What is a Neuropsychologist?

I mean—what even IS a “personality?” That’s my typical comeback when some Psychologist (like myself) gets all triggered when I dare to insinuate that our (Psychologist) career is based on “soft science..." at best. I used to teach a graduate-level class on Personality Theory and that was the first question proposed in the textbook that accompanied the course…something to the effect of: Is there even such a thing as a personality? The answer: We don’t know, but it’s fine. Ignore that. Let’s just operate like there IS such a thing and move on with our lives. [Great.]


In the realm of psychological science, of course, there are assumptions we all have to make (such as that there IS such a thing as a “personality”) in order to share a common language. That way, we can identify symptoms, know when something has gone wrong, and then, treat if necessary. But what if a core assumption is incorrect, and let’s say, there is NOT an actual thing called a “personality." Well, then that leaves us with major limitations in our ability to generalize. After all, the conclusions we make are only as valid as the assumptions that underlie them. In other words, the risk of being super wrong about what to do about the problem is super high if we are wrong about the cause. We used to think, for example, that psychological distress was caused by an imbalance of body fluids or that the womb was floating around in the body. That leads to far different treatments (yikes) than the belief that there is an imbalance of neurotransmitters!


One of the problems I recognized early in my training was that several of the assumptions we rely on as Clinical Psychologists may be better understood by the arts than the sciences. We cannot see a “personality” through a microscope or other imaging technique, for example, but we do know when someone “has changed” in a person-- even when there is no concrete data to prove it. There is also value in what Neurology brings to the table: A closer relationship to tangible, observable, PROVABLE phenomena such as blood flow and structural differences in the brain. When you combine the art of Psychology with the science of Neurology, you end up with what is, in my opinion, a perfect mix: A Clinical Neuropsychologist 😍.


No, I’m not at all nerding-out over our Neuropsychologist and dementia/forensic expert Dr. Katie Spirko 😂