Home Home | About Us | Sitemap | Contact  
  • Info For
  • Professionals
  • Students
  • Educators
  • Media
  • Search
    Powered By Google

Practice Perspectives: Licensing and Industrial-
Organizational Psychologists1

Rob Silzer, Anna Erickson, and Rich Cober2
SIOP Professional Practice Committee3

1 This article includes some results from the Practitioner Needs Survey that was administered in early 2008 to the entire SIOP membership.  A total of 1,005 members responded to the survey, resulting in a 37% overall response rate.  An earlier TIP article on practitioner satisfaction with SIOP (Silzer, Cober, Erickson, & Robinson, 2008a) described the development and administration of the 2008 Practitioner Needs Survey.  A summary of the results was presented at the 2008 SIOP conference in San Francisco (Silzer & Cober, 2008).  The final survey report for the 2008 Practitioner Needs Survey (Silzer, Cober, Erickson, & Robinson, 2008b) is available on the SIOP Web site (http://www.siop.org).
2  Author affiliations:  Rob Silzer—HR Assessment and Development, Anna Erickson—Questar, Rich Cober—Marriott International.
All authors were active members of the SIOP Professional Practice Committee when the Practitioner Needs Survey was developed and administered and the results were analyzed.

Executive Summary

The licensing of industrial-organizational psychologists by state boards of psychology has long been a contentious issue in our profession.  SIOP members have a range of strongly held opinions and the topic generates passionate discussions when it gets raised. 

This article brings some new practitioner survey data to the discussion.  Here is a high-level executive summary of the article.

Key survey conclusions

  • A strong majority of all respondents (90%) consider themselves to be psychologists. 
  • A minority of full-time practitioners (21%) are licensed psychologists and only 8% of nonpractitioners are licensed.  Across all respondents 25% indicate they are not licensed but could be in my state.  Another 37% of respondents indicate that they are not licensed but don’t know whether they are eligible.
  • Only 29% of all respondents thought their graduate program prepared them to a moderate extent or to a great extent to meet licensure requirements, whereas 32% indicated to no extent or to a little extent. The rest responded do not know.
  • Across all respondents, 66% indicated that individuals or their employer organizations could potentially be harmed (i.e., experience financial or emotional distress) if someone without advanced training in behavioral science tried to do your work.
  • Across all respondents, 62% indicated that they would apply to be licensed if licensing requirements were more appropriate for I-O psychologists. 
    APA Model Licensing Act issues
  • APA is likely to finalize a proposed revision to the Model Act for Licensing and Certification of Psychologists in 2009.  (However state boards of psychology are the actual licensing authority for psychologists and may take years to consider any revisions.)

Recommendations for SIOP 

  • Consider whether I-O practitioners are “psychologists” and whether SIOP members want to refer to themselves as psychologists.  (Currently, all jurisdictions have laws that limit the use of the term psychologist to those who are licensed or who are specifically exempt, as in an exempt setting.)
  • Support the efforts of Drs. Vicki Vandaveer and Judy Blanton who were appointed to the APA Task Force on the Model Licensing Act by the SIOP president to represent the professional interests of I-O psychologists and SIOP members.  (They also represent other nonhealth-service-provider divisions, and Vicki also represents APA’s Board of Professional Affairs.)
  • Continue to raise the awareness of all SIOP members to professional licensing issues and outline the implications for individuals and the SIOP membership. Regularly communicate to members on licensing issues.
  • Hold a public forum or discussion on current licensing issues at the next SIOP conference.
  • Initiate and complete the Practitioner Career Study (a job and career analysis to document the breadth of work engaged in by SIOP practitioners and the competencies and experiences required to succeed in various practitioner roles).   Identify professional standards, competencies, and training for competent I-O practice.
  • Initiate an educational effort to inform SIOP members of the current licensure laws and requirements in their home state (in addition to the state contact information listed on the SIOP Web site). 
  • Provide support for those SIOP members who want to become licensed (i.e., provide licensure information, conduct workshops, offer coursework, and organize supervised internships to meet licensure requirements in addition to the CE credits that we currently offer).  
  • Establish organizational contacts/liaisons with all state regulatory boards and the state psychology associations.  Work to influence state regulatory boards for the benefit of SIOP members.
  • Influence I-O psychology graduate programs to prepare graduate students who want to get licensed to meet state licensure requirements.  
  • Recommend standards and mechanisms that will help State Boards effectively evaluate I-O psychology applicants for licensure.

