CPsychol, DPsych, PG Dip, MPhil, BA

Learning the Language of Neuropsychology

It’s an exciting moment for Counselling Psychologists in the UK because we are now able to train in Neuropsychology. This blog post series is intended to offer sign-posting to those beginning the knowledge component. I completed the Applied Neuropsychology Diploma at Bristol University in the Summer of 2020. This course has the same content as the Clinical Neuropsychology Diploma. I’d love to hear from you if you are considering this path – don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Neuropsychology has its own language. You will need to quickly grasp it to (a) follow the lectures (b) be able to understand neuropsychology journal articles and, (c) appreciate the biological basis of various neuropsychological conditions that will present in the clinic. My advice is to start this learning process before you begin the course. Once you can appreciate the basic ABCs of neuropsychology, and in particular neuroanatomy, the more enjoyable the whole experience will be. Your neuropsychology course will cover these topics, but quickly. Like learning any language, taking the time to have a solid basic foundation will serve you well.

So where to begin? I will share my process, with the usual caveat that there are a million ways to go about it.

First, where to learn. I started with a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC). I choose the free advanced course offered by Duke University called Medical Neuroscience, hosted by Coursera. It is a 13 week course that is very ambitious in terms of scope. The first four weeks in particular are perfect in terms of covering the basic biology that you need to know, such as neurons, brain anatomy and neural communication. The course instructor, Associate Professor Leonard White, is excellent. I did not stick to the recommended schedule. Instead, I took my time over these initial modules until I felt confident that I had grasped them.

Once I had started the PG diploma in Applied Neuropsychology, I also had a look at Understanding the Brain: The Neurobiology of Everyday life. Again, this MOOC is hosted by Coursera, but run by the University of Chicago. The course is instructed by Professor Peggy Mason, who offers wonderfully clear training. Modules 1-3 cover the basics, but all the content is great.

In terms of books, I recommend David Andrewes (2016), Neuropsychology: From Theory to Practice, published by Routledge (Chapter 1). This book should be available via the University library. Fitzgerald’s (2016), Clinical Neuroanatomy and Neuroscience is also excellent – the chapters are short and the diagrams are labelled in a way that makes it easy to test yourself.

How to learn? When I started these online courses, I came to recognise the nature of the beast that is Neuropsychology: the breadth and the depth of the field is massive. Our job is to master both over time and this can seem daunting. The most helpful mindset is a commitment to lifelong learning – this isn’t the type of learning experience where you make one pass through the material.  It just doesn’t work like that.  

Mastering the volume of information that needs to be covered can also be aided by an active approach to learning.  In general, I found that drawing/sketching into a dedicated notebook yielded higher memorisation than rote learning. Mapping out the brain anatomy using materials such as pasta or play dough, then labelling it, is a great way to solidify your knowledge. There are plenty of Youtube videos available to help you along the way. It is also useful to hear the same information delivered in different voices and with different emphasis. Repetition is your friend as you take those first steps into Neuropsychology.

On a more practical level, it requires an organisational system so that you can keep track of what you are learning. I will write a separate post on the approach that I took to that.

I hope that this helps you, wherever you are in this learning process. Enjoy!