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Emerging Issues in the Licensure of I-O Psychologists: Part I

Mark S. Nagy, Xavier University, Daniel A. Schroeder, Organization Development Consultants, Inc.

This is the first of two articles exploring issues related to the licensure, certification, and credentialing of I-O psychologists. The potential for I-O psychologists to harm the public is discussed, and distinctions between licensing, certification, and credentialing are drawn. It is suggested that SIOP must distinguish I-O psychology from other fields, and this distinction may be enhanced through licensing and/or certification efforts. Finally, it is suggested that such efforts to distinguish I-O psychology from other fields will greatly improve the branding of I-O psychology.

Emerging Issues in the Licensure of I-O Psychologists: Part I

This is the first of two articles that we will write in regards to licensure issues. This article will address licensure, certification, and credentialing issues, as well as discuss the protection, branding, and activities need to grow the field of I-O psychology. For this article, the first author has been the chair for the SIOP State Affairs Committee (which is now the Licensing, Certification, and Credentialing Committee) since 2011, whereas the second author is an I-O psychologist who has been the a member of the Wisconsin Board of Psychology since 2011 and the chair of the Wisconsin Board since 2014. Across these two articles, we are going to discuss several issues that ultimately address the possible growth and future survival of I-O psychology.

The first issue we are going to cover pertains to licensure, which is a very controversial issue in I-O psychology. The core issue of licensure in any field, including psychology, is to protect the public from potential harm. That is, if the practice of some profession has the potential to harm the public, it may be a candidate for licensure. Although some have proclaimed that licensure restricts free trade, restricts membership in a profession, and actually protects a profession from competition (instead of protecting the public; Kleiner, 2013), the act of licensure is not determined by a profession but by state and provincial legislators. 

Given that the central issue in determining if professionals in a given field should be licensed is whether or not they can harm the public, an important question is, “Can I-O psychologists (or those practicing I-O psychology) harm the public?” In the 2011 SIOP Membership Survey, the question, “Individuals and/or their employer organizations could be harmed in some way (e.g., experience financial or emotional distress) if someone without advanced training in I-O psychology tried to do my work” was asked, and 64% responded with strongly agree or agree. More recently, Shen (2016) found that 68% of CSIOP members reported that harm could be inflicted upon the public if others without appropriate I-O psychology training attempted to do their work. Additionally, Axton, Porr, Dumani, and Ferro (2016) reported that respondents to the 2015 Practitioner Needs Survey (distributed by SIOP) indicated that the potential for causing harm was either very likely (60%) or somewhat likely (29%) if someone without advanced training tried to do their work.

If the majority is to be believed, and because there is already licensure for psychologists, then this outcome would suggest that those who practice I-O psychology should be licensed.

Yet, the question on the 2011 SIOP Membership survey was very general and not in any way specific. It could be argued that many of the activities that an I-O psychology-trained professional engages in do not harm the public but that some set of activities may harm the public. For example, designing and delivering a training program on a new IT system may result in little to no harm to the public. On the other hand, designing a selection system for a struggling, large employer may have implications for those being considered for a job, the health and welfare of the organization, and the surrounding community. Hence, future work should determine which particular I-O psychology activities harm the public. Although it may be tempting to suggest that only professionals who engage in activities deemed to be harmful to the public should pursue licensing, it could also create a serious problematic issue if an unlicensed professional begins to practice in areas that do cause harm to the public.

Although SIOP notes that “many activities…. of I-O psychologists are not subject to licensure, SIOP’s policy on licensure states that, “SIOP members should be allowed to be licensed ….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.” Although admirable, this policy is a bit misleading, as it seems to suggest that it is up to the individuals to determine if they should be licensed. As noted above, this decision is not made by an individual; it is determined by the law in each and every jurisdiction. This would be like saying SIOP will help those who are driving to get their driver’s license if they want to get their license. Persons who drive in public are not at liberty to decide for themselves if they should be licensed. The act of driving on public roads is regulated by the state, which determines who must be licensed. In much the same vein, although we believe SIOP should work to help those who want to become licensed by reducing barriers to licensure for professionals practicing I-O psychology, many members of SIOP have made it very clear they are against licensure. Again, they do not get to decide if I-O professionals should or should not get licensed. That decision is made by legislators. Instead, SIOP and its members should be involved in crafting legislation that either reduces barriers for I-O psychologists to become licensed or they should take the stance that I-O psychologists be exempt from licensure. The current approach of being “hands off” and completely neutral is quite destructive to the field of I-O psychology, particularly in this time of rapid and profound changes within jurisdictions, as we will explore further in our next article on this topic.

Yet, there may be an alternative approach to licensure that could ultimately assist those making licensure decisions. That approach involves certification and/or credentialing. Because certification and credentialing share many similar qualities (particularly for this discussion), we will use the two terms interchangeably. Unlike licensure, which is literally a legal issue and is controlled by those outside of the profession (i.e., legislators), certification and/or credentialing is a practice that is (or at least, can be) completely controlled by those in a given profession. For instance, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) confers two different certifications; a Professional in Human Resources (PHR) and a Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR). Those seeking certification take an exam that has been created with the help of SHRM members, and those who pass the exam become certified. As such, certification not only involves an exam that is created by the profession, but the decision to grant certification is also determined by the profession.

