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When William Greenhouse, PhD, finished his clinical psychology graduate courses, his practica, dissertation, internship and postdoc, he still faced one more hurdle in his doctoral journey - getting licensed. And, as Greenhouse and many other recent grads have discovered, that's not always easy to do.

Since states' licensing requirements vary, Greenhouse hatched a plan at the beginning of his postdoctoral training to avoid licensing delays. Greenhouse, a 2002 graduate of the University of Miami, Coral Gables, Florida, targeted four states for a job search - Massachusetts, New York, California and Florida - and created a matrix of the states' requirements to determine which had the strictest criteria.

He then structured his postdoc at the Edith Nourse Rogers Memorial Veterans Hospital in Bedford, Massachusetts, around those requirements so that he would have flexibility to move among the four states, depending on job prospects. For example, Florida had the most rigorous standards for direct client contact - 900 hours - so he negotiated with his supervisor to increase direct client contact from 35% to 50% of his workload.

Just as Greenhouse did, students should study state licensure requirements in their second year or sooner, advises Asher Pacht, PhD, former director of professional affairs for the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB), which consists of U.S. and Canadian licensing boards. He and other experts advise that students pay attention to differences in required supervision hours for the predoctoral internship and postdoc as well as requirements concerning jurisprudence exams, graduate courses and when to take the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP).

From there, students can structure their internship and postdoc to meet the specific licensing requirements for their states, Pacht says. Check the "Handbook of Licensure and Certification Requirements," available for free at www.asppb.org, for jurisdiction requirements.

The earlier students get started on meeting such requirements, the less they'll have to do in the final leg - the busiest time of graduate school.

"When you finish graduate school, you think you have filled out your last form and you're done," says Patricia Bricklin, PhD, who serves on the Pennsylvania licensing board. "Licensing can be a pain and a lot of work, but it's important. Licensing is there for consumer protection to show the public that you are qualified to help them. You shouldn't be afraid of the process."

General licensing requirements

Though each state has its specific requirements, there are some general points about licensure that everyone should consider to prepare for it:

  • Do you need to get licensed? To practice psychology, you need to become licensed through your state's licensing board. Those who work at a college or university, state or federal institution, research laboratory or a corporation may be exempt from having to be licensed in some states. However, this does vary by state; look at your state's language regarding exemptions from licensure. Industrial/organizational psychologists, for example, are required only in some states to become licensed, and school psychologists in public schools must complete distinct licensing requirements.

Nine states require licensees to have a separate designation as a "health-service provider" if their practice includes the provision of health-care services - including mental health care. The National Register offers such a system for credentialing health-service providers that is used by insurance companies.

  • Meet education requirements. State licensing boards typically require a minimum of a doctoral degree in psychology from a regionally accredited or government-chartered institution. Some states require applicants to have a doctoral degree in psychology from an APA-accredited program. Students who did not attend an APA-accredited program or an ASPPB- or National Register-designated doctoral program in psychology may have their program's curriculum scrutinized by licensing boards, says Bricklin, chair of APA's Committee for the Advancement of Professional Practice.

  • Gather administrative materials. Students should document the number of clients, types of problems they treated and supervised experiences they had during their postdoc and internship, Bricklin says. Many state boards also request proof of coursework.

To ease the process, create a dossier of your coursework, suggests Stuart Tentoni, PhD, counseling coordinator and training director at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Norris Health Center. To do this, photocopy course descriptions from graduate catalogs and include course textbook names and publication dates. List the professors' names, their degree title, where they earned their doctorate and whether they are licensed or an APA member.

  • Prepare for tests. All U.S. states and Canadian provinces whose boards are members of ASPPB - except Quebec and Prince Edward Island - require applicants to pass the EPPP, a 225-question multiple-choice test developed by ASPPB on core areas of psychology, such as assessment and diagnosis, and social and biological bases of behavior. However, Quebec does require the EPPP for out-of-province candidates. Visit www.asppb.org for content areas and an electronic practice test.

