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A Guide for I-O Students (and Faculty) About Licensure

M. Peter Scontrino and Greg Gormanous
Co-Chairs, SIOP State Affairs Committee

Judith S. Blanton
Past Chair, SIOP State Affairs Committee


One goal of your State Affairs Committee is to foster better ties between licensing boards and I-O psychologists. Scontrino and Gormanous interpolate this goal as eliminating unnecessary hurdles for I-O people who are interested in or are required to obtain a license in order to practice psychology legally.

In order to protect the public from harm, jurisdictions license and regulate many professions including lawyers, optometrist, accountants, architects, and psychologists. Each state or province has its own legislation regarding licensure. This is done at the state or provincial level, not at the national level. The American Psychological Association (APA) is finalizing a Model Licensing Act that jurisdictions are urged to adopt. However this model act is a recommendation and not a mandate. This model act is currently being revised (in ways that we believe will be beneficial to I-O and other general applied psychologists who do not work in the clinical area). The new act is not scheduled for completion until spring of 2010, and there is no guarantee that a specific jurisdiction will accept any or all of the new Model Act.

The Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB) is the alliance of licensing boards in the United States and Canada. The ASPPB acknowledges that there is much variability and complexity across jurisdictions. However, they are attempting to forge more consistency throughout North America. For example, the theme of the most recent annual meeting is “Bridging the Divide Across Jurisdictions.” Nevertheless, there is a great deal of confusion and misinformation about laws and regulations, particularly for psychologists who are nonhealth providers. Although we will provide some general information here, you must contact your own jurisdiction to guarantee that you understand the requirements of your own state or province. Contact information for each jurisdiction can be found at the following sites:

• www.siop.org/licensure/licensure.aspx
• www.ASPPB.net
• Web sites for boards of psychology in each state or province

Why Be Licensed?

1. A psychology license is required by law in most states and provinces in order to call yourself a psychologist or to practice psychology.

2. There are many exceptions and variations but very few states exempt I-O psychology.

3. Being licensed can increase credibility with the public.

4. Being licensed provides your clients with the opportunity to claim privilege and, thus, allows you to guarantee confidentiality under the law. Non-licensed individuals with psychology degrees can tell clients that they will preserve confidentiality, but they have no legal basis to do so. Although anyone, licensed or not, can have records subpoenaed or be forced to testify, being a licensed psychologist makes it less likely and more difficult for someone to gain access to your records.

5. Being licensed can protect you. (If challenged legally, you can cite your license as an indicator of your expertise. You may have access to liability insurance that nonlicensed people do not have available to them.)

6. Being licensed can serve as an additional marketing tool for branding and selling your practice.

7. A psychology license helps promote your professional identity as a psychologist.

8. As pointed out by the 1993 SIOP Task Force on licensure, “Industrial and Organizational Psychologists, as citizens, obey the laws in the states in which they live and work” (TIP, 1996, July).

9. As Lowman (2006) points out, Principle C: “Integrity (Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct, 2006) is relevant with respect to accuracy and honesty concerning not following the law by practicing psychology without a license. However, the code and standards do not specify that violating the licensing law is an ethical violation.”

Question: Do You Need to Be Licensed?

Answer: It depends.

Currently, in most jurisdictions, you must be licensed in order to call yourself a psychologist. Many jurisdictions also require licensure for those who do work “of a psychological nature.” However, the definitions of psychological practice vary greatly. A small number of states specify an exemption for I-O psychologists. Some of these exemptions are limited to the sort of work that the I-O person does. For example, in Delaware, the work must not involve the direct practice of psychology to individuals or groups as the beneficiaries.

In a small number of states, a psychology license is limited to areas such as clinical, counseling, and healthcare psychology.

Typically, jurisdictions give exemptions for those who are full-time academics, who are employed full time by an organization, or who work in government agencies. However, if university professors or others have a part- time consulting practice in which they hold themselves out to be psychologists or offer psychological services included in the scope of practice definition, the law typically requires them to be licensed. Many I-O psychologists practice as management consultants or use another title rather than use the title of psychologist. You must check your own jurisdiction’s laws and regulations to determine the necessity for licensure in your own state or province.

What Are the Requirements for Licensure for I-O and Applied Psychologists
Who Are Not Health Service Providers?

Generic psychology licensure requirements include what is referred to as the 3 Es: education, examination(s), and experience. These 3 Es present unique challenges for I-O psychology because requirements are historically based on a healthcare model.

These requirements vary, but there are some general similarities across jurisdictions. We are currently working to modify a number of these but, at present, the information below is typical.

I. Education: Academic Programs
In general, having a doctoral degree in some form of “psychology” from a regionally accredited school is sufficient. Some states require that the degree must be from a program accredited by APA, a program “designated” as a psychology program by the ASPPB/National Register, or “the equivalent.” Because APA only accredits school, clinical, and counseling programs, I-O programs cannot meet accreditation criteria. Thus candidates for licensure in those jurisdictions face an additional need to document their training by providing transcripts or other documentation to demonstrate that their program was “equivalent.”

