Licensure is a requirement in all states and U.S. jurisdictions for any psychology practice that involves direct client contact. But a psychology license is about more than just meeting legal requirements to practice. A state-issued license to practice psychology is the culmination of years of hard work. It denotes a unique level of expertise and commitment to the discipline, and is reserved only for the most dedicated doctorate-prepared psychologists.
The rigors of the licensing process serves to protect the public, offering the assurance that the license holder has been fully vetted through advanced education, supervised contact hours in a pre-doctoral internship, mentoring during a post-doctoral fellowship, examinations, and a final review by a state licensing authority.
Here’s what you need to know as you consider becoming licensed through your state’s board of psychology
Step 1. Determine if You Need to Become Licensed
Not all professional psychologists need a state license. Generally, if you work in academia, in a research laboratory, or in a private corporation as an industrial-organizational psychologist, for example, and do not provide counseling services, you would not ordinarily need to be licensed.
You can find information on your state’s licensing requirements for psychology professionals by carefully reading the psychology laws and statutes published by your state’s board of psychology. Language found in state licensing laws for psychologists commonly state that a license is required of any psychologist that:
- Represents themselves to the public by a title or description of services that includes the word “psychological,” “psychologist,” or “psychology”
- Provides psychological services to individuals, groups, organizations, or the public
- Provides psychological services, other than lecture services, to the public for compensation separate from the salary they receive to perform regular duties
- Is employed as a psychologist by an organization that sells psychological services to the public, other than lecture services
Many states also provide specific language regarding which psychology professionals are exempt from licensure. For example, in New York, psychologists exempt from licensure include those working in:
- Chartered schools
- Settings operated by the government
- Most colleges and universities
Since licensing requirements vary considerably from one jurisdiction to the next, you will find no absolute answer as to whether or not you will be required to hold a license without first carefully checking your state’s licensing laws regarding what services you may provide and in what capacity you may work. The Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB) makes this information accessible through its Handbook of Licensing and Certification Requirements for Psychologists in the U.S. and Canada.
Step 2. Meet Education and Supervised Practice Requirements
Before you can qualify for a state license to practice psychology, you must meet the education and practice requirements set forth by your state’s licensing board. All states require the completion of:
A Doctoral Degree in Psychology
A doctoral degree in psychology may be structured as a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Psychology or a more practice-focused Doctor of Psychology (PsyD).
Some states require candidates for licensure to complete a doctoral program that has been accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA) Commission on Accreditation (CoA), while others require the candidate’s internship to be APA-CoA accredited, without requiring the doctoral program itself to be accredited.
The APA-CoA accredits:
- Doctoral programs in counseling, clinical, and school psychology
- Internship programs in counseling, clinical, and school psychology
- Post-doctoral fellowship programs
A number of states also recognize doctoral programs designated by the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB) and the National Register of Health Service Providers in Psychology. You can view the complete list of programs here.
You can also find specific state requirements regarding doctoral program accreditation through the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards’ (ASPPB) Handbook of Licensing and Certification Requirements for Psychologists in the U.S. and Canada linked to above.
Supervised Practice Hours
All U.S. jurisdictions require candidates to accrue a specified number of supervised practice hours, a portion of which must take place post-doctorally. Depending on the state, this may be anywhere from 1,000 to 4,000 hours.
For example, California requires at least 3,000 hours of supervised professional experience for licensure, with at least 1,500 of those hours completed post-doctorally. Florida, on the other hand, requires the completion of at least 4,000 hours of supervised experience, with the option to complete the first 2,000 hours through an internship.
Similar to doctoral program requirements, some states recognize only APA-accredited internships and post-doctoral fellowships.
State-specific supervised training requirements are often very specific and complex, so it is important to fully understand these requirements prior to commencing your supervised training. The importance of consulting with your state board of psychology for a clear understanding of specific requirements cannot be overstated.
More about Post-Doctoral Fellowships
Post-doctoral fellowships—often referred to as postdocs—are a temporary period of mentored or supervised training. Postdocs allow graduates of doctorate programs to acquire the skills necessary to become a psychologist.
A postdoc not only satisfies requirements for state licensure but also provides you with the opportunity to gain highly specialized training in your chosen area of psychology.
