Neuropsychology, the Newest Tool in Psychology
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Humans resist change. Humans resist the new.
It is with the above mantra in mind, this text will explore Neuropsychology. Neuropsychology is one of the newest disciplines inside psychology, and therefore subject to wariness if not revulsion by those involved in psychology, due almost solely on its newness. Registered Counsellors in South Africa face an interesting dilemma – in an effort to be as effective as possible Neuropsychology must be utilized, however, its newness creates a problem. Re-educating counsellors costs time and money in a nation that cannot afford it, but not doing so leads to an almost unethical practice of wilfully excluding the usage of a tool that aids in one’s work.
It is with this in mind that this text aims to provide an exploration of Neuropsychology in the following categories; Neuropsychology as a new field, important terminology in this field, the role that it plays, the history of Neuropsychology in short, differentiation of Neuropsychology and related disciplines, and finally an exploration of Neuropsychology within South Africa and its relevance to Registered Counsellors.
A representation of the author’s brain and mental processes will also be included.
Neuropsychology is a new field –even when compared to Psychology itself, a science that has only formally existed for little compared to other medical sciences- and so is associated with much confusion. An excellent and concise definition is that Neuropsychology is, “the scientific investigation of cognition, that is, of all mental abilities: perception, attention, learning, memory, processing of spoken and written language, thinking, reasoning and belief formation” (Coltheart, 2002:139). There are several terms in Neuropsychology that must be known.
As with most fields of science, there are numerous technical concepts and terms. The following terms are important if one wishes to become familiar at Neuropsychology, but pale in comparison to the more technical terms that a Neuropsychologists
Clinical Neuropsychology, “[I]s a specialty in professional psychology that applies principles of assessment and intervention based upon the scientific study of human behaviour [sic] as it relates to normal and abnormal functioning of the central nervous system” (American Psychological Association, 2010). Clinical Neuropsychologists are pre-occupied with normality and abnormity of the brain and spine with regards to psychological (mental) functioning, and how to correct the abnormal. This is the branch of Neuropsychology most involved in psychological illness and damage.
Experimental Neuropsychology is occupied with the researching of cognition and behaviour (All Psychology Careers, n.d.). As with all science, Experimental Neuropsychology provides the research, studies, and empirical observations that validate the theory throughout psychology as a whole. Experimental Neuropsychology is therefore of paramount importance in Neuropsychology, as it provides the basis for theories.
Cognitive Neuropsychology is focused on hew the specifics of the brains form and functions translates into mental (psychological) processes.
Although the relation between the mind and a ‘thinking-organ’ (once thought of the heart, but many times as the brain) and behaviour, cognition, and emotion have been known and explored for millennia, from philosophers, holy men, and apothecaries, to physicians and healers (Stanley, 2000) it is only since the middle of the nineteenth-century that Neuropsychology has been scientifically defined (Hallett, n.d.).
The now famous Broca, Wernicke, and Dax were the first to observe an empirical link between damage to specific areas of the brain and the disruption of speech (as well as comprehension of speech (Hallett, n.d.,; Banich & Compton, 2011). Once empirical science was first used it has become both the de jure and the de facto means in which theory and practice regarding Neuropsychology have been linked. No longer did theory disregard observation.
Due to the limitation of equipment, there was little progress in Neuropsychology until the development of brain-imaging technology, as only autopsies could conclusively be used to observe most types of brain damage. This technological disadvantage acted in conjunction with the rise of the behavioural perspective of Psychology to place Neuropsychology out of favour (Coltheart,2008) .
Once magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) was invented – followed quickly by functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI)- was developed, the cognitive sciences advanced again, thus allowing the activity of the brain to be viewed while the observed was conscious and thinking, or moving. This allowed real-time comparison between the brain, thoughts and actions (All Psychology Careers, n.d. 2)
There is a large amount of overlap with Neuropsychology and the medical (more physically minded) cognitive sciences. These differences must be known so as to avoid confusion.