This last point about the profession having control over the granting of certification is very relevant to I-O psychology and represents one of the many challenges those trained in I-O psychology face when attempting to obtain licensure. The first author has met a number of psychology licensing board regulators who literally know nothing about I-O psychology. As a case in point, at a recent ASPPB Midyear Meeting, the first author had to explain what “SIOP” was to a licensing board regulator, and that person was the chair of the psychology licensing board in his state! This essentially means there are licensing board members who are responsible for granting a generic licensure to practice psychology that have no idea what SIOP is and, ostensibly, what an I-O psychologist does. If those psychology licensing board members do not know what I-O psychologists do (or even what they are), then there will be a great deal of inconsistency when evaluating candidates for licensure, and SIOP will have a very difficult time assisting those who wish to be licensed. This fact cannot be favorable for professionals who practice I-O psychology and wish to obtain licensure.

To the extent that psychology licensing board regulators are unfamiliar with I-O psychology, it could be the case that having a certification in I-O psychology could assist those making licensing decisions as well as to help make distinctions between GAPs (general applied psychologists) and HSPs (health service providers), two distinctions made in current Model Licensure Acts of both APA and ASPPB. That is, if an I-O psychology-trained professional applies for licensure with a jurisdiction, decisions about eligibility could be enhanced if the professional has a certification in I-O psychology. Currently, there are about 14 jurisdictions in which a person applying for licensure must have graduated from an APA-accredited program in order to be even eligible for licensure. Because APA only accredits clinical, counseling, and school programs, if the candidate was trained in I-O psychology, that candidate would not even be able to take the licensure exam! However, if there was a certification in I-O psychology, perhaps those jurisdictions could be persuaded to accept certification in lieu of graduating from an APA-accredited program. In that way, barriers to licensure would be reduced and those wishing to obtain licensure in those jurisdictions would at least have an avenue to obtain licensure.

Despite the obvious benefits of certification, there are drawbacks. One major disadvantage of certification is that it does not, alone, solve the potential barriers to licensure. Moreover, licensure is a legal issue and, as such, is enforceable by law, whereas certification is not. If professionals were certified as I-O psychologists, they could still be engaging in unlawful behaviors (such as referring to themselves as a “psychologist”) if they were not licensed. Hence, it is possible that certification could lead to confusion among those in I-O psychology, as one credential (being licensed) would allow I-O professionals to legally refer to themselves as a psychologist whereas another credential (certification) would not allow, by itself, I-O professionals to legally refer to themselves as a psychologist. On the other hand, certification would all the profession to exert more control over the eligibility and the content of the certification process, and it could also be used to assist licensing boards to more consistently evaluate eligibility for those trained in I-O psychology.

Although licensing, certification, and credentialing are extremely controversial in I-O psychology, it is our belief that one issue that is not controversial is the belief that those trained in I-O psychology typically have more advanced knowledge, skills, and abilities than those in areas that are similar to the field, such as human resource professionals and business consultants. Our training in the scientific method and advanced statistics makes us well-suited to solve organizational problems with evidence-based approaches that those trained in other areas lack. Despite these advantages, it appears as though the field of I-O psychology has failed to capitalize on the advanced training and education received by those in the profession.

Perhaps no other issue has plagued the field of I-O psychology than the lack of knowledge from the general public as to what it is we do. Marketing professionals often refer to what professionals (and organizations) do as a “brand”.  According to, a brand is a “unique design, sign, symbol, words, or a combination of these, employed in creating an image that identifies a product and differentiates it from its competitors. Over time, this image becomes associated with a level of credibility, quality, and satisfaction in the consumer's mind.” In other words, it is an identity that is communicated to others. If relatively few people know what I-O psychology is, then our field has a lot of work to do in order to communicate what we do to others.

When he became president of SIOP in 2012, Doug Reynolds made it his mission to improve the branding of I-O psychology. Despite his best efforts, it seems that I-O psychology is still searching for its’ brand, it’s identity, and it certainly seems to be the case that many in the general public do not know what an I-O psychologist is, or does. We believe that this lack of identification is that we (meaning those who have a degree in I-O psychology) have done little to distinguish ourselves from professionals in other fields. As a case in point, the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB) is an organization that provides guidance to jurisdictions in the United States and Canada in regard to the licensure of psychologists. As part of this guidance, ASPPB authors a “Model Act” that can be used by jurisdictions to set their licensure policy. Recently, ASPPB) revised their “Model Act” that includes the following language:

This act is for the regulation of the practice of psychology only and does not prevent human resource professionals, business consultants, and other persons from providing advice and counseling in their organizations or affiliated groups or to their companies and employees of their companies or from engaging in activities performed in the course of their employment. (p. 21)

In other words, this Act seems to suggest that what we do in I-O psychology is about the same as what other human resource professionals, business consultants, and other professionals do. Although this Model Act was meant to allow professionals in the field of I-O psychology to continue to practice (as long as they do not refer to themselves as a “psychologist), one could argue that it further weakens the brand of I-O psychology by equating what we do with those in other areas with less knowledge and training.

