School Neuropsychology! That sounds cool…but what is it?

First of all, let’s discuss what a PSYCHOLOGIST is…

Well, let’s first talk about what a psychologist is.  Most people have heard about a psychologist and typically picture Sigmund Freud sitting in a chair asking his client, who is laying down on a coach, about his father.  While this is appropriate as Freud is among the best known psychologists in history and he believed the human mind is significantly influenced by family relationships; a large majority of psychologists do not practice in this manner.  In fact, while many psychologists do counseling/therapy, there are a large majority of psychologists that focus on testing and evaluating people.  So where do psychologists work?  You can frequently find them in private practice, schools, hospitals, research, and teaching roles. Oh, and what is a psychologist?  According to a Google search, it is “An expert or specialist in psychology.”  Yes, I just Googled “psychologist!”  But more officially (not that we don’t trust Google!), a psychologist is a licensed professional that has a doctoral degree to practice psychology in their state.  In order to become licensed the psychologist must pass the national examination (EPPP) and have completed the required supervised hours.  That means practicums, internships, and post-doctoral residency.

Next, let’s discuss what a SCHOOL PSYCHOLOGIST is…

According to another fancy Google search, as of June 2020 there are 17 professional psychology specialties.  One of those specialties is school psychology.  Simply put, a school psychologist is a psychologist that is certified to work in the school.  An important distinction must be made though between a psychologist and a school psychologist.  As previously mentioned, a psychologist is a doctoral-level licensed professional.  School psychologists can also be licensed psychologist; however, the entry level credential is a master’s degree in school psychology.  This is actually how I got into the profession.  I completed a 2-year graduate level program and 1-year of an internship and BOOM I was a school psychologist.  However, I quickly learned that I craved additional training and eventually obtained my doctorate. School psychologists have a background in psychological principles, and they apply them within the context of a school setting.  Most school psychologist roles require them to evaluate students for special education, consult with teachers, facilitate special education meetings, consult with parents, counsel students, respond to crisis situations, among many other educationally relevant tasks.

So, then what is a NEUROPSYCHOLOGIST….

A neuropsychologist is a psychologist; so, they will have a doctorate and be licensed.  However, what separates a neuropsychologist from a general psychologist is their training.  Specifically, neuropsychologists have extensive training in brain-behavior relationships.  In addition to extensively studying the brain, neuropsychologists have a two-year postdoctoral residency in neuropsychology.  So, in essence neuropsychologists are specialists that interpret behavior based on brain functioning.  Neuropsychology evaluations are commonly known as being the most thorough, comprehensive evaluations as they typically assess cognition, memory & learning, communication, visuospatial skills, attention & executive functions, motor functions, and social-emotional/behavior.  In contrast, school psychology evaluations typically assess cognition, academic achievement, and social-emotional/behavior.  As such, neuropsychology evaluations typically assess more than school psychology evaluations.


Most school psychologists work within schools and have training in psychology/education.  Neuropsychologists typically work in private practice/hospitals and have training in psychology/neurology.  So, school neuropsychology is a bridge between the two.  Specifically, it is taking neuropsychological principles and applying them to the school setting.  This is a unique blend of fields since one really needs to have dual training in school psychology and clinical neuropsychology.  If your child is struggling in school, a school psychology evaluation (i.e., psychoeducational evaluation) can typically identify the areas of concern and come up with ways to remediate your child’s difficulties.  However, there are inevitably going to be children who continue struggling for unknown reasons following a psychoeducational evaluation.  This is where a school neuropsychological evaluation can be very beneficial.  It will offer guidance and conceptualize your child in a different way to best identify the root cause of the difficulties and targeted intervention.  Moreover, children with medical conditions (e.g., head injury, tumor, epilepsy, cerebral palsy, etc.) often require a more thorough analysis/understanding that a typical psychoeducational evaluation.  A neuropsychologist understands neurological conditions and the consequences (symptoms) that will manifest due to the condition (which is the “sequela”).

What to do…

I (Dr. Brett Andersen) am a state certified (AZ) and nationally certified school psychologist (NCSP).  I began as a school psychologist over 10 years ago.  However, I also completed a 2-year postdoctoral residency in clinical neuropsychology.  In addition, I also completed a 1-year post graduate certification program in school neuropsychology in which he completed three comprehensive school neuropsychological cases, a written test, and an oral defense (my oral defense pertained to a child I evaluated status post (note: “status post” is just a fancy way to indicate this child had a significant medical incident)-surgical resection of a juvenile pilocytic astrocytoma [JPA] with ventriculoperitoneal shunting (VPS).  I actively maintain my diplomate in school neuropsychology credential (ABSNP) via continuing education. Approximately half of the children I evaluate are undergoing their first ever evaluation, while the other half have undergone multiple evaluations and it is not uncommon for parents to continue having questions about their child despite going through “this process” before.  I thoroughly enjoy working with parents who have been through “this” before.  While I find it unfortunate and are disheartened that their child is still struggling and maybe they did not get the answers they were seeking from their previous evaluation(s).  But I like to take an optimistic approach that, while we cannot change the past, I am fully ready to understand your child and provide you with the answers and direction you are seeking. As a parent myself, I will drop everything for my child and I completely understand you will do the same for yours.  Therefore, if you need answers about your child’s academic or neuropsychological functioning right away, then do not hesitate to call me as I will get you on the schedule as soon as possible so we can maximize your child’s potential.