August 27, 2021

Psychologists are trained to assess, diagnose, and treat a variety of clinical disorders and conditions. Some psychologists also administer different types of tests and measures to aid in treatment planning, clarify complex diagnoses, and understand the brain’s functioning. This can be done through psychological and neuropsychological evaluations. However, many are confused as to the differences and when one might need one over the other. Here is a look at the differences between each of these evaluations.

The Psychological Evaluation

A psychological evaluation is part of an overall assessment. This includes a clinical interview, a battery of cognitive, behavioral, emotional, and personality and psychopathology tests and self-report measures, a review of records, a collateral interview with family/friends/doctors/therapists, analysis of data, and report writing. These evaluations are typically used to clarify diagnosis and guide treatment for therapeutic purposes (i.e., if you are in therapy). Clinical psychologists typically perform these types of evaluations. Psychologists will administer paper-pencil tests and measures for various issues related to an individual’s psychological, emotional, and behavioral functioning. Specifically, a clinical psychologist will select the appropriate tests based on the referral question. For example, “Does Jane Doe have bipolar disorder or PTSD” Or it can simply be “Does Jane Doe have a mental illness?” For children, assessments and evaluations involve school and behavior-related issues. A psychological evaluation could go as far as helping answer questions such as “Does John Doe have a learning disability?” or “Does John Doe have ADHD, and what interventions can we implement at home to help?” However, if you plan to seek an evaluation that your child’s school can use, it is best to seek a psychoeducation evaluation. Psychologists that conduct psychoeducation evaluations are clinical or school psychologists with background or specialized training in academic accommodations and services that assist school-aged children and young adults with disabilities.

Somewhat similarly, forensic psychologists often get asked to answer psycho-legal questions in their evaluations. This is another area of specialized work where psychologists have specific training in applying their clinical psychology knowledge to legal concepts. For example, they may be asked if John Doe has a mental illness and whether it impacts his competency to proceed with trial.

Types of Standardized Psychological Tests

  • Personality & Psychopathology
  • Emotional
  • Cognitive
  • Behavioral

The Neuropsychological Evaluation

Similar to the psychological evaluation, the neuropsychological evaluation is part of an overall assessment. However, there are a few differences here. First, the psychologists conducting the neuropsychological evaluation must be specifically trained in neuropsychological tests and measures. According to the National Academy of Neuropsychology (NAN) position paper on The Definition of a Neuropsychologist, clinical neuropsychologists have particular expertise in applied science of brain-behavior relationships.

At a minimum, they are licensed psychologists in their state and can practice independently and hold the equivalent of two full-time years of experience and specialized training in neuropsychology and related neurosciences. At least one of the years must be obtained post-doc, and both years are supervised by a clinical neuropsychologist.

Secondly, neuropsychologists use their in-depth knowledge of brain-behavior relationships to assess and evaluate patients with neurological, medical, neurodevelopmental, psychiatric, and cognitive conditions. They use paper-pencil tests, puzzles, and game-like activities to evaluate different cognitive areas of the brain, such as attention, memory, language, executive functioning, visual-spatial relations, motor skills, and intelligence. This evaluation is looking at the WHOLE person, not just psychological functioning. The results will aid in confirming patterns of the brain’s strengths and weaknesses and the relationship it has to normal or abnormal central nervous system functioning. This comprehensive evaluation essentially examines the underlying neurocognitive processes and their relation to an individual’s behaviors. It will not only reveal what the problem is but why difficulties are occurring.

Common concerns that lead to a referral for a neuropsychological evaluation:

  • Language delays or difficulties
  • Fine Motor deficits
  • Intellectual Disability
  • Autism Spectrum Disorders
  • Giftedness
  • Executive-functioning difficulties
  • Hyperactivity and Inattentiveness
  • Learning disabilities
  • Deficits in functioning related to a birth condition (i.e., cerebral palsy, seizure disorder)
  • Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)

Each of the evaluations discussed above involves standardized tests and measures and self-report inventories or rating scales. They will each involve a mental status examination and behavioral observation of the individual. In addition, the psychologist will conduct clinical interviews with the patient and collateral interviews with outside treatment or medical providers, teachers, and family.

The main difference is that a neuropsychological evaluation is more in-depth and broader in scope than a psychological evaluation. Because the neuropsychological evaluation is more detailed, it is also a lengthier process. You are likely to spend one to two hours in a clinical interview and six to seven hours undergoing testing. While in a psychological interview, you may spend one to two hours in a clinical interview and approximately one to four hours testing.

Regardless of the type of evaluation, the psychologist will complete a detailed written report of their findings, diagnostic impressions, and potential recommendations. Most, if not all, provide a feedback session with the patient. Furthermore, they will also likely work collaboratively with other providers, parents, and school officials to ensure continuity of care and clarify any concerns or questions.

At VPG, our psychologists have specialized training in neuropsychology and will be happy to discuss your needs or your child’s needs. Contact our office to schedule a free consultation or call our office directly at 626-709-3494.

References:

APA Guidelines for Psychological Assessment and Evaluation (March 2020).

NAN Definition of a Clinical Neuropsychologist. Official Position of the National Academy of Neuropsychology (May 2001).