Licensing for Psychology Major

If you have chosen psychology as your major, you may have some questions regarding the licensure component. As of 2004, there were 93,000 psychologists in the United States with the majority--85,000 of them--licensed. The bottom line is that if you want to work with patients, diagnose or treat mental illness, counsel independently or head research programs, you must hold a professional license to practice in your state.

Unlicensed professionals may put their psychology degrees to work in business, advertising, politics, law, or medicine. These professionals may go by the title of counselor or therapist, but never “psychologist.” Unlicensed professionals may teach, support research, or work in organizational psychology. However, to gain the professional label of psychologist you must earn the eligibility to take both a state and a national examination and pass both.

Eligibility requirements for professional licensure vary widely from state to state. Some states allow master’s prepared students to sit for a licensure examination, but this option is less common and is actually being phasing out as the doctorate level of education becomes the national standard in psychology licensure. Along with the doctoral degree, a one-year internship and hours of required practice and clinical supervision will be needed, which also vary by state decree.

Reasons for Licensing

Many psychology majors go on to practice in therapy, participate in research, and work in the industry. Why then, you may wonder, should you bother with the hassle of gaining a professional licensure? The reasons for licensing are many, but licensning is vital if your dream is to work with patients, work independently, or chair psychology research. Learn about what professional licensure may do for you prior to dismissing this valuable yet time-consuming option. Research the eligibility requirements in your state of residence to discern the level of education and clinical hours required prior to sitting for an exam. Regardless of prerequisites, all states use the Exam for Professional Practice of Psychology.

Licensing for Psychology Major

The independence of running your own practice or clinic can only be achieved with a professional licensure. If you have a strong desire to set your own hours and schedule, then you would benefit from getting licensed. Otherwise, you will undoubtedly work under direct supervision for the remainder of your career. More than a third of psychologists in the United States are self-employed according to Department of Labor statistics. Options for self-employment include operating your own clinic in therapy, conducting experimental research, or even contracting for the government.

You are more marketable holding a professional license. Not only does the license showcase your level of expertise within the field, it also testifies to your credibility and professional drive. Psychologists endure long periods of hard work to get the education and training needed for licensure, which is much more than a piece of paper defining your level of competence and experience. You can only use the title of psychologist after passing a state licensing test that has strenuous eligibility requirements. Most states require a doctoral degree in psychology, at least one year of internship at an accredited organization, and around 3,000 hours of supervised experience (that’s about two years) before allowing you to take a licensure examination.

Many professional options may be unobtainable until you get your license. Clinicians may only work with patients individually, either in therapy or counseling, if they hold a license or are immediately supervised by a doctoral-level licensed psychologist. However, once you are licensed you may not work in any capacity without training in that given area. For instance, even though you hold a license as a psychologist, you may not open a clinic and start psychoanalysis unless you have the required amount of supervision and didactic training needed to function independently within that field. Always refer to your state governing board for rules and restrictions on your practice.

Licensing Requirements

The purpose of professional licensure is to prove your competence and readiness for independent practice as a psychologist. There are few concrete rules around licensure in psychology. The majority of training and eligibility requirements are jurisdictional and regulated by practicing professionals that govern each state board of psychology.

Doctoral programs are extremely competitive endeavors, but graduation with a doctorate – either a PhD or PsyD – is part of your ticket to sitting for a state licensure exam. After obtaining a bachelor’s or master’s degree in psychology, the doctoral degree can take up to seven additional years to earn. During this time, you will accrue hours of supervised clinical experience, some of which can count toward your licensure eligibility depending on your state. The university where you gain your degree must also hold accreditation, either with the American or Canadian Psychological Association. This accreditation grants its approval of an organized program of education and testifies that it meets or exceeds the national qualification standards for preparing students for their future professions.

Prior to or upon completion of your graduate program you must obtain at least one year of internship in your chosen area of specialty. This internship is another step toward both professional licensure and independent practice. As with your university of choice, the APA or CPA must accredit the internship site for it to count toward your licensure eligibility. Again, this accreditation speaks to the quality of the establishment and the people providing your direct supervision and training.

Upon matriculation, you must endeavor to complete any clinically supervised hours that are needed for state licensure eligibility, along with at least two years of direct supervision within a specialty. Some states, such as North Carolina, also require a period of residency that must count for at least 30 semester hours awarded by your educational institution. Typically, your pre- and post-doctoral requirement for licensure will be around 3,000 hours of clinical supervision within two consecutive years.

Once these prerequisites are complete, you must apply to the state board of psychology for approval to sit for the licensure examination called the Exam for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP). There is a state fee attached both to applying to the board and sitting for the exam. Upon state approval, you will receive a notice of eligibility and your testing site information such as the date range, sites available, and preparatory materials. You must pass the EPPP to be awarded licensure in your state. Each state determines the passing score for licensure – check with the board of psychology in your state.

Last Updated: 05/08/2014

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