A Closer Look

Psychologists who consult with businesses and other organizations are finding that their work more often takes them from state to state. However, working in another state--often with just a few days' notice to, say, provide advice in a corporate merger--can sometimes pose problems. In some cases, psychologists who work as consultants could be fined or otherwise penalized for practicing unlicensed in that state.

So, to help its members stay competitive and have their training recognized appropriately, APA's Div. 13 (Society of Consulting Psychology) is working to raise awareness among state licensing boards and other public bodies of the unique mobility considerations of consulting psychology and how consultants differ from the health-service provider psychologists most licensure rules were developed for, says Judith Blanton, PhD, a consulting psychologist who is leading the division's licensure reform effort.

"We are trying to raise awareness of the need to make regulations more realistic for consultants and other nonhealth-service providers," says Blanton, a former president of Div. 13 and a senior consultant with consulting firm RHR International. "The laws haven't kept up with practice and technology." Licensure requirements for the most part, she explains, were not designed for psychologists in nontraditional careers like consulting, whose practices often involve e-mail communication and state-to-state work. What's more, various accreditation and credentialing requirements often make it difficult for such psychologists to meet licensure requirements, adds Blanton, "yet, typically, we are still required to be licensed."

To aid their effort, the division has developed a model licensure policy that describes the dilemmas faced by consulting psychologists and offers guidelines on how states could amend licensure laws and other regulations to make them less restrictive and more appropriate for the realities of practicing consulting psychologists.

"Licensing in many states is one-size-fits-all; it really doesn't consider the different practice areas of psychologists," says division president Steve Gravenkemper, PhD.

The division's position paper on licensure, available on the Div. 13 Web site at www.apa.org/divisions/div13, maintains that psychologists who limit their practice to consulting for businesses and organizations should be allowed to do so in another state for "a reasonable period of time," such as 60 days, without having to obtain a license in that state. As it is now, various states allow from 0 to 90 days of short-term, cross-jurisdictional practice, she says. Some also allow for a temporary license, but getting one can take weeks--a delay that often isn't a realistic option for many consultants' spur-of-the-moment client requests, says Blanton.

Furthermore, the division--which is collaborating with two divisions whose members often face similar licensure challenges, Div. 14 (Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology) and Div. 16 (School), on the reform effort--also hopes to bring about changes in continuing-education (CE) licensure requirements for consultants through the guidelines.

Currently, some states require all psychologists--regardless of their specialty area--to take CE courses on topics such as child abuse, aging or other areas that are outside of the competence of a consultant who focus on making organizations more effective, says Blanton. The division guidelines suggest consultants might benefit more from CE curricula that apply to their practice, such as courses in organizational assessment, team-building or cross-cultural collaboration. California, for example, has developed regulations that allow psychologists to identify continuing education that is appropriate for their practice and exempts those practicing solely in businesses or organizations from coursework more appropriate for health-service provider psychologists, such as programs on child or spousal abuse, says Blanton.

"If you are using up CE to something completely irrelevant to your practice, then licensure becomes a burden rather than something that enriches your practice," she says.

As an additional way to help its members expand their skills through relevant continuing education, this fall the division is rolling out three distance-learning CE courses specifically for consultants, says Gravenkemper, who is the manager of assessment and organizational development at Michigan-based consulting firm Plante & Moran. The division's courses--on executive coaching, succession planning in family businesses, and ethical consultation to organizations--will enable consultants to fine-tune their skills from their home or office, he adds.

Blanton and other Div. 13 members and officers spent more than a year fleshing out the licensure policy, and are writing to each state's board of psychology to raise support for the guidelines. The division has also presented its concerns to the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards.

Blanton says the division's intent is not only to benefit its members, but also to improve services for the businesses and organizations consultants work for, which often aren't able to tap the best consultant candidates because of restrictions on interstate practice.

She says the division is also interested in opening up consulting opportunities for midcareer and retired clinical, counseling and school psychologists, many of whom have been expressing to the division their interest in sharing their expertise as consultants.

Div. 13 (Society of Consulting Psychology) was founded in 1938 as a home for psychologists who serve as consultants to businesses, the military, and mental health and nonprofit organizations and schools. The division has 1,092 members. It publishes the quarterly journal Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research. and a quarterly online newsletter The Consulting Psychologist. The division's 13th annual mid-winter conference, "Consulting psychology: bridging the past, present and future," will be held Feb. 11-13 in San Antonio. Division members network through two listservs--a general discussion forum for Div. 13 members and a forum especially for student members. The division sponsors five annual awards, presented at APA's Annual Convention. To join, contact Div. 13 administrative officer Barbara Keeton at (804) 752-2713 or SocConsultPsych@erols.com.