Background on Licensure 

Periodically SIOP addresses the issue of licensure for I-O psychologists and reevaluates the SIOP position on the topic.  Although there have been other periodic reviews since, the last policy-changing review occurred about 10 years ago when several SIOP presidents (Sackett, Thomas, Borman & Campion, 1995) asked a task force to review the SIOP policy on licensure in reaction to the U.S. Circuit Court decision viewing title law as a restriction of speech and supporting a move from “title licensing acts to practice acts.”

Prior to the 1995 review the SIOP policy read:

  • “I-O psychologists should not have to be licensed. This position is based on three reasons:
    • the activities of I-O psychologists are directed toward organizations,  not individuals, 
    • people are not at risk of psychological damage due to I-O-related   activities, and 
    • many tasks performed by I-O psychologists are also performed by   nonpsychologists.
  • An I-O psychologist should be able to become licensed if he/she wishes or needs to be in a given jurisdiction.”

A revised policy was recommended by an appointed task force and approved by the SIOP Executive Committee in 1995 (Campion, 1996).  The new policy, reflecting a greater openness to licensure, stated:

Licensure of the title of “psychologist” and/or practice of “psychology” is restricted in many states. 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.
  • 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).

The current SIOP policy includes a definition of practice of psychology that is identical to the definitions used by APA and the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (which includes psychological testing and assessment, and the modification of human behavior).  This definition can be found on the SIOP Web site.  Other parts of the SIOP policy focus on the education and training of I-O psychologists, basic and research fields of psychology, and additional I-O fields.  There is also recognition that:

Licensing boards of all types across the country and Canada are checking their laws and asking the legislatures to convert them to clear practice acts in which the practice is regulated as well as the title. The most likely outcome of this movement is that I-O psychologists’ activities will be more tightly regulated and the practice of these activities will require a license. (Campion, 1996)

Since then there have been numerous reports of SIOP members having difficulty getting licensed in various states.  The State Affairs Committee of SIOP, now headed by Judy Blanton, has made efforts to uncover these problems and to deal with specific cases.  However, SIOP has not yet been willing to broadly support licensure for I-O psychologists or systematically work to influence state licensure boards to ensure that the requirements are appropriate to the field.  There still is a significant and vocal group of SIOP members who are opposed to licensure for I-O psychologists.

For further reading we suggest you read the SIOP policy on licensing (see the SIOP Web site) and Judy Blanton’s article on licensing issues for I-O psychologists (Blanton, 2006).

APA Model Licensing Act

In 2006 the APA Council of Representatives created a task force to update the APA Model Act for State Licensure of Psychologists (MLA).  Lois Tetrick, then the SIOP president, asked Vicki Vandaveer and Judy Blanton to represent SIOP on the task force.  Judy chaired a SIOP task force that formulated a SIOP position on the MLA revision, and Judy and Vicki have reported on the MLA in TIP (Blanton & Vandaveer, 2007).

The APA Task Force has had periodic meetings since October 2006 to discuss possible revisions.  In 2007 a first draft of the revised MLA was distributed for comments and more than 10,000 comments were received. The APA link to the proposed revised Model Licensing Act is http://forms.apa.org/ practice/modelactlicensure/. The APA task force is scheduled to meet again in December to discuss the comments and hopes to have a final draft in 2009.   The MLA has the potential to impact I-O practitioners (Blanton & Vandaveer, 2007; Vandaveer & Blanton, 2007).

There are two central issues in the current licensing discussion (putting other issues aside for the moment)—title and practice activities. 

Title4 The current law in the overwhelming majority of states, as well as in SIOP and APA licensing policy, is that individuals who want to use the title “psychologist” must be licensed.  This is not expected to change in the future.  Currently I-O psychologists are not exempt from this requirement in most states and are not expected to be exempt in the future.

4 Title Law—Laws, statutes, rules, and/or regulations that refer to the public use of any title or description of services incorporating the words “psychology,” “psychological,” or “psychologist,” or claims to be trained, experienced, or an expert in the field of psychology and offers to engage or engages in the practice of psychology for any person for a fee. Title use laws vary from state to state.

