In 2005, the National Register of Health Service Providers in Psychology (National Register) surveyed psychology doctoral students to assess their understanding of licensure requirements and credentialing organizations in psychology. Three thousand eight hundred and thirty-five doctoral students completed the Internet survey. The results clearly indicated that doctoral students had very little exposure to the education, training, and examination requirements for licensure and credentialing. For example, 94% of respondents indicated that they planned to apply for licensure as a psychologist, which enables independent practice without supervision. However, only 42% had researched the requirements for licensure, which includes an approved doctoral degree in psychology, two years of supervised experience, and a national and jurisdictional examination. Approximately 75% of respondents did not have enough information to even consider applying for one of three major credentialing organizations in psychology. These credentials, which are described in this article, are a step beyond licensure and further assure consumers and colleagues that your education and training meet national standards, and provide many other benefits to psychologists. Sadly, some of the respondents had already devoted years and money attending a doctoral program that will not qualify them for licensure and credentialing.
So, how do you make the right choices for your future? To answer this question, we outline the recognition process for doctoral programs and provide resources that will help you select a path that will lead to licensure. It is also important for you to understand why licensed psychologists pursue credentialing after licensure. These credentials, as described below, identify and distinguish qualified psychologists and provide benefits that increase professional opportunities. Choose the Correct Path
If you are pursuing a career as a licensed and credentialed psychologist, the first step is choosing a doctoral program that will qualify you for licensure and credentialing. There are many factors to take into account. Short-term considerations related to selection of a doctoral program include cost, location, and the likelihood of your being accepted in a program. These are all issues you should discuss with your advisors and professors. However, as you map your education and training path beyond short-term considerations, it is critical to look at long-term issues pertaining to career viability. Therefore, it is crucial that you understand the difference between a doctoral program that will qualify you for licensure and credentialing and one that will not.
The first step is to verify that the institution is regionally accredited by one of the following:
After you verify that the institution
is regionally accredited, you must determine if the program
(clinical, counseling, school, or other) is acceptable for licensure and credentialing. There are four primary categories of doctoral programs in psychology:
Distance Learning Doctoral Programs
- The first category is regionally accredited institutions with a program that is accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA) or Canadian Psychological Association (CPA). The APA accredits doctoral training programs in the specialty areas of clinical, counseling, or school psychology, or one which is a combination of two or three of those specialty areas. The CPA accredits doctoral training programs in the specialty areas of clinical, clinical neuropsychology, school, and counseling psychology. Graduates from APA/CPA accredited programs typically meet the educational requirements for licensure and the major credentialing organizations in psychology.
- The second category is regionally accredited institutions with a program that is designated by the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB) and National Register of Health Service Providers in Psychology (National Register). The ASPPB/National Register Designation Committee reviews doctoral programs in psychology in any specialty area to determine if they meet the designation criteria. Programs that are APA/CPA accredited are by definition also designated. Graduates from ASPPB/National Register designated programs typically meet the educational requirements for licensure and the major credentialing organizations in psychology.
- The third category is regionally accredited institutions with a program that is neither APA/CPA accredited nor ASPPB/National Register designated. Graduates from regionally accredited institutions with programs that are not APA/CPA accredited or ASPPB/National Register designated may qualify for licensure in certain states, but they are not universally accepted by licensing boards. You will not qualify for any of the major credentials if your institution is regionally accredited but your program is not accredited or designated.
- The fourth category is institutions which are not regionally accredited with a program that is neither APA/CPA accredited or ASPPB/National Register designated. Graduates from an institution that is not regionally accredited and a program that is not APA/CPA accredited or ASPPB/National Register designated will not qualify for licensure or credentialing.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the number of distance learning doctoral programs in psychology has grown significantly (Murphy, Levant, Hall, Glueckauf, in press). Typically, distance learning doctoral programs divide coursework into online components and traditional classroom instruction, with the ratio determined by the program. Some of these programs are in institutions which are now regionally accredited, but only one institution (Fielding Graduate University) currently has an APA accredited program (PhD in clinical psychology). None are CPA accredited.
For some of you, a distance learning doctoral program may be your best choice to obtain a doctoral degree in psychology. This type of education may be an appealing option if you do not want to give up your current job in order to earn a doctoral degree, or you live in a rural area without a traditional doctoral program and are unable to relocate. And finally, if you have financial constraints, a distance learning program may be more economically feasible. Therefore, you may see advantages in a distance learning doctoral program. However, if your ultimate goal is licensure and credentialing, these programs carry a high risk.
Although a few licensing boards have recently decided to approve graduates from some regionally accredited distance learning institutions, many licensing boards will not issue you a license if you graduated from a distance learning institution. We advise you to carefully research the institution and contact the licensing board in the jurisdiction where you plan to apply before making a commitment.
