Grad school is no easy street, but it is a fairly comprehensible and predictable process, at least until you finish your internship. From postdoc to license, though, the path is less clear: There is no system to guide you, and the rules are complex and varied. Your state's licensing procedures might bewilder you, for example. Or your postdoctoral training might not offer the experience you need for licensure.
The more you prepare for this final leg of the journey, the better--preferably, starting around the time you apply for your internship, experts say. Good planning will help give you the know-how and documentation you need to become an independently licensed psychologist. Here's what to do.
Step 1. Know the territory
Find out what you need to get your license. On the most basic level, this means earning your degree; accruing enough supervised internship and postdoc hours to satisfy your state's licensing requirements; passing the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP) (see article, "The path to EPPP excellence"); passing your state's jurisprudence or ethics exam; and passing an oral exam, if your state has one.
Also, get a broad overview on licensure from your faculty, state licensing board or the licensure certification session held each year at APA's Annual Convention, says Emil Rodolfa, PhD, director of counseling and psychological services at the University of California-Davis and board member of the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB).
Step 2. Establish a game plan
Once you've understood these steps, gather information on when and how you want to study for or complete them, Rodolfa recommends. Use a calendar so it's easy to keep track of your trajectory.
Block out ample time to study for tests so you're sure to pass them: Experts advise three or four months for the EPPP, for example. And you'll need at least a month to prepare for your jurisprudence exam, which tests your knowledge of state licensing laws and the ethics code (see "Further Reading" for more). Timing can be crucial, too: For example, you will face a delay in taking the EPPP if you don't file the initial paperwork for licensure on time.
Step 3. Think geographically
List all of the states, provinces or territories you might want to work in someday, advises Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Centers (APPIC) Chair Steve McCutcheon, PhD. Learn the licensing requirements for them, then aim to meet the criteria of the strictest one. Most states require between 1,500 and 2,000 postdoc hours, though Michigan requires 4,000 hours, for example.
Remember, states vary in their requirements on other factors as well, including when you send in your licensing application materials and when you can take the EPPP.
Step 4. Go to the source
Visit the licensing board Web sites of the state, province or territory you are interested in to learn about its licensing requirements, says Judy Hall, PhD, executive officer of the National Register of Health Service Providers in Psychology, a major psychology credentialing organization. Baffled by the legalese? Call or e-mail the board with questions until you fully understand the steps you must complete to secure licensure. Sending e-mail is especially effective since it provides documentation that may come in handy if you encounter problems with the application process, says Rodolfa.
Step 5. Stay current
States require that you meet the licensing standards that are in place at the time you apply. Since regulations change frequently, says Hall, review the regulations when you apply for licensure.
Step 6. Plan your postdoc
Knowing your state's licensing requirements will tell you how many supervised hours you need as you begin your postdoc search. Three states--Washington, Alabama and Utah--do not currently require postdoc experience. APA, in fact, has recently changed its model licensing act so postdoc hours aren't required for licensure, although that change is not binding (see "Removing a barrier," http://gradpsych.apags.org/sep06/barrier.html). However, experts suggest obtaining a year of postdoc experience anyway since most states do require it and you may want to move to one of them at some point.
Step 7. Think long-term
Don't view your postdoc as just another hoop to jump through: Look for one that not only meets your state's licensing requirements, but will enhance your
knowledge and facilitate long-term career goals, McCutcheon advises. "That may mean developing a niche, working in a lab where you collaborate on research, or working in a practice area that is either a specialized focus for you or a brand new experience," he says.
Step 8. Secure the postdoc
There are many ways to find a postdoc, experts add. Join the APPIC postdoc listserv and comb the classified ads in APA division newsletters, on division Web sites, and in the Monitor, McCutcheon recommends.
Networking helps, too. A small number of "formal," or organized, postdocs are available related to specialty areas. APA accredits 48 formal postdocs in different areas, and students can be sure that these sites provide adequate supervision and meet the standards of the profession. APPIC lists 104 sites, and the two lists overlap. The Association of Postdoctoral Programs in Clinical Neuropsychology (www.appcn.org) oversees a number of formal postdocs as well. Most other ad hoc positions aren't part of an ongoing program, though they can still be excellent experiences, says McCutcheon.
A sensible route to gaining such postdoc experience is to continue at your internship site, experts say. Or, seek a position or hours at another post that jibes with your interests and meets your training and supervision requirements.
Step 9. Get it in writing
At the start of your postdoc, create a contract--signed by you and your supervisor--that outlines your state's licensing requirements and stipulates how the site, the supervisor and you will meet those requirements. For a template, visit the California Board of Psychology at www.psychboard.ca.gov/licensing/sup_agreement.htm.
Step 10. Bank your materials
Consider putting your credentials into a credentials bank like the National Register or the ASPPB Credentials Bank. These documents would include your transcripts; EPPP, jurisprudence and oral exam scores; letters of recommendation; proof of internship and postdoc experiences; and state licensure forms. For a modest fee, your data will be located in one place and you won't have to worry about obtaining information later, when supervisors may be hard to find, for example.
Step 11. Consider a specialty credential
Psychologists can get a specialty
credential in such areas as forensicand rehabilitation psychology--and that requires an additional step after licensure, McCutcheon says. The American Board of Professional Psychology is a major entity that handles this process, certifying 13 specialties. Likewise, the American Board of Professional Neuropsychology (http://abpn.net/) grants a specialty certification in clinical neuropsychology. Different groups have different criteria, but they usually include a review of your work and an exam, Rodolfa says.
Tori DeAngelis is a writer in Syracuse, N.Y.