Practice Activities5:  Generally state practice law uses a widely adopted definition of the practice of psychology6 (used by APA, SIOP, ASPPB and many state boards) although the practice activities included vary across states.  There are two groups of I-O practice activities that need to be considered:

  • Organization-focused activities.  These are the traditional I-O practice activities (job analysis studies, attitude surveys, selection testing, selection validation studies, designing performance appraisal systems, training, organization design) that serve the organization and typically do not involve working directly at the individual level.  Although some group work might impact individuals.  
  • Individual-focused activities.  These activities involve working with individuals using psychological principles, methods or procedures to assess and evaluate individuals on personal characteristics often for individual behavior change or for making decisions based on the interpretations that result in actions/decisions that affect people. These activities frequently involve psychological assessment and administering/interpreting psychological tests.

Practice law: Laws, statutes, rules, and/or regulations that refer to the actual practice of psychology by a covered person. Activities included under practice law vary widely from state to state but may include methods and procedures of understanding, predicting, and influencing behavior, such as the principles pertaining to learning, perception, motivation, thinking, emotions, and interpersonal relationships; the methods and procedures of interviewing; counseling, psychotherapy, psychoanalysis, and biofeedback; or administering and interpreting tests of mental abilities, interests, attitudes, aptitudes personality characteristics, emotion, and motivation.

6  “Practice of Psychology is defined as the observation, description, evaluation, interpretation, and/or modification of human behavior by the application of psychological principles, methods, or procedures, for the purpose of preventing or eliminating symptomatic, maladaptive, or undesired behavior and or enhancing interpersonal relationships, work and life adjustment, personal effectiveness, behavioral health and mental health. The practice of psychology includes, but is not limited to, psychological testing and the evaluation or assessment of personal characteristics, such as intelligence, personality, abilities, interests, aptitudes, and neuropsychological functioning; counseling, psychoanalysis, psychotherapy, hypnosis, biofeedback, and behavior analysis and therapy; diagnosis and treatment of mental and emotional disorder or disability, alcoholism and substance abuse, disorders of habit or conduct, as well as psycho-educational evaluation, therapy, remediation, and consultation. Psychological services may be rendered to individuals, families, groups, organizations, institutions and the public. The practice of psychology shall be construed within the meaning of this definition without regard to whether payment is received for services rendered” [certain exemptions are noted, e.g., for teaching and research] (APA, 1987).

Most states currently have generic laws that include organization-focused activities in their description of practice.  Many of those that exempt I-O practice make it clear that the exemption is only for organizationally focused activities.  The revision of the Model Act attempts to differentiate these organizationally focused practice areas that have low likelihood of harm to individuals or organizations from direct services to individuals that have a greater potential for harm, and to exempt the former from licensure.  

The individual-focused activities generally fall under the definition of the practice of psychology (used by APA, SIOP, and state boards).  This is likely to continue to be included in the definition of practice in the future.  Even jurisdictions that “exempt” I-O psychologists generally restrict this exemption to areas of practice that do not psychologically impact individuals.  

Pros and Cons of Licensing

There are lots of positions and arguments put forward for why I-O psychologists should or should not be licensed.  They are not mutually exclusive positions given the diversity of I-O practice activities listed above.  Currently, at least 40 states include in their definition of practice of psychology some of the things that I-O psychologists do and therefore require licensure for those who do them.  Many SIOP members are nevertheless not licensed.  This, in part, is due to difficulty in meeting their states’ licensing requirements, as they often include requirements that are inappropriate for I-O psychology. (This is because I-O psychologists typically have not involved themselves in their state’s work to shape appropriate standards and requirements for I-O psychology.)  In part, I-O psychologists not getting licensed also is related to graduate program faculty not making sure that I-O graduates are well informed about the state’s licensing law and requirements.  In either case, all I-O psychologists need to be aware of the title and practice laws in their state.

Some reasons suggested by SIOP members for getting licensed include:

  • I want to call myself a “psychologist” and want to be in compliance with the state licensing law
  • My primary professional affiliation is with psychology 
  • I provide psychological services that are covered by the licensure law in my state under the practice of psychology and do not want to be in violation of the state laws
  • I think it is ethically appropriate to be licensed given my practice activities
  • The work that I do has direct implications for the welfare of individuals
  • I-O psychologists are not exempt from the licensure in over 40 states  
  • I am affiliated with a firm that identifies as providing psychological services 
  • Being licensed increases the credibility of I-O practitioners and the profession of I-O psychology
  • Licensure is a requirement for application for Diplomate status (ABPP) 
  • Licensure is required for professional liability insurance