Perhaps one way to begin to establish a brand in the general public is to ensure that those trained in the field of I-O psychology receive training that is largely consistent across graduate programs. That is, in order to build a brand, the message of those trained in I-O psychology needs to be consistent (see the brand definition above). Unfortunately, there is very little consistency in the courses that are required across I-O psychology doctoral and master’s programs (Tett, Walser, Brown, Simonet, & Tonidandel, 2013). Without consistent training, there is no way that the field of I-O psychology can establish a brand because the message that would be communicated to the general public will not be consistent. This does not mean that the field of I-O psychology should be accredited. Recall that accreditation is something that is governed by the American Psychological Association (APA), and we are not endorsing accreditation. Rather, we propose that one way the field of I-O psychology can begin to send a consistent message is to certify individuals in the field. Certification would enable I-O psychology leaders to create the content of the exam that pertains only to the field of I-O psychology and, by creating that content, graduate programs will follow by aligning their training with the certification exam content.

To be fair, some have argued that requiring more consistent training in the field of I-O psychology would inhibit flexibility and restrict the ability to teach emerging issues in the field (Kozolowski & Chao, 2017). Further, many of those same people have argued that requiring consistency across training programs would jeopardize the very programs that teach I-O psychology, as requests for additional resources to meet the demands of new curricula would result in the closing of such educational programs. Our responses to these arguments are quite direct. How can any field distinguish itself from others (again, see the definition of a brand above) if it is not consistent in its training? How can anyone in the general public be confident that when they hire a person trained in I-O psychology that their expectations will be met if the I-O psychology training is inconsistent across programs?

It is our position that regardless of where one stands on licensure, certification, and credentialing, I-O psychology as a field cannot continue to grow unless we distinguish ourselves from other professionals in other fields. Failure to do so could negatively impact the field of I-O psychology to the point where, over time, it could potentially become further marginalized until, ultimately, it simply fades away. If human resource (HR) professionals and business consultants do not need an advanced graduate degree to practice their craft, and if I-O psychology professionals are viewed by the general public as being equivalent to those professionals (as implied by the ASPPB Model Act), then why would students spend literally tens of thousands of dollars in education if they obtain the same types of jobs as those without an advanced degree? Over time, if left unchecked, inconsistency in the training of I-O psychology students could lead to an increased disparity in the type and/or quality of instruction and therefore could lead to wide variability in the capabilities and services provided by I-O psychologists.

In conclusion, it is our position that consistency in training is the first step toward building a brand for I-O psychology. We suggest that the creation of a certification in I-O psychology can be one avenue that helps to distinguish those trained in I-O psychology from other related professionals. Indeed, SIOP has been approached by at least two test publishers willing to create a certification exam for a very reasonable price, so there are opportunities in place to begin such an endeavor. While there will be a cost associated with certification, it is not likely to be much different than the cost of licensure, but the certification approach has the advantage of granting leaders in I-O psychology control over the creation of the content, and perhaps the eligibility, of the certification exam. Such a certification would have the eventual result of I-O psychology graduate programs offering, if not requiring, courses that cover the content on the certification exam. Moreover, such a certification could be used to provide assistance to state and provincial licensing boards to help them determine eligibility for candidates who wish to become licensed.




Axton, T. R., Porr, B., Dumani, S., & Ferro, M. (2016). Licensing and industrial-organizational psychologists: Member needs and news. The Industrial and Organizational Psychologist, 54(1). Retrieved from

Kleiner, M. M. & Krueger, A. B. (2013). Analyzing the extent and influence of occupational licensing on the labor market. Journal of Labor Economics, 31(2), S137-S202.

Kozlowski, S. W. J., & Chao, G. T. (2017). The licensure of Industrial and Organizational psychologists: It’s déjà vu all over again. Industrial and Organizational Psychology: Perspectives on Science and Practice, 10(2), 200-204.

Shen, W. (2016). CSIOP members’ views on licensure. The Canadian Industrial & Organizational Psychologist, 33(4), 1-3.

Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, Inc. (2011). SIOP 2011 membership survey: Licensed vs. not licensed report. Bowling Green, OH: Author. Retrieved from

Tett, R. P., Wasler, B., Brown, C. Simonet, D. V., & Tonidandel, S. (2013). 2011 SIOP graduate program benchmarking survey part 3: Curriculum and Competencies. The Industrial-Organizational Psychologist, 50(4), 69-89.



Authors’ Notes

Dr. Nagy has been a member of SIOP since 1991 and has served as the chair of the Licensing, Certification, and Credentialing Committee (formerly State Affairs) for SIOP since 2011.

Dr. Schroeder is an I-O psychologist, a member of SIOP who serves on its Licensing and Credentials Committee, a licensed psychologist in Wisconsin who possesses two board certifications, including an ABPP in Organizational and Business Consulting Psychology, and the current Chair of Wisconsin’s Psychology Examining Board.  

Correspondence concerning this article should be sent to Mark S. Nagy, School of Psychology, Xavier University, 3800 Victory Parkway, Cincinnati, OH 45207-6511. Contact:



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