Choosing an expert witness: Neuropsychologist or Neuropsychiatrist?
07 September 2020
Following a serious or catastrophic injury – such as a brain and spinal injury - an individual’s mental health, cognitive abilities, emotions and mental wellbeing can have an incredibly significant impact on their rehabilitation potential and recovery.
Choosing the right kind of expert witness is a crucial step when building a case, and when it comes to the brain, one of the questions we’re often asked by solicitors is whether the assistance of a neuropsychologist or neuropsychiatrist expert witness is required.
Starting by understanding the difference between the two disciplines, we’ll go on to explore some case studies where psychologists and psychiatrists were able to provide expert guidance for the court.
Understanding the work of psychologists and neuropsychologists
Psychologists support people living with mental health conditions. From anxiety and depression to PTSD, schizophrenia and psychosis, psychologists work with people to identify, diagnose and treat emotional, mental and behavioural issues.
Psychologists use personality tests and clinical observation – such has comprehension, insight and memory – to assess individuals. They may carry out neuropsychological tests to measure the function of brain pathways to identify impairments following an injury. One important point to note is that psychologists do not prescribe medications to treat mental illness. Often, when people discuss ‘talking therapies’ such as psychoanalysis, or psychological techniques such as CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy), they are referring to techniques carried out by psychologists.
When it comes to neurological care and rehabilitation, it’s crucial to engage a neuro specialist. Clinical neuropsychologists are concerned with the mechanics of the brain – such as after a brain injury – and how different impairments affect people’s understanding, planning, attention, memory, intellect and behaviour. They work on strategies for correcting unusual patterns of understanding and thought process as a result of impairments caused by injury or illness.
This might include:
- memory problems
- changes or disturbances in mood
- dysfunction of the nervous system
Neuropsychologists evaluate the impairment, function and disease progression of people affected by stroke, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia and traumatic brain and spinal injuries.
When it comes to the expertise of a neuropsychologist expert witness in a medico-legal case, they will work to evaluate and present the psychological impact of a person’s injury, resulting symptoms, cognitive insight and any future bearing on their lives.
Want to know more about clinical neuropsychology? Read our information for legal teams.
Understanding the work of psychiatrists and neuropsychiatrists
Psychiatrists diagnose, prevent and treat mental disorders. Unlike psychologists, psychiatrists prescribe medications. There are different branches of psychiatry including child and forensic psychiatry. When it comes to brain and spinal injuries, stroke and tumours, the expertise of a neuropsychiatrist is required.
A growing speciality, neuropsychiatry combines neurological and psychological aspects of illness. They work with individuals with disorders which most often stem from a brain malfunction. Neuropsychiatrists work to understand changes to people’s cognition, intellect and emotions. A neuropsychiatrist will explore ways for individuals to cope and manage their neuropsychiatric and behavioural symptoms such as hallucinations, sleep disorders and personality changes by using medication.
Neuropsychiatrists are also responsible for assessing people’s cognitive functions and their ability to make informed decisions about their care, health and legal affairs. They may be asked to prepare a report for the Court of Protection, when a person’s ability to advocate for themselves is under review.
Which expert do I need for my case?
When it comes to choosing a medical expert able to have the right impact on your case, selecting a neuropsychologist or neuropsychiatrist expert witness depends on the details of your case and the symptoms being experienced by your client.
For example, a neuropsychiatrist may work with a young man who has previously enjoyed an active lifestyle - riding a motorbike and playing rugby - through a period of depression following a severe spinal injury. A psychologist would be best placed to assess and put forward a neurorehabilitation plan which encompasses regular support of a counsellor in conjunction with physiotherapy.
A neuropsychologist may also be asked to prepare a report which explores a woman’s insight into her ability to return to work as a courier following a brain injury.
A neuropsychiatrist may be asked to assess a man who has experienced personality changes, manifested by a lack of inhibition following a brain injury to the frontal lobe, which means that they are now prone to disinhibited and aggressive behaviour. This could have significant impact on their ability to return to live in their family home, or return to work, in the future.
Want to know more about clinical neuropsychiatry? Read our information for legal teams.
Support to find the right expert for your case
At NRC Medical Experts, we take the time to understand your serious and catastrophic injury cases and we even offer free pre-instruction conversations with our leading experts.
We take the time to understand the requirements and recommend the best approach, so you can be confident that you’ll be matched with the right experts. These no obligation conversations mean that when you instruct us, the expert witnesses can get started right away.