepsy, stroke, etc.), unlike psychologists, who are more focused on psychological problems such as anxiety, depression, phobias, partner problems, addictions or sleep disturbances, among others.

4. Differences in research

In the field of research, there are also differences between psychology and neuropsychology.. This second focuses more on the discovery of new information on the functioning of the brain and the various associated pathologies, with an interdisciplinary perspective nourished by other neuroscientific disciplines.

Research in psychology, on the other hand, addresses several areas that include the study of aspects such as human learning, thought processes, emotions, behavior or cognitive biases, to name a few examples.

Bibliographical references:

  • Antoni, PP (2010). Introduction to neuropsychology. Madrid: McGraw-Hill.

  • Coolican, H., Serra, GP, Bari, SMO, Herrejón, JLN and Tejada, MMR (2005). Research methods and statistics in psychology.

  • Labos, I., Slachevsky, A., Fuentes, P., and Manes, F. (2008). Treatise on Clinical Neuropsychology (No. 616.8: 159.9). Akadia bookstore.

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