March 1st, 2012

Options for licensure draw mostly positive reviews

Five years ago, the American Psychological Association shifted its thinking regarding licensure requirements. In lieu of the traditional postdoctoral experience, the APA suggested states allow applicants to substitute supervised training. Recently, Connecticut voted to implement this change.

Lisa Gersony, Psy.D., a private practitioner and consultant in Glastonbury, Conn., was among the group of psychologists who lobbied the licensing board to change the state regulation. “We felt the rule had become burdensome,” she says. In her experience, few pertinent or geographically convenient post-docs were available. “So I thought I’d create my own but got a shock. No employer wanted to hire me. The insurance companies played a role. They would not reimburse for my services.”

The post-doc requirement presents other obstacles. Soon after graduation, students must begin to repay loans, Gersony explains. Without an income, that becomes challenging, if not impossible to do. Also, completing a post-doctoral experience in one continuous year, as required, poses a challenge for women planning to start a family and those with chronic illnesses. “I had become pregnant during my post-doc year. If I had had to stop, none of my [experience] would have counted,” she says.

While the original regulations were well intended, Gersony notes that they created unnecessary barriers. “They prevent talented psychologists with lots of training under their belts from beginning to practice,” she says. “The regulations need to reflect the new environment in which we live.”

Many psychology students today receive a significantly higher number of pre-doctoral supervised training hours – as many as 3,000 – than in the past, according to Randi Dorn, Ed.D., ABPP, director of training at the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology (MSPP). She explains that previously, pre-doctoral training might have comprised as little as 400 hours of practicum and 1,600 hours of internship, depending on the individual program. “Now there is collaborative work on a national level to set standards for all pre-doctoral training, not just the internship. There will be more oversight and more uniformity,” she says.

Dorn says, “We are suggesting that Massachusetts consider a wording change to ‘either/or.’” She emphasizes that 3,200 training hours would still be required, but these hours can be obtained during pre- or post-doc years. Once the criteria are met, graduates would be eligible for licensing. “This is not a movement to put less qualified psychologists into the workplace, but to allow well-trained professionals to start providing services as licensed psychologists after obtaining the doctoral degree,” she says.

Sarah Gray, Psy.D., who is currently doing a post-doc at the University of Rhode Island Counseling Center, is originally from Maine where students are not allowed to obtain licensure based on supervised training alone. A graduate of MSPP, she says that by her fourth year, she had amassed nearly 3,500 hours of supervised training. After graduation, she was unable to find a paying post-doctoral opportunity in her home state and was forced to look elsewhere. “If I was in a different place in life, I could do an unpaid post-doc,” she says. “There has to be a shift to make this doable so you are not perpetually in training at a high cost. We have to catch up with other mental health disciplines. Students have a good deal of training and emphasis on clinical work and processing that hones our professional identity.”

However, not everyone agrees with the APA’s decision. Alison Collins, Psy.D., who practices at Integrated Behavioral Healthcare in Scarborough, Maine, cites her post-doctoral experience as an important part of her career preparation. “Simply put – nothing would adequately substitute post-doc supervision, which entails one-on-one processing of cases, exploring treatment options, examining counter transference, examining the process of the case and nurturing the nuances and growth of a psychologist-level therapist,” she says. “My experience was challenging on multiple levels that strongly influenced the psychologist I am today. Also, post-doc supervision is one important aspect that singles us out from social workers and other masters-level therapists.”

Kathryn Saylor, executive director of the New Hampshire Psychological Association, reports that her state no longer has a post-doctoral requirement. “As long as a trainee has the required number of supervised hours for licensure, they do not have to do a formal ‘post-doc.’ The hours also do not need to occur after they have received their doctorate, as long as it occurs after the internship year,” she says.

By Phyllis Hanlon

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