The National Postdoctoral Association established six competencies in an effort to guide post-doctoral scholars, mentors, institutions, and other advisors. A post-doctoral fellowship should include training in the following areas:
- Discipline-specific conceptual knowledge
- Research skill development
- Communication skills
- Leadership and management skills
- Responsible conduct of research
The sheer volume of documents and processes that you will need to keep track of during your doctoral studies and postdoctoral fellowship can be overwhelming. To stay organized and prepared for the state licensing process and for future career changes and job opportunities, you may benefit from logging everything – from work experience hours to transcripts to supervisor signatures – into an information bank like the National Psychologist Trainee Register or the ASPPB Credential Bank.
These depositories of information are made available to help ensure that your academic and professional information stays organized and easily accessible from anywhere.
Step 3. Apply for a Psychologist License Through Your State Board of Psychology
Once you are confident that you have completed all the necessary education and practice requirements, you must apply for state licensure through your state’s board of psychology/psychological examiners. You must begin the licensure application process before registering to take the Examination for Professional Practice of Psychology (EPPP).
Licensing costs often range from $500 to more than $1,000 (including application fees, initial licensing fees, and exam costs). You should expect to provide your state licensing board with all necessary documentation, including:
- Doctoral degree transcripts
- Detailed information on internship and post-doctoral fellowships, including supervisor signatures and total hours
Note: Nearly all specialty psychologists fall under the umbrella of general state licensing. However, school psychologists are unique because they must earn a certificate and license to work in public school through their state’s Department of Education, not the Board of Psychology. A number of states recognize the National Association of School Psychologists’ Certified School Psychologist (NCSP) designation as a route to a school-based credential. State-specific requirements can be found here.
Step 4. Take the Required Examinations
Upon receiving approval from your state board of psychology, you must take the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Board’s Examination for Professional Practice of Psychology (EPPP). All states and other licensing jurisdictions use this 225-multiple-choice-question examination as the basis for determining whether a candidate has the knowledge, competency and ethical fortitude to qualify for a license.
The EPPP tests candidates in eight content areas:
- Social and cultural bases of behavior
- Cognitive-affective bases of behavior
- Ethical, legal, and professional issues
- Growth and lifespan development
- Assessment and diagnosis
- Biological bases of behavior
- Research methods and statistics
- Treatment, intervention, prevention, and supervision
Each state sets its own requirements for a passing score on the EPPP, although most states require at least 70 percent of the questions to be answered correctly (equivalent to a score of 500 on the computer-based exam).
You can take the EPPP at Pearson VUE testing centers located throughout the U.S.
In addition to the EPPP, you must take and pass a state-specific jurisprudence/ethics exam, designed to assess your knowledge of ethical standards and mental health laws specific to your state. Depending on the state, you may also need to take an oral exam, competency exam, and/or participate in an interview process.
Step 5. Maintain Your Psychologist License
Similar to other state licensed professionals, psychologists must renew their licenses according to state board regulations—usually every 2 to 3 years. Most states require the completion of a specific number of continuing education credits/hours during each renewal cycle as a condition for license renewal. Further, many states require the completion of a specific number of credits/hours in ethics.
For example, Pennsylvania requires psychologists to renew their licenses biennially. During each renewal cycle, psychologists in the state must complete at least 30 contact hours in continuing education, three of which must be specific to ethical issues.
Most state boards allow psychologists to earn continuing education a number of ways, such as taking Board-approved courses, participating in programs and workshops, publishing articles, and teaching courses.
The APA’s Office of Continuing Education in Psychology (CEP) offers many continuing education opportunities and develops a wide array of independent study programs, in-house workshops, seminars, and conferences. State psychology associations are also often an excellent source of continuing education opportunities.
Step 6. Consider Board Certification in a Specialized Area of Psychology
After achieving state licensure, you may want to consider pursuing board certification in a specialty area of psychology. The American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP) awards specialty certification in the following areas:
- Clinical neuropsychology
- Clinical psychology
- Clinical child and adolescent psychology
- Behavioral and cognitive psychology
- Clinical health psychology
- Counseling psychology
- Couple and family psychology
- Organizational and business consulting psychology
- Police and public safety psychology
- Forensic psychology
- Rehabilitation psychology
- Group psychology
- School psychology
According to the ABPP, board certification in a psychology specialty serves as the clearest and most responsible way for psychologists to represent themselves as specialists.
To qualify for Board certification, you must possess an APA- or CPA-accredited doctoral degree and state licensure to practice as a psychologist. Specific state board requirements vary, although all require postdoctoral training in your specialty and several years of experience. The application process involves submitting practice samples that are representative of your work and competency, and sitting for an oral exam.