Some of the reasons suggested by SIOP members for not wanting to get licensed include:

  • I do not call myself a “psychologist” when I practice
  • I do not perform any practice activities that are covered under the state law as defined as the practice of psychology 
  • I do not believe I should be restrained in doing my work when others doing the same work are not under the same restraint
  • It might require accreditation of I-O psychology graduate programs, and we must avoid that
  • I might be required to get licensed whether I want to or not
  • Licensing for I-O psychologists would not protect the public from harm
  • The current licensing requirements and procedures are not appropriate for I-O psychologists and the accreditation of internships is difficult
  • I have never been asked by clients if I am licensed 
  • I have never felt I was restricted in my practice activities because I was not licensed
  • I am in an academic position and do not have an I-O practice

Practitioner Needs Survey

Because licensing for I-O psychologists is again on the front burner for SIOP, given the APA Model Licensing Act update initiative, we thought it would be timely to include some licensing-related questions in the Practitioner Needs Survey that was administered early this year.  Below are the survey results related to licensing issues.  The complete final survey report for the 2008 Practitioner Needs Survey (Silzer, Cober, Erickson, & Robinson, 2008b) is available on the SIOP Web site (http://www.siop.org).

Identification as a Psychologist

Several questions related to licensing issues were included in the survey to gauge the current views of SIOP members. One important central question asked, Do you consider yourself to be a psychologist?  A large percentage of respondents in all groups responded yes, although the percentage was slightly lower for nonpractitioners:


                                    % responding yes 
      (Consider self a psychologist)


Full-time practitioners7
Part-time practitioners
Occasional practitioners



7 Respondents were categorized based on the amount of work time spent on practice activities.  Respondents were asked to identify the “proportion (%) of work time devoted to being a practitioner versus educator (academic setting) versus scientist/researcher.” Based on their responses four practitioner categories were identified:

• Full-time practitioners: 70% or more of work time as a practitioner
• Part-time practitioners: 21–69% of work time as a practitioner
• Occasional practitioners: 1–20% of work time as a practitioner
• Nonpractitioners: 0% of work time as a practitioner

This suggests that an overwhelming percentage of respondents see themselves as psychologists (see Figure 1).  SIOP decision makers should keep this in mind as they negotiate with APA for psychologist status for SIOP Members and Fellows.


Figure 1.  Self identification as a psychologist. 

Licensed as a Psychologist

The key licensure question asked, Are you a licensed psychologist?  Responses are presented in Figure 2.  Approximately 21% of the full-time practitioners who responded to the survey are licensed, but only 8% of nonpractitioners are licensed.  Nonpractitioners are educators and researchers who may see little need to be licensed in their professional work, whereas full-time practitioners may have a greater need to get licensed because of the nature of their practice work in organizations and in consulting with clients.  Another 24%–30% of respondents in each category indicate that, although they are not licensed, they could be.

Figure 2.  Licensure status.

It is surprising to see the large numbers of respondents in all categories who are not sure whether they are eligible or not for licensure in their state, ranging from 36%–43% in each category.  Only a relatively small percentage of respondents in each category indicate that they are not eligible to be licensed in their state.  Based on additional survey data, approximately 80% of the total respondents are not licensed in any state, 17% are licensed in one state, and 3% are licensed in two are more states.

Several other questions related to getting licensed in states other than the respondents’ home state.  Generally the response rate to these questions was low.  The first of these questions was, Over the last 12 months, in how many states—other than your home state—have you practiced for more than 60 days?  Across all practitioner categories, the strong majority of respondents (76%–93%) selected zero, with occasional and nonpractitioners selecting zero more often than full-time practitioners and part-time practitioners.  Far fewer respondents selected one state (2%–13%), two states (2%–5%), three states (0%–2%), or four or more states (1%–4%).  It is interesting to note that 20% of full-time practitioners and 24% of part-time practitioners (and 18% of the total sample) are licensed in one or more states other than their home state.

The final licensing question in this area was, In how many states have you applied for a license and been rejected?  For the total sample, 99% of the respondents indicated there were zero states to which they applied and were rejected.  Only 12 respondents (.01%) indicated they were rejected in another state, and 6 of those respondents said the reason was that they did not meet the supervised experience requirement (other responses were varied).