Due to the status of distance learning education in the field of psychology, it may be a better idea to obtain a master's degree via distance learning. This would allow you to try online courses to see if this educational modality matches your learning style before you invest in a doctoral education. A doctoral degree from a distance learning program is a gamble right now. According to excellent discussion of distance learning programs from the Australian Psychology Accreditation Council (APAC, n.d.), no program that incorporates aspects of distance learning is equivalent to classroom education, particularly where it pertains to upper level courses and practicum. Licensing boards in the U.S. and Canada largely agree with this conclusion. Conduct Your Own Research
There are readily available resources to help you verify the status of the program you are considering. Determining if the program is APA/CPA accredited or ASPPB/National Register designated is easy.
If you check the websites listed above and the program is not accredited, designated, or "in the process," you should visit the program's website and then contact the admissions office of the doctoral programs you are considering. The first question to ask is if graduates typically meet the requirements for licensure in the U.S. and Canada, and if so, in which specific jurisdictions. It is also important to ask about the program's current accreditation/designation status. Specifically, if the program is not currently APA/CPA accredited (or applying for accreditation) or ASPPB/National Register designated, has the program applied previously and been denied? Both approval processes (accredition and designation) offer the program an opportunity to correct deficiencies and reapply, so a program may be in the process for some time. Ask for specific details, but beware of misleading language. "Preparing you for licensure" or "giving you the foundation for licensure" is not the same as making you eligible for licensure.
Your final step is to contact the licensing board in the jurisdiction in which you anticipate applying for licensure. Simply ask: If I attend this program, will I meet the educational requirements for licensure? For contact information on all licensing boards, see
You can go a step further by contacting the three major credentialing organizations mentioned in this article and ask the same question about eligibility.
It is clearly in your best interest to complete thorough research before you commit financially to a doctoral program in psychology.An Introduction to CredentialingThe matter of credentials beyond licensing is, in significant measure, still a matter of personal preference-personal professional preference. I am a great advocate of such credentials because, at their heart, what they represent is the embrace of an important idea to maintain professional integrity. And that idea is that one is willing to submit one's work to peer review. Because, to obtain advanced credentials... what you're saying is that, either in the practice realm, in the realm of service at the national level, or in the realm of scholarship, that you're willing to put yourself forth in such a way that the people who you share the field with—our colleagues, your peers—can review it and can give you feedback.
So I think it's an excellent way throughout one's career to ensure to the public, to ensure to yourself that you're willing to have what you do and how you think reviewed by others so that what you do and what you think stays fresh. And so that, I guess, above all, you don't delude yourself about who you are. So I think credentials are a wonderful thing.
—Dorothy E. Holmes, PhD, director of the PsyD program at
George Washington University (DC) and professor of
clinical psychology (National Register, 2005)
The largest three credentialing organizations in psychology are the National Register, the ASPPB, which offers the Certificate of Professional Qualification, and the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP), which offers specialty certification in 13 areas. These three organizations identify and support psychologists who voluntarily apply for and meet the standards of each organization. Licensed psychologists apply for the credentials to distinguish themselves from their peers and for the professional benefits offered by each organization.
The three credentialing organizations have similar requirements. Each requires applicants to hold a doctoral degree from an APA/CPA accredited program or an ASPPB/National Register Designated program. Each also requires applicants to complete two years of supervised experience. And all three require the applicant to be licensed as a psychologist. Detailed criteria are available on each credentialing organization's website listed below. Profiling the Credentialing OrganizationsNational Register Health Service Provider in Psychology Credential
The National Register was established in 1974. The primary benefits of the National Register credential are licensure mobility, credentials verification to healthcare organizations, free continuing education and publications, and the Find a Psychologist database. There are approximately 13,000 psychologists who currently hold the National Register credential. For more information:
>> www.nationalregister.orgCertificate of Professional Qualification in Psychology
Developed by the ASPPB, the CPQ was initiated in 1998. The primary purpose of the CPQ is to expedite licensure mobility for psychologists holding the credential. Currently, there are approximately 3,700 psychologists who hold the CPQ (ASPPB, n.d.). For more information:
>> www.asppb.orgAmerican Board of Professional Psychology
Established in 1947, ABPP awards specialty certification in 13 areas. Holding ABPP certification can qualify a psychologist for higher reimbursement rates if he/she is in the military, and possessing a specialty certification can exempt the psychologist from the examination requirements in approximately 30 states, which is similar to the licensure mobility benefit of the National Register credential and CPQ. Currently, there are approximately 2,600 psychologists who hold ABPP specialty certification (ABPP, n.d.; Finch, 2006). For more information:
>> www.abpp.orgGetting Started Early
Although you must be a licensed psychologist to hold any of these major credentials, the National Register offers credentials banking for doctoral students. You can sign up for this program, called the National Psychologist Trainee Register (NPTR), as soon as you enter a doctoral program in psychology. Many psychology doctoral students have taken advantage of this program, both to introduce themselves to credentialing organizations early on and to collect and store the credentialing documents (transcripts, signed supervisor forms) that psychologists are so frequently required to produce as they apply for licensure and insurance and reimbursement panels. See the National Register website for more information on the NPTR. Licensure Mobility via CredentialingWhenever I speak with my students about the National Register, all they want to know is how credentialing can help increase mobility options.
