Professional Highlight: Dr. McDonough, Ph.D. and San Diego Neuropsychology

DrMcDonoughGrace Care Management is pleased to highlight Neuropsychologist Dr. Mark McDonough this month.  Neuropsychology is a special profession that focuses on brain functioning and can have significant outcomes for patients. We thank Dr. McDonough for taking the time to educate us about his practice and the benefits of neuropsychology.  We hope you enjoy his interview!

Dr. McDonough has completed two masters degrees in the psychology field, one from Loyola College in Maryland and another at the California School of Professional Psychology in San Diego. He went on to acquire his doctoral degree with dissertation honors focusing on Clinical Psychology with a Health Psychology emphasis area. Dr. McDonough competed for and was chosen for two year post-doctoral study at Vanderbilt University Medical Center specializing in Neuropsychology. While there, he focused on neuropsychological testing of children and adults, toxicity, traumatic brain injury, and psychological assessments.

After his post-doctoral study, he was recruited to coordinate the Pediatric Brain Injury program at Children’s Specialized Hospital in Mountainside, New Jersey, one of the largest programs of it’s kind in the country. He was later Director of Clinical Services at The Neurobehavioral Institute of New Jersey – an outpatient facility dealing with both traumatic and acquired brain injuries, their assessment and treatment.

Lulled back by the sun and sea, Dr. McDonough returned to Southern California in 1999 and established his private practice and consultation service. Offices are located at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego as well as Scripps-Encinitas Hospital in Encinitas, California. Here we feature our recent interview with Dr. McDonough.

Can you tell us a little bit about your practice?

I actually started out doing neuropsychological testing back on the East Coast, when working at a psychiatric hospital (Sheppard Pratt). I found neuropsychology to add a crucial data-based and scientific component to the traditional psychological evaluations. I also saw that the residents who had neuropsychological experience had a better conceptualization of the patients. My current practice involves neuropsychological and psychological assessments, as well as vocational/academic evals. I have offices at Scripps Hospital in Encinitas and at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego.
I immensely enjoy what I do. I value the chance to meet with patients and hear their story, and what led them into referral. An assessment often reminds me of a puzzle. One must put together obvious and subtle contributions from their history to discern the most significant factor(s), versus those that are secondary or further down the line. From history, interview, and testing data, I strive to provide a comprehensive understanding of the problem etiology, what maintains or complicates it; and most importantly – what might be done to accommodate or remediate the concern.

How would you define neuropsychology for the non-medical person?

The best definition I have heard of neuropsychology is that it is the study of brain-behavior relationships. Behavior is influenced by brain performance (strength or weakness) and its effect on academic, cognitive, social, memory, and other areas of functioning.

What is neuropsychological testing and what kinds of problems can be identified with this testing?

Neuropsychological testing is the application of norm-based tests to understand a person’s cognitive and neuropsychological strengths and weaknesses. Areas assessed may include sensory perceptual functioning, visuospatial analysis, attention and concentration, language, memory, intelligence, personality functions, effort, and other areas as needed (tactile, olfaction, vocational). Oftentimes, a patient does not have a unilateral problem, but areas of overlapping concern.

How does this knowledge inform a patient’s treatment plan?

This helps tailor the conceptual understanding of the person’s issues and treatment. For example, a patient may complain of a memory issue, when in actuality it may be an attention or emotional-based interference. This clarity has different implications for treatments or medications that might be considered. Similarly, in some of my older population patients, there is often the complaint that food just does not taste the same. This might not be a taste problem, but one of olfaction (smell), an important clinical diagnostic distinction.

Can you talk a little about how the brain can heal post stroke or traumatic brain injury?

One of the many wondrous aspects of the brain and the human body is its hardwired ability to seek to naturally heal itself. These processes begin after stroke or other brain injury, although weaken with time (depending on various factors). This process can be assisted through properly driven recommendations and forms of treatment.

What is changing in the field of neuropsychology?

There is always the never-ending body of new research, findings, and practice procedures to keep abreast. Improvements in imaging, genomic sequencing, and progressive and formative understandings regarding how the brain works, both normally and when impaired, are advancing in ways never thought possible.

What has your experience with Grace Care Management been?

I met Cindy Hasz many years ago here at Scripps Hospital through a joint patient contact where she was providing needed service for the patient and their family. I saw the importance of Grace Care Management’s services for many of my older patients, and have often referred them.

To find out more about Dr. McDonough’s practice, please visit his website at

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