Biology and psychology unite in the field of neuroscience, to tackle questions such as the brain’s role in pain perception or the underlying cause of Parkinson’s disease. Computer simulations, imaging, and other tools give researchers and medical experts new insight into the physical anatomy of the brain, its five million kilometers of wiring, and its relationship to the rest of the mind and body.
Scientists have explored whether cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a widely used treatment for anxiety disorders and depression, improves symptoms in part by altering the function of the amygdala (which is key for responses to perceived threat) and the prefrontal cortex, which inhibits the amygdala. Clinical neuroscience provides evidence to suggest this may be the case. Research has also observed neural changes that appear to correspond with symptom reduction in post-traumatic stress disorder, psychosis, and other conditions.
What are the differences between neuropsychology, psychiatry, and neurology?
Mental and behavioral problems that are thought to be rooted in brain function are diagnosed and treated by clinical professionals from a number of different specialties. These specialties differ in their emphasis and the kinds of training involved. Three prominent fields with a focus on the links between the brain and behavior are neuropsychology, psychiatry, and neurology.
Clinical neuropsychologists are psychologists (with a Ph.D. or Psy.D. degree) who have specialized knowledge about the links between behavior and thinking and the nervous system. They apply this knowledge in assessing concerns about memory, reasoning, perception, attention, and other cognitive abilities. These concerns may be connected to brain injury or disease, or to conditions such as autism, ADHD, or a learning disorder. Neuropsychological evaluations commonly involve interviewing and standardized tests of cognitive abilities and skills. Neuropsychologists may make or confirm diagnoses, help to plan treatment, and provide feedback to other care providers.
Psychiatrists typically treat mental health conditions involving problems with thinking, mood, and patterns of behavior, such as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, and substance use disorders. They may provide psychotherapy in addition to prescribing medication.
Neurologists treat disorders of the nervous system (commonly those involving clear damage or degradation), such as stroke, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and epilepsy.
How do commonly used psychiatric medications affect the brain?
There are multiple classes of drugs prescribed to treat psychiatric conditions, and the exact ways in which they work at the neurobiological level to alleviate symptoms are not always understood. Something that various psychiatric medications have in common, however, is that they are designed to influence the function of one or more neurotransmitter systems—either increasing or reducing a neurotransmitter’s effects in the brain.