In my experience, the term “neuropsychological evaluation” often conjures up a mix of several emotions in the individuals who visit my office. Generally, I expect a mix of nervousness, dread, and a bit of confusion. After all, a lot of people have heard of a psychologist, but a neuropsychologist? That almost sounds made up. I often like to joke that most people have no idea that someone like me exists until they are sent to my office. As a result, I often begin my evaluations by asking patients and their families, “Did anyone give you an idea of who I am, what I do, or what you’re in for today?” This allows me to get a sense of what families have been told and answer any questions they may have.
So, let’s pretend that you, the reader, are my patient for today. After a bit of conversation, I generally explain to people that my job can be boiled down to trying to understand how people learn and see the world. In other words, I evaluate cognitive functioning, which is a broad term that includes how well we reason with words, work with shapes, pay attention, organize ourselves, learn new information, interact with others, and express our emotions. I gather this information by meeting with patients and their families and asking questions or doing activities to better understand how their brains work. I use this information to understand a person’s strengths and find areas that can be improved upon. This allows me to provide recommendations to individuals, families, schools, and other people involved in a person’s care about how to support them to achieve their goals.
Most parents ask me how they can prepare their children for a neuropsychological evaluation appointment. One of the most important things is to ensure that the child gets a good night’s sleep and has breakfast the day of the evaluation. I usually like to explain that the day will consist of “activities.” I often encourage parents to avoid the term “games” as children can be disappointed when they discover that the evaluation is not as interesting as Minecraft. Describing that the day will involve a series of questions, puzzles, and other activities is often a better and more accurate way to prepare a child. Generally, patients are seen over two days and appointments are scheduled for three hours at a time. This allows the patient to set the pace and provides plenty of time for breaks.
To sum things up, there is nothing to be afraid of when receiving a recommendation for a neuropsychological evaluation. In the end you might learn something about yourself that can make life a little easier and more productive!
By Hilary Murphy, PhD
Clinical Neuropsychologist | Director of Training and Graduate Education