President's Column

I am very pleased to lead our association into the 21st century. Over the years, psychology has been very good to me and it is a distinct pleasure to have this opportunity to give back to our membership. We are all one family--science, practice, education and public interest.

In my judgment, to think otherwise is extraordinarily naive. Doctorally trained, we are one of the "learned professions." As such, we have a special responsibility to provide proactive vision and leadership. We must affirmatively use our knowledge and expertise to effectively address society's pressing needs. Those who do so are well-received by society's leaders.

During the past year, one of our greatest contributions was the Practice Directorate's collaborative effort with MTV, "Warning Signs: A Youth Anti-Violence Initiative." This has facilitated state psychological associations involvement within their school systems and local communities--to date, resulting in more than 18,000 adolescents participating in more than 250 youth forums and over 4 million viewers seeing the video on MTV.

Making the 'impossible' possible

Over the coming year, I will utilize this column as a catalyst for challenging our collective appreciation for what is "doable." We must think outside of traditional boxes and not be limited by preconceived notions. Society is changing and we must evolve. My high school daughter has introduced me to the web. Today, the APA Web Site averages more than 8.67 million hits per month and 104 million hits a year. APA is within the top 100 most visited web sites in the world. Congratulations!

Today's working environment is in a constant state of flux. Practitioners are challenged by rapid changes in the financing and delivery of health care; those in academia are challenged to carve out positions in new arenas. It is imperative that we explore new roles, find ways to effectively utilize new technologies, and develop new solutions to old problems. We should re-examine one particular old issue, the role of subdoctoral personnel in psychology. Psychology has become one of the most popular undergraduate majors. Thousands of individuals receive bachelors and master's degrees in psychology and go on to work in other areas. However, a significant number choose to work in psychology, where their status and roles remain ambiguous, particularly in the area of professional practice.

Ending the confusion over the master's issue

Prior to the 1950s, the standards for practice in the United States were similar to standards today in most other countries--the doctorate was the entry level for academic/research positions and the master's was the entry level for practice.

In 1950, the Boulder conference, acting upon the recommendations of various APA constituencies, recommended the doctoral degree as the entry level for all psychologists. Subsequent conferences affirmed the doctoral level for the title "psychologist" and for independent practice in the health-services arena. This is the official position of APA, and it is reflected, although admittedly not consistently, in state licensing laws.

Currently, there are approximately 60,000 master's-level psychology graduates working in psychology in the United States. About 30,000 work in human service areas; approximately 21,000 being licensed under psychology licensure laws. About half of the states license master's-level psychology personnel for supervised practice, half provide no licensure at all for individuals trained in psychology at the master's level, and a few states have unique laws. Nearly all states reserve the title "psychologist" for those with a doctoral degree, although admittedly there are inconsistencies.

APA opposes dual-level licensing laws (e.g., laws that license doctoral-level personnel for independent practice as "psychologists" and master's-level personnel for supervised practice under a related title). Many individual master's-level personnel are also uncomfortable with such laws, especially since reimbursement for continuing supervision reduces their chances for third party coverage. Recently, some states have considered separate licensure acts for psychology trained master's-level personnel. They are not called "psychologists" or even "psychological," and they practice without supervision. They are, in effect, an entirely new profession with no statutory connection to organized psychology.

It is too early to know how these laws will work, but APA will watch these developments carefully. Perhaps a clear split, with master's-level practitioners seeking their own licensure and their own titles, would be best for both groups. Ending the confusion and conflict that has characterized the master's issue for so many decades might make it possible for two separate professions, one doctoral and the other master's, to co-exist in friendship and perhaps ultimately result in some type of affiliation that would serve the unique needs of both groups.