Neuropsychological Perspective on Behavior and Habit Reversal


In December I completed a two-year certification course in neuropsychology from Ball State University’s Department of School Psychology, which is one of only 40 programs in the United States that offers graduate level training in Clinical Neuropsychology.

Neuropsychology is a branch of psychology which examines how the brain and nervous system processes influence an individual's cognition and behaviors. While psychologists in this branch of psychology often focus on how injuries or illnesses of the brain affect cognitive functions and behaviors, my focus remains on changing behavior and habit reversal.

I think it’s useful to conceptualize for parents seeking educational placement options for their students how important creating and maintain habits can be. In my practice I generally work with two distinct groups of parents who are ultimately looking to change habits and behaviors in their student:

  1. Parents looking for a residential treatment option to change maladaptive behaviors in their troubled teen.
  2. Parents looking for to help their student with improving test taking skills (SAT, ACT, gifted placement), critical thinking ability, or overall academic improvement.

For both of these groups, we can conceptualize the intervention needed as shift in the mechanical processes of the neurological connections in the brain. A few key concepts here are:

  1. The more neuronal activity, the stronger the connection. If your child has already developed some poor habits in terms of problematic coping skills or ineffective study strategies, the time to intervene is now. Delaying intervention only makes the target behavior harder to treat.
  2. The best way to change the habit is to disrupt the system. Disrupting the system means a change in environmental cues that reinforce behaviors.
  3. The best way to disrupt the system is to change the environment. This can be a change in environment for residential treatment of a troubled teen, or a change in structure and routine for the struggling student.
  4. The best way to learn new habits is to practice them – (and to have a therapist there in the moment who can intervene). I’m a big fan of outpatient therapy for those that want to change. I ran a therapy practice for many years and saw mixed results. But over time I came to discover that for struggling students and troubled teens alike- the most effective form of therapy is often residential. Outpatient therapy is only effective if the child is on board, and the parents can enforce structure in the therapist’s absence.
  5. Behavioral change takes repetition, and repetition takes time. I often use the example of when my wife moved the coffee maker. It took me two months to stop walking over to the place where our coffee maker used to live before I changed my habit. It takes time for neurological connections to strengthen, and for new “knee-jerk” reactions to replace the old ones.


Another way to think about changing habits

I’m happy to discuss with clients the neurological processes behind specific behaviors and habit reversal. With my post-doctoral Clinical Neuropsychology credential I hope to incorporate an additional perspective on the educational interventions and placement recommendations I make to families that I assist.

If you think I can be of help to your family, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me at 813-454-1050. I look forward to speaking with you soon!