Cognitive Neuroscience, is different from Neuropsychology in that although the two disciples are involved in brain-damage and the information related to it, Cognitive Neuroscience focuses on the underlying neural mechanism that lies below cognition (Daniel, 2000)
Cognitive Science, is different from Neuropsychology
South Africa has an independent institution regarding Neuropsychology, the South African Clinical Neuropsychological Association (SACNA) which aims to, “promote and stimulate interest in the field of neuropsychology, while maintaining standards in neuropsychological practice. This is achieved by ensuring that its full members have demonstrated knowledge and competence in the field, by way of examination and peer review” (SACNA, n.d.). The organization’s website provides links for psychologists to become part of the organization and all the benefits that it entails, as well as provide educational workshops (SACNA, n.d.). The website also provides a means to “find” a Neuropsychologist (SACNA, n.d.).
South Africa’s status as a developing nation translates into a lack of funding for social services, as well as a lack of disposable income to pay for services. Therefore, the number of specialists such as Neuropsychologists is low, but the number of Registered Counsellors is higher, but still low compared to the ideal – an ideal where there was never a lack of mental health experts for those in need.
In the South African context, registered counsellors act within the role of gatekeepers to psychological support. In short, if a counsellor cannot support a client due to the client presenting issues and problems outside of the limited remit of counselling, the counsellor will then decide who to refer their clients to so that experts in specific psychological fields.
Therefore, it is of paramount importance that counsellors be educated with enough of these more specialist fields so that a full decision on referral is made with the fullest amount of knowledge to back it.
As counsellors act as ‘gatekeepers’, specialists are kept protected from overwork. This is due to the fact that a lower bar of entry (not necessarily a negative thing) for counsellors translates to there being a larger number than more specialist psychological health professionals – who are fewer in number, and able to treat few people.
Neuropsychology is an interesting and powerful new part that resides in Psychology as a whole, but is related to Cognitive Neuroscience, Cognitive Science in a way that bridges the physical and the mental. It is the bridge that connects two, once separate, worlds.
Neuropsychology is not only the domain of expert specialists, but should also count all mental health professionals as part of it. Due to the relatively tiny amount of Neuropsychological specialists registered counsellors must act as gatekeepers – referring those who require Neuropsychological aid to Neuropsychologists, and referring or keeping those who require different help.
All Psychology Careers. (n.d. 1). What is Experimental Neuropsychology?. Retrieved 6 April, 2015 from http://www.allpsychologycareers.com/topics/experimental-neuropsychology.html
All Psychology Careers. (n.d. 2). Cognitive Neuropsychology. Retrieved 6 April, 2015 from http://www.allpsychologycareers.com/topics/cognitive-neuropsychology.html
American Psychological Association. (2010). Clinical Neuropsychology. Retrieved 6 April, 2015 from http://www.apa.org/ed/graduate/specialize/neuro.aspx
Banich, M.T., & Compton, R.J. (2011). Cognitive Neuroscience: International edition (Third ed.).Wadsworth: Cengage Learning.
Coltheart, M. (2002). Cognitive neuropsychology. In Wixted, J. (Ed.) Stevens’ Handbook of Experimental Psychology, Third Edition – Volume 4: Methodology. John Wiley & Sons, pp 139-174. Coltheart, M. (2008). Cognitive neuropsychology. Retrieved 6 April, 2015 from http://www.scholarpedia.org/article/Cognitive_neuropsychology
Daniel, L.S. (2000). Understanding Implicit memory: A cognitive neuroscience approach. In Gazzaniga, M.S. Cognitive Neuroscience: A Reader. Wiley
Hallett, S. (n.d.). Neuropsychology. Retrieved 6 April, 2015 from http://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/pdf/semBasNeuro_chapter5.pdf
SACNA. ( n.d.). South African Clinical Neuropsychological Association. Retrieved 5 April, 2015 from http://www.sacna.co.za/
Stanley, F. (2000). Minds behind the Brain: A history of the pioneers and their discoveries. London: Oxford University Press.
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