Before you can practice independently, there’s one last hoop you have to jump through: licensure by your state’s licensing board. Designed to protect the public, licensure ensures you are actually qualified to provide psychological services.
The licensure process can be arduous and lengthy, so start early, says Derek Phillips, PsyD, a neuropsychology postdoctoral fellow at Psychological and Neurobehavioral Services in Lakeland, Florida, who is currently preparing for licensure in Florida. “If you don’t start early, you could be stuck not being able to work for a while,” he says. The process is also expensive, he adds, so you’ll also need to start saving up.
Although requirements differ state by state, the licensure process typically involves the following steps:
- Finishing the educational requirements. States typically require a doctoral degree from an APA-accredited program plus 3,000 hours of supervised experience, split between internship and postdoc. Although a growing number of states are dropping the postdoc requirement, it’s smart to meet the most stringent requirements, says Erlanger “Earl” Turner, PhD, an assistant psychology professor at the University of Houston-Downtown who has been licensed in Maryland and Virginia and is now seeking licensure in Texas. “That’s important if you don’t know where you want to go or don’t plan to stay in one state for the rest of your life,” he says. Consult your state board’s website plus the Handbook of Licensure and Certification Requirements, published by the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB), for each jurisdiction’s requirements.
- Gathering your materials. Licensing boards typically want copies of your doctoral program transcript, documentation of your supervised experience, an application fee and other materials. “It’s a huge packet of information,” says Turner.
- Passing the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP). Sponsored by ASPPB, the EPPP assesses candidates’ core psychology knowledge. Take the EPPP as soon as you can, recommends Phoenix private practitioner Lindsey Buckman, PsyD. “The material is very close to what you learn in your doctoral program, so having that material as fresh as possible is helpful,” she says. Then “flood your system with EPPP prep,” she says. Use online or hard-copy test prep materials, attend workshops, take practice exams and find study buddies. But don’t go overboard: ASPPB says that studying more than 200 hours isn’t worth it.
- Passing a local exam, if required. In addition to the EPPP, states may have oral or written tests of their own. These tests typically focus on ethics, clinical decision-making and local mental health laws.
- Getting fingerprinted. A growing number of states require fingerprinting for criminal background checks. “They want to make sure that what you say about your background is actually true,” says Turner, who says the process isn’t a big deal.
- Preparing for the future. Make things easy on yourself if you ever decide to switch jurisdictions by “banking” your licensure materials through a service like ASPPB’s Credentials Bank or the National Register of Health Service Psychologists. “To try to find your postdoc supervisor 25 years later can be impossible,” says Phillips.