Psychologists are charged with the unique responsibility of combining medical and scientific theories to study mental processes and human behavior. Psychologists formulate theories by concentrating on individual behavior in the context of a person's beliefs, feelings, and experiences. They evaluate human behavior by using a variety of different methods, including lab experiments, hypnosis, biofeedback, psychoanalysis, and psychotherapy. To practice professionally, a doctoral degree is required, while a specialist's degree is usually required in addition to a doctorate in most states to work as a school psychologist.

State licensure is important because it serves to protect the public from substandard practice.

Dr. Alex SiegelDirector of Professional Affairs for the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards

Getting a Medical License and a Certification in Psychology

Any practicing psychologist — meaning someone who treats patients independently — will need to be licensed in all states and in the District of Columbia. This includes clinical, counseling, and school psychologists. Clinical and counseling psychologists usually need a doctorate in psychology, experience in an approved internship or residency, and one to two years of professional work experience before being eligible for licensure. Professional experience includes any work with patient treatment that is performed under the supervision of a licensed professional. All states require licensure applicants to pass an examination, and most states will also supplement the exam with oral or essay questions.

"State licensure is important because it serves to protect the public from substandard practice," said Dr. Alex Siegel, the director of professional affairs for the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards. "It indicates a person has met a minimum quality of standards based on education, experience, and supervision. Each state determines the requirements, but they are very similar across the country. The public can be assured that a licensed psychologist is indeed fit to practice."

The ASPPB currently provides guidance and governance when it comes to establishing psychology licensing regulations for all 50 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Guam, and all 10 provinces of Canada.

In addition to earning a state license, we recommend that you become certified. The American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP) awards certification in 13 specific areas of psychology, including psychoanalysis, rehabilitation, forensic, group, school, and clinical health. Traditionally, you must have a doctorate in psychology and be licensed in the state you practice in to apply. You must also have completed postdoctoral work experience, possess a professional endorsement, and pass an examination in your field to receive specialty certification

For those who hope to work in school psychology, the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) awards the Nationally Certified School Psychologist (NCSP) designation. The designation certifies school psychologists at a national level instead of a state level. Those hoping to obtain an NCSP certification must complete 60 graduate hours in school psychology, gain experience through a 1,200-hour internship (where 600 hours must be completed in a school setting), and pass the National Psychology Exam. Currently, 31 states recognize the NCSP and allow psychologists with the certification to transfer credentials from one state to another. The remaining 19 states require school psychologists to meet specific state guidelines in order to work as a school psychologist.

Maintaining a Medical License and an Psychology Certification

Psychologists have a significant amount of licensure and certification to keep up with. To have a successful career, you must keep both your state licensure and any other certifications valid. All states require regular license renewal, while most require license holders to participate in continuing education. For example, Massachusetts requires licensed psychologists to renew their license every two years, but it does not require continuing education. Comparatively, Texas requires psychologists to renew their licenses and complete 12 hours of continuing education annually.

"(The ASPPB) is trying to change from a continuing education model, where you sit in a seminar, classroom, or lecture, to a professional development model, which is more competency-based," Siegel said. "It can involve test-taking, demonstrating the ability to perform certain psychological test, or even involve writing an article. This comes back to protecting the public and allowing them to see the psychologist is competent to provide treatment."

Additionally, if you hold a specific certification through the ABPP, you will also need to renew your certification regularly as well. You can find renewal information for all specialties and sub-specialties on the ABPP's member specialty board webpage.

For psychologists working in school psychology, recertification will vary from state to state. You can view the specific requirements for your state on the NASP credentialing requirements webpage.

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