Licensure Preparation and Professional Training

There were a wide range of responses to the question: To what extent did your graduate program adequately prepare you to meet licensure requirements?  A relatively small percentage of respondents in each practitioner category (24%–31%) thought their graduate program adequately prepared them “to a great extent” or “to a moderate extent” to meet licensure requirements (See Figure 3).  A comparable percentage in each practitioner category (24%–39%) thought their graduate program prepared them “to no extent” or “to little extent.”  This may reflect varying licensure requirements across states as well as varying levels of preparation by different graduate programs.  There was little response variance across the practitioner categories, although occasional practitioners were somewhat more likely to report lower levels of preparation.

Figure 3.  Extent graduate program prepared you for licensure.

Preparation and Training

By far, the most respondents—ranging from 27%–47% across the Practitioner categories—indicated that they “did not know.”  These respondents are probably not licensed and have not investigated what the requirements are for being licensed in their state.  These responses mimic the responses of “don’t know if eligible” in the previous question.

Potential for Public Harm

In order to determine if respondents thought there were risks if nonqualified individuals performed their work they were asked, Could individuals or their employer organizations potentially be harmed (i.e., experience financial or emotional distress) if someone without advanced training in behavioral science tried to do your work?  Full-time practitioners, part-time practitioners, and occasional practitioners differ somewhat from nonpractitioners in their responses to this question (See Figure 4).  Respondents in the first three practitioner categories see a greater potential for harm (“very likely” or “somewhat likely” = 71–77%) than nonpractitioners (51%).  This suggests two conclusions:

  • SIOP Members and Fellows that are involved in some level of practice activities (the first three practitioner categories) see a relatively high likelihood for potential harm to individuals and organizations, most likely based on their practice activities.
  • Nonpractitioners are more likely to see harm as somewhat or very unlikely because their work activities (education and research) may be seen as having less direct effect on “experiencing financial or emotional distress,” although slightly more than half do see potential for harm.

Figure 4.  Potential for harm to individuals or organizations.

Member Interest in Licensure

To gauge general interest in being licensed, respondents were asked, “If licensing requirements were more appropriate for I-O psychologists, would you apply to be licensed?”  The majority of respondents in each practitioner category (except nonpractitioners) responded “yes.”

                                    % responding- Yes would apply
     (if appropriate requirements)

Full-time practitioners
Part-time practitioners
Occasional practitioners




These results suggest that many SIOP Members and Fellows would apply to get licensed if SIOP could negotiate appropriate licensure requirements for I-O psychologists.


APA has initiated a revision of the Model Licensing Act that has far reaching implications for the profession of I-O psychology.  SIOP needs to be actively involved in influencing this process for the best interests of I-O psychology. 


     American Psychological Association. (1987). Model act for state licensure of psychologists.  American Psychologist, 42, 696–703.
     Blanton, J.  (2006).  Licensing issues for industrial/organizational psychologists and other non-health care providers.  In T. J. Vaughn (ed.) Psychology licensure and certification: What students need to know. APA: Washington, D.C.
     Blanton, J., & Vandaveer, V.   (July, 2007).   The new APA Model Licensure Act: Issues for I-O psychologists.  The Industrial-Organizational Psychologist, 45(1), 88. 
     Campion, M.  (1996).  Policy on licensure: Society of Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP).  The Industrial-Organizational Psychologist, 34(3).  
     Sackett, P., Thomas, J., Borman, W., & Campion, M.  (1995).  Proposed revision of SIOP policy on licensure: Call for comments. The Industrial-Organizational Psychologist, 33(1), 12–20.  
     Silzer, R. F. & Cober, R. T.  (2008, April). Practitioner Needs Survey: 2008 results overview. Executive Committee invited presentation at the 23rd Annual Conference of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, San Francisco.
     Silzer, R. F., Cober, R. T., Erickson, A., & Robinson, G.  (2008a, July).  Practitioner satisfaction with SIOP.  The Industrial–Organizational Psychologist, 46(1), 43–58.
     Silzer, R. F., Cober, R. T., Erickson, A., & Robinson, G.  (2008b, October). Practitioner Needs Survey: Final Survey Report.  Society for Industrial and Organizational Society. Bowling Green. OH.
     Vandaveer, V. & Blanton, J. S. (2007, April).  Revised APA Model Licensing Act: What, why, who, when & implications for I-O.  Preview Briefing of SIOP Executive Committee, SIOP Conference, New York.