Psychology is the science that studies and intervenes in the cognitive, affective and behavioural processes of people.

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

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

Psychology: definition and characteristics

Psychology is a discipline that has numerous specialities , among the best known: clinical psychology, which focuses on the psychological problems that affect the quality of life of persons; educational psychology, focused on the treatment of learning difficulties; and psychology of organisations and work, whose objective is to apply psychological techniques in the workplace.

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

However, cognitive-behavioral orientation is currently the one with 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 within the field of psychology that focuses mainly on cognitive processes (memory, attention, executive functions, etc.) and their relationship with the effects of brain injuries and diseases.

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

Differences between psychology and neuropsychology

Psychology and neuropsychology share a common goal that is to improve the quality of life of the clients or patients they treat .

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

1. Differences in formation

Currently, in order to practice as a psychologist, it is necessary to have the corresponding university training: a 4-year degree in psychology and a master’s degree that qualifies you, in case you want to work in the field of health. To work in the public sphere, the only way is to access, through the system of internal resident psychologist or P.I.R., a 4-year period of hospital residence through different training areas.

As far as working as a neuropsychologist is concerned, in Spain this profession is not recognized as such; that is, in order to work in the field of neuropsychology what is usually required in the private sphere is postgraduate training that accredits that you have the necessary knowledge to work in this field.

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

2. Differences in evaluation

Another difference between psychology and neuropsychology lies in the way the patient is evaluated . A clinical psychologist evaluates the person’s history, intellectual and academic skills and personality traits. However, this type of evaluation does not include tests to obtain data on the difficulties associated with the different cognitive functions.

The neuropsychologist will focus on the preserved and altered cognitive functions, and for this purpose will perform a comprehensive assessment of memory, attention, language, executive functions, praxis and gnosis, among others. This type of evaluation is focused on developing a comprehensive rehabilitation program that takes into account all the cognitive deficits observed.

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

3. Differences in intervention

When it comes to 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 to understand and modify his way of thinking and perceiving his own difficulties.

In the field of neuropsychology, interventions usually focus on the use of cognitive rehabilitation techniques that involve: restoration of altered functions through training of these functions; compensation or training of alternative skills; and the use of external aids (e.g., agendas 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 focus more on psychological problems such as anxiety, depression, phobias, relationship problems, addictions or sleep disorders, among others.

4. Differences in research

In the field of research there are also differences between psychology and neuropsychology . The latter focuses more on discovering new information on the functioning of the brain and the various associated pathologies, with an interdisciplinary view that draws on other neuroscientific disciplines.

Research in psychology, on the other hand, addresses multiple fields that include the study of aspects such as human learning, thought processes, emotions, behaviour or cognitive biases, to give just a few examples.

Bibliographic references:

  • Antonio, P. P. (2010). Introduction to Neuropsychology. Madrid: McGraw-Hill.

  • Coolican, H., Sierra, G. P., Bari, S. M. O., Herrejón, J. L. N., & Tejada, M. M. R. (2005). Research methods and statistics in psychology.

  • Labos, E., Slachevsky, A., Fuentes, P., & Manes, F. (2008). Clinical neuropsychology treatise (No. 616.8: 159.9). Akadia Bookstore.