—G. Stricker, PhD, professor of psychology at Argosy University (DC), retired Distinguished
Research Professor of Psychology at the Derner Institute, Adelphi University, New York,
(G. Stricker, personal communication, June 8, 2002)
The three credentialing organizations offer a variety of professional benefits to psychologists as described above. According to surveys of graduate students and early career psychologists, licensure mobility is rated as the most highly desired benefit.
Licensure mobility is a relatively new benefit for credentialed psychologists. Mobility means that after a psychologist is licensed in one jurisdiction and then is approved for one of the three major credentialing organizations, he or she may bypass many of the required steps when applying for additional licenses. Mobility provides licensed psychologists the ability to sidestep much of the paperwork and document gathering that is required by licensing boards. Mobility is especially critical to newly licensed psychologists who may move more frequently, and will become even more so as psychologists are increasingly using telehealth (services via electronic means or phone) to provide services and consulting across borders or in other ways to expand their practices.
Psychologists and psychology doctoral students often describe licensure mobility in terms of a practitioner benefit that saves time and money. Consumers will come to see mobility in terms of faster access to psychological services. By relying on credentialing organizations to thoroughly vet the credentials of each applicant and to verify the same, the board is relieved of the time-consuming task of obtaining and reviewing primary source documentation. Thus, expedited licensure mobility is a benefit to licensed psychologists, to the public, and to licensing boards. Conclusion
If you are considering a doctoral degree in psychology, you have many options and many opportunities. If you want a career as a licensed and credentialed psychologist, either in private practice, a hospital or community mental health center, or any other professional setting, it is our hope that you will look beyond short-term considerations. Conduct research and speak to mentors and advisors about choosing an education and training path that will lead you to licensure and credentialing. There are many resources available to assist you, but there are also many opportunities to err if you are not careful. And while all of this may seem far down the road, doctoral education and training in psychology is an enormous financial and time commitment, and choosing a path that leads you to licensure and credentialing is critical to your future success. It is well worth the effort.
If you have any questions about this article, please contact Judy E. Hall, PhD, Executive Officer of the National Register of Health Service Providers in Psychology. Her email is email@example.com. References
American Board of Professional Psychology. (n.d.). Specialty certification in professional psychology.
Retrieved April, 25, 2006, from http://abpp.org/brochures/general_brochure.htm
Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards. (n.d.). Search and verify CPQ holders.
Retrieved April 26, 2006, from: http://www.asppb.org/mobility/cpq/results.aspx
Australian Psychology Accreditation Council. (n.d.). Standards for accreditation of Australian psychology programs.
Retrieved June, 22, 2006, from http://www.psychology.org.au/study/studying/ APAC%20StandardsJan2007.pdf
Finch, A. (2006, Winter). A message from the president: Making ABPP as important as we think it is. The ABPP Specialist,
Murphy, M. J., Levant, R. F., Hall, J. E., & Glueckauf, R. L. (In press.) Distance education in professional training in psychology. Profesional Psychology: Research and Practice.
National Register of Health Service Providers in Psychology. (2005). Legacy of Excellence DVD Series.
[DVD]. (Available from the National Register, 1120 G. St. NW, Ste 330, Washington, DC 2005)Judy E. Hall, PhD,
has been the Executive Officer of the National Register since 1990. Before that she was the Executive Secretary for the New York State Board for Psychology for 12 years, and during that time she served as president of the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards, as well as chairperson of the Board of Professional Affairs and Ethics Committee, both of APA. She is a fellow of Division 1.Stephanie F. Wexelbaum
attended the University of Michigan where she joined Psi Chi and received her BA in psychology in 2001. Following graduation, she worked as a research assistant at the New York State Psychiatric Institute. She completed her coursework in clinical psychology (PsyD) at George Washington University (DC) and began her predoctoral internship in fall 2006 at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, NY.Andrew P. Boucher
is the National Register Communications and Licensure Mobility Coordinator. He is a graduate of the University of Montevallo (AL) and has been with the National Register for six years.
Winter 2007 issue of Eye on Psi Chi (Vol. 11, No. 2, pp. 10-12), published by Psi Chi, The National Honor Society in Psychology (Chattanooga, TN). Copyright, 2007, Psi Chi, The National Honor Society in Psychology. All rights reserved.