Early-Career Psychology

As an early-career psychologist, you've jumped through plenty of hoops to get your doctorate and postdoc. Now you're in for one more test of your planning prowess: getting licensed, preferably with the ability to move to another state if you want.

The process can seem daunting, says Barbara Van Horne, PhD, director of professional affairs for the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB), the entity that works with the 63 state, provincial and territorial licensing boards in the United States, Canada and the U.S territories.

"People don't think much about licensure in grad school because they're so preoccupied with what's in front of them," she says. "When they do, it can be frustrating and confusing. It's a complicated process. There are so many hurdles, and licensing laws vary widely from state to state."

While most graduates need to do their own research and develop a plan to land their first license, it is becoming easier to obtain future licenses in different jurisdictions, due to efforts by the two main U.S. psychology credentialing bodies, ASPPB and the National Register of Health Service Providers in Psychology. This process, called licensure mobility, eases secondary licensing processes by providing jurisdictions with a stamp of approval for psychologists meeting specified criteria, notes National Register Executive Officer Judy E. Hall, PhD.

Learning the basics about your first and future licenses can expand your options-whether it's the ability to raise your kids near their grandparents or to take a coveted job in a different state, Van Horne says.

Experts advise that you:

Map a route. Establish an overall plan to get licensed, advises early-career psychologist Jason Burrow-Sanchez, PhD, a University of Utah assistant professor. How will you get the postdoc hours you need, study for the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP) and pay for your study and test materials?

Burrow-Sanchez planned such a course of action for the EPPP last summer by stopping his teaching in May, then devoting the next month and a half to studying. "My motto was, 'I'm only going to take this once,'" he says. It worked-he passed.

Learn the ropes. Next, get up to speed on the current licensing laws, learning the specific requirements of the state you're applying in, states you're interested in, and for maximum flexibility, states as a whole, advises Thomas Vaughn, PhD, former president of ASPPB, whose Web site, www.asppb.org, contains information on all states' requirements. In addition, a new book edited by Vaughn, "Psychology Licensure and Certification: What Students Need to Know" (APA, 2006), gives the scoop on licensure, internships, certification and preparation for license-related tests.

To meet most states' licensing requirements, you must:

  • Meet all of your doctoral-degree requirements, which is automatic if your program is accredited by APA or the Canadian Psychological Association (CPA). If your program isn't APA- or CPA-accredited, it and you must meet the ASPPB or National Register (www.nationalregister.org) definition of a doctoral degree. The criteria are listed on the organizations' Web sites.

  • Pass the EPPP.

  • Demonstrate that you've completed a specified number of hours of supervised professional experience.

  • Pass your state's jurisprudence or ethics exam.

  • Pass an oral exam if it's required in your state.

An especially sticky wicket, says Vaughn, is supervised hours. State requirements vary widely-from 1,500 hours to 6,000 hours, though most require between 3,000 hours and 4,000 hours. In addition, different jurisdictions have different definitions of "supervised professional experience": Some may require that internships be APA-accredited, for instance, while others leave the requirement more vague, he notes.

Moreover, the requirements may change if states adopt versions of a recent APA revision in licensure policy recommending that states allow students to use predoc rather than postdoc hours toward their licenses, says Dan Abrahamson, PhD, APA's assistant executive director for state advocacy. For more details on the policy change, see the September gradPSYCH.

Given this picture, the best way to ensure future mobility is to get the maximum number of high-quality hours required in most states, Vaughn says. That means 2,000 hours in an APA- or Canadian Psychological Association-accredited internship and 2,000 hours in a supervised postdoc.

ASPPB Executive Director Stephen DeMers, EdD, agrees: "Because licensure requirements are often written into the law, licensing boards have said to me, 'We couldn't possibly license this person; they only have 1,800 hours, and we require 2,000,'" he says. "When asked if the person can go back and get the additional 200 hours, some say, 'Oh no, it must be part of the internship experience!' That really puts people in a catch-22."

Bank your credentials. Also crucial is filing your internship, transcripts and postdoc materials with ASPPB or the National Register, licensing experts say. ASPPB grants the Certificate of Professional Qualification in Psychology, or CPQ, and the National Register grants the Health Service Provider in Psychology credential.

The CPQ is accepted as meeting the requirements for licensure in 36 states and Canadian provinces, with 14 others in the process of adopting it, DeMers says. The National Register credential is accepted in 41 American and Canadian jurisdictions, though some are still in the process of amending their rules or regulations to allow mobility, says Andrew Boucher, licensure mobility coordinator at the National Register.

Twelve states and provinces also have reciprocity agreements that allow licensed psychologists to move from one jurisdiction to another without having to obtain a separate credential or pay any extra fees, says DeMers. Because licensing laws are so varied, however, this approach to mobility has proceeded slowly, while individual credentials like the CPQ and National Register have proven more feasible for licensing boards to embrace, he says.

The cost is modest: $200 for the CPQ and $330 for the National Register, with reduced fees and graduated payments available to students as they meet the credentials' requirements. In addition, the National Register recently began two awards programs for early-career psychologists. One absorbs the cost of registering; the other gives $1,000 to deserving applicants who have had their doctorates for 10 years or less.

The two entities differ somewhat in their approach to credentialing. ASPPB awards the CPQ five years post-licensure and will revoke it from psychologists facing any disciplinary action. If your five years have not yet passed, you can still tell licensing boards you're on your way to getting the credential and ask ASPPB to send them your materials, notes DeMers.

Applicants who meet the National Register's criteria are eligible for mobility as soon as they are licensed, as long as they've had a postdoctoral year, says Hall, but, like ASPPB, the National Register will revoke its credential from those who've incurred professional infractions.

Make sure you pick at least one credentialing route, Hall advises. "The bottom line is that a psychologist with one of these credentials has a lot of leeway in expediting their mobility," she says.

Meanwhile, about 15 jurisdictions also allow the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP)'s specialty peer-reviewed postdoc credential, the ABPP, as automatic entry to licensure mobility, and the credential also provides holders with a simplified route to getting the CPQ, says Norma Simon, EdD, the organization's past-president. ABPP (www.abpp.org) is working to educate more jurisdictions about-and to award more early-career psychologists-this credential, which grants board certification in 13 specialty areas.

Get your paperwork in order. Be sure that your credentials demonstrate what boards want to see: the number of hours you've worked, clients you've seen, conditions you've treated and supervised experiences you've had, all approved by your supervisor. If you haven't yet done your internship or postdoc, draw up a contract with your supervisor that stipulates expectations and duties, Van Horne suggests. She advises using forms on the Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Centers Web site (www.appic.org) to do so. (For more on postdoc contracts, see www.gradpsych.apags.org/nov05/writing.html.)

Procrastinate not. Last but not least, act swiftly in all of these arenas, advises Burrow-Sanchez; none of it gets easier over time. This is especially true with the EPPP: Take it as soon as possible after graduation so your course material is still fresh in your mind, he suggests.

Ditto on banking your credentials, says Hall. "Getting together your documentation while you're still in school is so much easier than trying to do it later on," she says. "You have access to all of your supervisors, your program director and your records in a way you'll never have again."