Passing scores for the EPPP are set by each state; most states require at least a 70 percent or 500 on the computer-based exam. Applicants who take the EPPP soon after completing their doctoral degree tend to do better on the test than those who wait, says Barbara Van Horne, PhD, ASPPB president. (See Toward solutions for professional prostdocs for more information on when you can take the EPPP.) Some states also require candidates to pass an oral exam that may be a competency-based test or a test of laws and ethics. Other states only require a jurisprudence exam.

  • Accrue supervised clinical hours. Students should accrue 2,000 hours during internship and 2,000 hours during postdoc, on average, to meet state requirements, recommends Emil Rodolfa, PhD, a former member of the California licensing board and chair of the Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Centers. Jurisdictions vary in the number of supervised hours required. For example, Michigan requires 6,000 supervised hours, whereas California requires 3,000 hours.

  • Bank your credentials. Banking or recording information about your postdoc, internship and doctoral degree through organizations like the National Psychologist Trainee Register (www.nationalregister.org) or ASPPB's Credentials Bank (www.asppb.org) means you won't have to locate transcripts or supervisors for signatures later on. Consider first banking your information after completing your internship, recommends Judy Hall, PhD, executive officer of the National Register of Health Service Providers in Psychology and former executive secretary of the New York State Board for Psychology. "Starting the process early prevents surprises later on," Hall says.

  • Make yourself mobile. Banking your credentials, some advise, can also be a way to help you practice in a different state later in your career. For more information on the jurisdictions that have adopted mobility mechanisms, visit the Web sites of the National Register (www.nationalregister.com/mobility.html) and ASPPB (www.asppb.org/mobility/CPQmap.asp).

Also, to help make yourself mobile, Van Horne suggests that mainstream education, training and supervisory experiences are more likely to meet state requirements. She suggests attending an APA- or Canadian Psychological Association (CPA)-accredited program or National Register or ASPPB-designated program. Also, she recommends taking requisite courses in the core areas of psychology and completing an APA- or CPA-accredited internship.

  • Anticipate the cost. Fees for licensure can range from $500 to more than $1,000, including application and initial licensing fees and exam costs. ASPPB's online "Handbook of Licensure and Certification Requirements" lists each state's licensing fees. Greenhouse estimates he spent nearly $3,000 on licensing, including $1,200 on EPPP study materials and a prep course.

  • Seek help when you need it. If you're confused or uneasy about the licensing process, Rodolfa recommends talking to others who have been through it. Students might also turn to state psychological associations, the National Register, ASPPB, state licensing boards or listservs - such as APA's Early Career Listserv or EPPP-Prep (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/eppp_prep/).

As for Greenhouse, he keeps a thick file of the licensing forms and information he has collected over the years so that he will be prepared to go through the licensing process again when he applies for licensing in New York, California and Florida. He hopes to open a private practice treating patients with bipolar disorder. By being licensed in four states, he feels he will have maximized his mobility to accept the most attractive job offer.

"I held myself responsible for learning the licensing information," Greenhouse says. "No one was going to lead me through the process. I had to do it. My future was in my hands, so I took the initiative."

BASIC STEPS TO LICENSING

  • Obtain a doctoral degree in psychology.

  • Accrue supervised hours — ranging from 1,500 to 6,000 hours, depending on the state.

  • Pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP).

  • Pass a jurisprudence exam, if applicable.

  • Receive approval by a state licensing board that requirements have been met.

  • You are now a licensed psychologist.

Source: Dr. Emil Rodolfa, Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Centers


LICENSING FOR SCHOOL PSYCHOLOGISTS

Unlike other specialty fields in psychology that fall under the umbrella of generic licensing, school psychologists are required to get a certificate or license to work in public schools — usually through their state's Department of Education, not the state's licensing board as with generic licensing.

Most states require a school psychologist to complete a master's or specialist degree and pass the Teacher Certification Test, which has a specialty component for school psychology. Some states might also require an internship.

To help applicants sift through state requirements, APA's Practice Directorate has recently posted to APA Practice a handbook on the various state requirements for psychologists who want to work in public schools. You must be a subscribing member of APA's Practice Portal to access it.

— M. DITTMANN