A small (and increasing number) of I-O programs have opted to have their program “designated” by the ASPPB/National Register. This involves a paper review (no site visit) of the program’s curriculum and faculty. The designation program is much less intrusive and less cumbersome than APA’s accreditation process.

Students applying for licensure from these programs usually have their academic credentials routinely approved. If your program is not currently “designated,” you might want to encourage your department head to explore this option because it is of great benefit to their doctoral graduates.

In order to qualify for the ASPPB/National Register designation, the program must include coursework content in core areas of general psychology. Most I-O programs meet this requirement easily with the possible exception of a class in “biological basis of behavior” (although this is broadly interpreted). Students who must prove their individual “equivalence” are typically required to have these specific courses as well. In many cases, a formal list of course areas is noted in the regulations. If your program does not offer such courses, you might be able to take them in another department of your institution to assure you can be licensed. If, after review, your jurisdiction determines that you lack a specific course, you may be able to take that course postdoctorally. A few states also require additional special course requirements, such as “human sexuality,” that can usually be taken as a weekend program.

II. Experience: Supervision
Typically, jurisdictions require 1 or 2 years of supervised experience in order to become licensed. In most states the full requirement is about 3,000 hours of “supervised experience.” Generally people are able to get around 1,500 hours per year. Those who graduate from APA programs typically have formal internships that meet half of these requirements prior to completing their degree. However I-O doctoral graduates do not graduate from APA-approved programs. Recently, a number of states have approved the ability of students to accrue all of their supervision hours prior to graduation. Graduates from non-APA programs that do not have formal APA-approved internships (such as I-O students) may need to acquire all their hours postdoctorally. One complication for I-O graduates is that there are few licensed psychologists who can provide the kind of postdoctoral supervision that most jurisdictions require. A few states have provided greater flexibility in the supervision requirements for I-O or other nonhealth service psychologists, and SIOP is supporting greater flexibility in this area. In most states, formal paperwork must be filed in order to have the experience count as acceptable hours. If you are interested in being licensed, you should check with the licensing board in the state(s) in which you want to practice. You may also want to talk to your current supervisor or faculty member so that your hours are being appropriately supervised and that those hours will likely count toward licensure.

III. Examination(s): The EPPP (Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology)
All jurisdictions have agreed on a single test, the EPPP, which must be passed to obtain licensure. It is given online and is designed to be a “generic” test that has items from many fields of psychology. The test developers typically have at least one I-O psychologist on the committee that develops the test. However most nonclinicians may need to study areas that were not covered in their graduate curriculum (e.g., abnormal psychology, clinical testing, or experimental psychology). There are a number of study courses that can be taken through reading, online, or in person, to prepare for the exam.

Free information on the psychology licensing exam, available from ASPPB, includes Test Specifications/Summary of EPPP Content Areas/Psychologists’ Roles. ASPPB also makes Items from Previous Examinations available to licensure candidates for a fee.

Although I-O people often complain about clinical emphases, it may be of some small comfort to know that clinically trained people complain about the organizational and research areas that are more familiar to I-O examinees. That is, healthcare psychologists typically complain the EPPP contains too many I-O items whereas I-O psychologists typically complain that the exam contains too many clinical items. The fact is that the exam is generic, and the items are actually based on test specifications derived from a practice analysis (currently under revision), which includes I-O psychology.

Orals, jurisprudence, and other complementary tests. Most states or provinces require a jurisprudence or oral exam (or both) in addition to the EPPP. The jurisprudence exam covers laws and regulations of that jurisdiction and general ethics issues. Oral exams provide case studies to which the candidate must respond to issues raised.

Moving to Another State or Practicing Across State Lines

Because each jurisdiction has its own regulations, cross-state practice can be difficult. There are, however, efforts to make this easier. If you are licensed in another state, most jurisdictions allow you to practice in their jurisdiction for a limited amount of time. This varies greatly. The most common time is 30 days, but it can range from zero days to 90 days, depending on the state. The Association of State and Provincial Boards of Psychology has created an Interjurisdictional Practice Certificate that is designed to ease the process of serving clients in multiple jurisdictions.

If you have questions about licensure, please contact Greg Gormanous at gg@Lsua.edu or Peter Scontrino mpeterscontrino@aol.com, co-chairs of the State Affairs Committee.

References and Resources

     Campion, M. (1996). SIOP’s policy on licensure. The Industrial-Organizational Psychologist, 34(1), 16–21.
     Fisher, C. B. (2009). Decoding the ethics code: A practical guide for psychologists (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
     Lowman, R. (Ed.). (2006). The ethical practice of psychology in organizations (2nd ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association; Bowling Green, OH: Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology.
     Vaughn, T. (Ed.). (2006). Psychology licensure and certification: What students need to know. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.