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A Matter of Law: Licensure and Professional Mobility

by Legal & Regulatory Affairs and Communications Staff

April 26, 2005 — The practice of professional psychology is governed by laws and regulations administered by psychology licensing boards in all states, the Canadian provinces, and U.S. territories. Licensing laws serve a public protection function in that they are intended to restrict licensure to those individuals who are considered by law as qualified to practice psychology.

It is crucial for psychologists as well as prospective practitioners to understand state licensing laws and related issues. One such issue is professional mobility, which is addressed in the following section. Further, this article offers psychologists some practical pointers related to licensure laws, discusses certification for prescribing medications, and guides readers to additional online information and resources.

Professional Mobility

To gain and maintain professional licensure, a psychologist must meet all requirements included in the applicable state licensing law(s). Despite some similarities among those laws, there are significant differences that underscore the need for a practitioner to know the requirements that that apply to his or her professional circumstances. The licensing board is the final authority on requirements that pertain to psychology practice in a particular jurisdiction.

Variations among licensure laws affect psychologists who want to move from one state to another or practice in two or more states. The issue of professional mobility can surface in a variety of scenarios, for example:

  • A psychologist intends to move his or her practice to another state.

  • A psychologist wants to practice in another state on a short-term basis, perhaps as an expert witness in a legal proceeding or to pursue a part-time employment opportunity.

  • A practitioner wants to establish a secondary location in a different state than his or her primary practice location.

  • A licensed psychologist wants to provide online professional services that cross state lines.

Psychologists moving to another state need to take the necessary steps to meet all the requirements for becoming licensed to practice in the new jurisdiction. This can be a cumbersome and time-consuming process. It also can prove very difficult, particularly for those practitioners who have held their license for many years. Current state-level requirements may be very different from when such practitioners initially were licensed.

Several organizations including the ASBBP, the National Register of Health Service Providers in Psychology, and the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP) offer a variety of mechanisms intended to facilitate professional mobility for psychologists. To access their respective websites, see “Links to additional information and resources” at the end of this article.

The applicable licensing board can specify what latitude there may be for temporary or short-term work in a state. Some licensing laws have provisions allowing a licensed practitioner in another state to practice in that state for up to 30 days a year.

If you are contemplating temporary activities in another state, consider whether your professional plans fall within the scope of the licensing law for the new state and thereby constitute the “practice of psychology.” If they do not, you are freed from the responsibility of securing a license for independent practice in the new state. Examples of activities that may be exempt from licensure include teaching positions or consulting work in organizational settings.

The vast majority of states do not have laws that specifically address online therapy or other electronic-based professional services provided by licensed psychologists. California and South Carolina are examples of states that do have such laws. If you are thinking of providing online services, check on requirements with psychology boards in the states where you and other parties to the electronic service delivery are based and in the state where you are licensed.

Practical Pointers

The following pointers may be helpful for your understanding and complying with licensing laws and related matters:

Keep a copy of your state licensing law handy, be fully aware of what the law addresses, and check it regularly for updates. Licensing laws change over time, and it important to keep abreast of any revisions. Further, your state licensing law may refer to related legal issues such as patient confidentiality and recordkeeping. To comply fully with your state licensing law, it also is important to keep track of updates and comply with changes to any such related laws.

Know who’s exempt from licensure. As implied earlier in this article, state laws generally include language about who is “exempt” from licensure by the psychology licensing board. Those who engage strictly in teaching, research, or providing services in organizational settings often are exempt from generic licensure as a psychologist.

Practitioners who work in most public schools go through a separate credentialing process typically handled by the state department of education, not the psychology licensing board. Psychology licensing laws generally include citations to other state regulations that govern “school psychologists” in public schools. A licensed psychologist working in the public schools has the latitude to also practice independently outside of schools without facing the constraints that apply in school settings.

Familiarize yourself with the licensing board disciplinary process. A portion of the APA’s “Model Act for State Licensure of Psychologists” specifies the powers and duties of the licensing board to conduct investigations, hold hearings, consider evidence or allegations brought against a psychologist, and to discipline a licensee for violation of law or regulation. This Model Act has been used over the years by many states in developing their licensing laws.

The document "Understanding Licensing Board Disciplinary Procedures," developed by the CAPP/BPA Task Force on Understanding Licensing Board Disciplinary Procedures, may be a helpful resource for ensuring appropriate understanding of the disciplinary process.

Know about any continuing education (CE) requirements related to retaining your license. You should be clear about whether the applicable jurisdiction requires evidence of continuing education in order for you to retain your license and, if so, what specific CE requirements apply.

If you are still in training, it is important to become fully aware well in advance of licensing requirements in any states you may be considering for practice. Prospective applicants need to sure they have met all applicable requirements before applying for licensure. Preparing well in advance for initial licensure can help avoid delays in beginning practice.

Certification to Prescribe Medications

Increasingly, qualified psychologists are gaining the authority through state law to prescribe psychotropic medications. New Mexico and Louisiana have implemented prescription privileges laws as of April 2005. The evolving issue of prescriptive authority for psychologists clearly is governed by applicable state licensure laws.

The requirements for prescribing in a state exist above and beyond the basic requirements for a psychologist to become licensed. In other words, being authorized to prescribe entails meeting additional requirements that supplement the requirements governing licensure to practice psychology in a particular state.

Not all licensed psychologists will decide to gain the additional training and credentials necessary to prescribe in a state that grants such authority to qualified psychologists. Those practitioners who are interested in doing so should check on the applicable requirements with the relevant state licensing board, which oversees licensure or certification of qualified practitioners to prescribe.

Generally, a state’s prescription privileges law allows licensed doctoral-level psychologists who have completed the appropriate training and met any other designated requirements to prescribe psychotropic medications in treating mental health disorders. The state licensure laws and regulations outline specific related provisions — such as the educational and training requirements, the scope of prescribing practices and list of medications, U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency registration, additional continuing education requirements, and grounds for denial, suspension or revocation of the authority to prescribe.

In light of differences in the New Mexico and Louisiana prescription privileges laws, interested practitioners should review each state law carefully to determine what qualifications are needed to apply for licensure or certification to prescribe.

Links to Additional Information and Resources

The organizations and online materials listed below are sources of additional information about licensing laws and state licensing board processes:

Date created: 2005
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