Science Briefs

Commentary from the Field: An I-O Psychologist's Perspective on Licensure

Many science-based psychologists believe that the licensure of psychologists is a practice issue only and wonder if any science-based psychologist cares about licensure.

By Nancy T. Tippins, PhD
Who cares?

Many science-based psychologists believe that the licensure of psychologists is a practice issue only and wonder if any science-based psychologist cares about licensure. Industrial and organizational (I-O) psychologists apply psychology to people in the work place and study a wide range of topics ranging from employee selection and placement to training, leadership, and employee engagement. By the very nature of I-O psychology, virtually all of us are both scientists and practitioners, and as scientist-practitioners, we must pay attention to any laws or regulations that affect our ability to practice our chosen field. Consequently, many I-O psychologists are deeply concerned about current issues in licensure.

The Society for Industrial and Organizational Society (SIOP), or Division 14 of the American Psychological Association, has studied licensure issues for a number of years. In 1993, SIOP’s Executive Committee established a task force to review the issues around licensure of I-O psychologists. After reviewing the Task Force’s report and receiving comments from the membership, SIOP adopted the following policy:

Policy Preamble:

Licensure of the title of “Psychologist” and/or practice of “Psychology” is restricted in many states. Industrial and Organizational Psychologists, as citizens, obey the laws in the states in which they live and work. Concurrently, it is also true that many of the work and research activities of I-O psychologists are not unique to this discipline, do not pose a threat of harm to the public, and are not subject to licensure. In accord with these principles, SIOP has formulated the following policy on licensure.

SIOP recognizes that some states require that certain areas of I-O practice be licensed. SIOP members should be allowed to be licensed in these states if they desire, and SIOP should provide guidance to state licensing boards on how to evaluate the education and training of an I-O psychologist.

 In addition, many, if not most, I-O psychologists practice in more than one state from time to time. SIOP recognizes that some states require that I-O psychologists must be licensed in that state before practicing in that state. SIOP believes that this is inappropriate for I-O Psychologists. Therefore, it is SIOP’s position that:

A licensed I-O psychologist should be allowed to practice in another state for a reasonable period of time without having to obtain a license in that state (e.g., 60 days of professional services per year).

 For more information about SIOP’s position on licensure, go to the section on licensure on SIOP’s website.

What are the issues?

The central issue in the licensure of I-O psychologists is the criteria for licensure. The laws of various states and provinces vary considerably, but with respect to the licensure of psychologists, most have four components

  • PhD/PsyD from an accredited university

  • supervision for some period of time by a licensed psychologist

  • a qualifying score on the Examination for the Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP)

  • a qualifying score on an oral exam conducted by the state board

Normally, I-O psychologists can meet these criteria. However, over the years, states and provinces as well as APA Task Forces have recommended language related to these four criteria that are problematic for I-O psychologists. One common suggestion is that the PhD/PsyD must come from an APA accredited university and that internships must be approved by APA. APA does not accredit I-O psychology programs nor does it approve internships in I-O psychology. Moreover, many I-O internships are in organizations, and it is unlikely that businesses will allow APA to specify the terms of employment (including the type of work and degree of supervision) for interns. Occasionally, a state or provincial board will require specific course work that is not common in I-O psychology programs today.

In February of this year, the APA Council considered a statement that required two years of supervised experience, one of which would be a predoctoral internship and the other, a year of supervised professional training. The year of predoctoral internship would be quite problematic for I-O psychologists as few exist and most I-O psychologists have not had such training. Fortunately, with the support of many science divisions, this proposal was revised to require two years of full-time training that can be completed before or after the receipt of the PhD/PsyD degree.

Some states and provinces have adopted laws that effectively prevent I-O psychologists from becoming licensed. For example, Indiana has proposed regulations that would restrict the use of tests commonly used in employment settings to licensed psychologists while at the same time excluding I-O psychologists from licensure by setting unobtainable criteria.

Most states that license psychologists require that a psychologist be licensed in that state, regardless of where else he/she may be licensed. This concept works well for a clinical practitioner who works in only one geographical area. The concept doesn’t work at all for an I-O psychologist who works for a national firm that has a footprint across the entire United States or for a consulting firm whose clients may come from any state in the U.S.

Another fundamental question regarding the licensure of I-O psychologists is whether I-O psychologists should even bother with licensure. Licensure is designed to protect the public from harm, but in many cases, the clients of I-O psychologists are organizations, not individuals, so the opportunity to inflict harm on an individual is somewhat limited. However, many I-O psychologists argue that the impact of organizational interventions can affect individuals. Hence, SIOP’s policy position is that licensure should be available to those who desire it.

A related concern is the perception by some that licensure only regulates the “good people.” For example, charlatans may sell pre-employment tests that lack any information about validity and reliability with impunity while the licensed psychologist must adhere to state and provincial laws and ethics codes. Charlatans typically lack the credentials to become licensed.

What can we do to ensure licensure laws allow those who are properly trained to practice in their field of expertise?

 No professional association -- including APA, CPA, and SIOP -- can control the licensing laws of a state or province. In fact, a 501 C(6) organization like SIOP cannot even lobby state legislatures without jeopardizing its tax exempt status. Only the state and provincial legislatures can pass laws that establish Licensing or Regulatory Boards that are empowered to define the criteria for licensure. However, professional organizations like APA can supply information to legislatures and boards that apprises them of the various needs of all disciplines of psychology – not just those associated with health care. APA should work for all of us, scientists and practitioners alike, and public statements from APA that are designed to influence licensure must deal with all the issues related to licensure of a diverse constituency.

About the Author

Nancy Tippins is currently the Managing Principal for the Selection Practice Group of Valtera (formerly Personnel Research Associates) where she is responsible for the development and execution of firm strategies related to employee selection and assessment. She has extensive experience in the development and validation of selection tests for all levels of management and hourly employees as well as in designing leadership development programs, including the development of assessment programs for executive development and the identification of high-potential employees. Tippins has been active in professional affairs and the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology. She is a Fellow of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology and the American Psychological Association. Tippins received her M.S. and Ph.D. in Industrial and Organizational Psychology from the Georgia Institute of Technology. She holds a M.Ed. in Counseling and Psychological Services from Georgia State University and a B.A. degree in History from Agnes Scott College.