Feature

Early career psychologists are among those who will benefit from changes to APA’s Model Act for State Licensure of Psychologists, which offers a prototype states can use when drafting or updating legislation regulating the practice of psychology. The revised act, approved by APA’s Council of Representatives at its February meeting, now allows individuals to sit for licensure if they have completed all their required training as predoctoral students.

“This change should help facilitate licensure for early career psychologists in a way that we hope will help them reduce debt more quickly,” says Katherine C. Nordal, PhD, APA’s executive director for professional practice.

The act does not eliminate the postdoctoral year, emphasizes Nordal. APA still encourages postdoctoral experience. And individuals who don’t undergo the required number of hours of supervised experience predoctorally will still need a postdoc. The revision — and the 2006 APA policy it is based on — simply offer greater flexibility.

Last revised in 1987, the model act now reflects changes in psychology practice that have taken place over the last two decades. In addition to the changes in the recommended sequence of education and training, those developments include the prescription privileges movement and a debate over whether industrial/organizational and consulting psychologists should be licensed. “When APA comes forth with a new model licensure act, it is viewed as the state of the art for what is being recommended for practitioners,” says Nordal. “If a state is inclined to upgrade their licensing act, they very often look to our model act to do that.”

Led by chair Melba J.T. Vasquez, PhD, now APA’s president-elect, the task force charged with revising the model act began its work in 2006. The initial impetus for the revision was the fact that the model act was no longer consistent with APA’s policy on the sequence of education and training.

But that wasn’t the only issue that needed addressing, says Lynn Bufka, PhD, assistant executive director for practice research and policy in APA’s Practice Directorate.

Another was the act’s section on scope of practice, which now reflects the full range of things today’s psychologists do. One subtle but important change is the new document’s acknowledgement that psychologists in some jurisdictions can prescribe medication.

A third important change relates to licensure for industrial/organizational and consulting psychologists, says Bufka. In some jurisdictions, these psychologists aren’t required to be licensed, but they may if they wish to; in other jurisdictions, there are barriers to licensure even if there aren’t laws against it. Changes in the revised model act attempt to overcome those barriers by delineating the kinds of activities that should require licensure.

“The whole purpose of licensure is to protect the public,” says Bufka. “The revised model act makes it explicit that some of the activities that industrial/organizational and consulting psychologists do would warrant licensure.”

The revised model act also underscores the importance of ethics by explicitly incorporating APA’s Ethics Code. In the past, says Bufka, the model act simply said that psychologists were obliged to be ethical. “While it may seem like a no-brainer kind of thing, incorporating it into the act is a pretty significant change,” she says.

One aspect of the act that didn’t change very much was a special exemption that allowed credentialed individuals who provide psychological services in schools to call themselves school psychologists, even if they lack a doctoral degree. The task force initially recommended eliminating that exemption. APA’s Committee for the Advancement of Professional Practice (CAPP) was also in favor, says Sanford M. Portnoy, PhD, CAPP’s chair.

“CAPP was part of the discussion about the importance of eliminating the exemption,” he says. “According to surveys the APA Practice Organization has done, protecting the title ‘psychologist’ is the single most important item for licensed practitioners. We will continue to have the needs of our practitioners foremost in our minds as we work with the revised MLA and move to enhance practice in the future.”

The proposal generated a lot of controversy, says Bufka. After two public comment periods and debate among APA’s council, the final version does not recommend eliminating the exemption for credentialed non-doctoral providers of school psychological services, who are typically regulated by state departments of education, but does modify it. Credentialed providers of school psychological services are still limited to practice only in settings under the purview of the state education agency, says Bufka, and they’re still required to include the word “school” in their titles.

“The change here is that we no longer explicitly endorse the use of the title ‘school psychologist’ by individuals who provide school psychological services,” she says. “But we’re not explicitly restricting it, either.”

When will the model act be revised again? There has already been at least one business item submitted to the council, says Bufka, and there are some fast-evolving areas — such as telepsychology — that may have an impact on the model act.

“I suspect it will be less than 20 years before the next revision rolls around,” she predicts.


Rebecca A. Clay is a writer in Washington, D.C.