Career Center

Orange road barrier and blue sky

Psychology students and APA agree: If you accrue enough supervised experience counseling clients as a student, you shouldn't need to complete a postdoc to get licensed as a practicing psychologist.

All but three states—Washington, Utah and Alabama—require either a one-year or two-year postdoctoral period of supervised work.

Student advocates, working with state associations and APA, are helping to knock down unnecessary licensure barriers in other states. Ohio University clinical psychology student Jessica Grayson, for example, testified at an Ohio legislative hearing in April in support of a bill that would eliminate the need for a postdoctoral year for graduate students who accumulate 1,800 hours of supervised clinical work, along with a yearlong internship. She also rallied her fellow students to write and call their representatives.

The Ohio House passed the legislation in May; the Senate is expected to act soon.

Grayson's work is important because many psychology doctoral students accrue a significant amount of supervised training before graduating, says Ohio Psychological Association President Cathy McDaniels-Wilson, PhD.

Recent data from the Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Centers shows that psychology students who applied for internship in 2006 estimated that they had accrued a median of 2,274 training hours. With all that predoctoral training, the requirement for a postdoctoral year is unnecessary and makes it difficult for early career professionals to get started as practitioners, because training slots are scarce and salaries tend to be low, says McDaniels-Wilson.

"Availability and pay are a concern because a lot of students are coming out of graduate training with huge debt," she says.

Postdoc requirements also keep early career professionals from working with underserved populations and paying down student debt through such programs as the National Health Service Corps, which requires a license, she says.

To aid advocacy efforts, APA's Model Licensing Act Task Force is drafting an act proposing more flexibility in the training sequence, says its chair, Melba Vasquez, PhD.

The model act, which the task force hopes to bring to APA's Council of Representatives in August 2009 for approval, will recommend that state legislatures require psychologists to complete two years of supervised training, including one year in a predoctoral internship, Vasquez says. The other year of training can be completed before or after graduation. That way, says Vasquez, "an early career professional could hit the ground running."

However, care needs to be taken to ensure the quality of practicum hours if states move in this direction, says Stephen T. DeMers, EdD, executive officer for the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB). There's currently no common understanding of what constitutes acceptable supervised experiences at the pre-internship level among doctoral training programs, accreditation panels and state licensing boards, DeMers notes. ASPPB is working with APA's Education Directorate and Committee on Accreditation to develop a common understanding of the practicum experience, but that process will take time, he says.

"It's a system, and you can change one piece in it, and the whole dynamic changes," he says.

To further promote legislative changes, APA's Committee for the Advancement of Professional Practice is providing a pool of $10,000 annually in grant money to state, provincial or territorial psychological associations (SPTA) that pledge to address this licensure issue, says Dan Abrahamson, PhD, of APA's Practice Directorate.

"The ownership of this issue has to come from the folks invested in it, and this is a great opportunity for students to get involved with their SPTA and make a difference with a legislative initiative," Abrahamson says.

For more information on the grants, contact Susie Lazaroff, APA's director of state advocacy, via e-mail. To learn more about student advocacy efforts, visit http://groups.google.com/group/postdoc-paradox.

By Christopher Munsey
gradPSYCH Staff

A state issue

Besides Ohio, states that have addressed the sequence-of-training issue include:

  • Iowa. The Iowa Psychological Association has proposed changes to the state psychology licensing board's administrative rules that would eliminate the requirement for a postdoc year. The Iowa board is awaiting action by the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards before acting on the recommendations.

  • Utah. Psychologists got legislation passed in 2007 allowing for all 4,000 hours of supervised training to be completed before the awarding of a doctoral degree.

  • Washington. In 2004, the state legislature passed more flexible training requirements, and the psychology board adopted rules this year allowing students to accrue 1,500 hours of supervised pre-internship training, as part of a requirement of 3,300 hours total.

—C. Munsey