It’s time for portability in psychologist licensing

By John Grohol, Psy.D.
March 9th, 2019

psychologist licensingThere may have been a time in the not-too-distant past when the guild mentality that infects clinical psychology as a profession served a purpose. Not only did it emphasize psychologist’s greater training and educational requirements, but it helped to differentiate the profession from others that provided similar services (such as psychotherapy).

But the guild mentality comes with heavy licensing requirements and continuing education quotas that don’t seem to make as much sense as they once did.

The heavy burden of our profession’s licensing requirements has a real-world impact in psychologist’s lives and professional career trajectories.

Want to move your family to another state for personal reasons? Chances are, with very few exceptions, you’ll have to sit for a licensing exam again in that state.

In some states, you’ll need to provide professional references that can vouch for your years (or decades!) of practice—as though you just graduated. All of this may be required, despite already proving your competence and familiarity with legal responsibilities in your existing state.

When confronted with these burdensome license requirements, most psychologists just say, “Oh well, I don’t have any choice.”

But psychology as a profession very much has a choice. The more barriers the profession sets up in psychology, the less attractive it becomes for newcomers to enter into it in a clinical practice role. While at one time the profession could fall back on its higher reimbursement rates and prestige, those components of clinical psychology simply don’t exist in the way they did 40 years ago.

Geopolitical lines such as state boundaries simply don’t mean as much as they once did. People are far more portable these days, due in large part to modern travel and communication means, moving to wherever the next opportunity lies.

Unfortunately, few professions have kept up with the changing times. License portability is paid lip service by most policy makers and licensing boards as something they are “looking into” with lots of not-very-convincing reasons given for not embracing it.

Only four forward-thinking U.S. states have license portability for psychologists—Arkansas, Missouri, Nebraska, and Texas. The other 46 states (including all of New England) are stuck in the past, zealously guarding their own state’s borders and citizens as though the internet and intruding professions – such as coaching – don’t exist.

The times are changing. It’s time for clinical psychologists to change their expectations around licensing to meet these changes. If they don’t, the profession may find itself left behind as others take its place.

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