The plight of recent graduates

By John Thomas, Associate Editor
May 1, 2001 - Last updated: May 31, 2011

‘Have Ph.D.’ but cannot practice psychology

Washington–It’s the morning after graduation. The owner of a shiny new Ph.D. degree in psychology starts the day with strong coffee and a skimpy plan to go job hunting.

She faces a problem. She is a Ph.D. sans a license to practice.

What to do? Pursue a job that doesn’t require a Ph.D.

Today’s Ph.D. graduate has to find a job that anyone with a master’s degree in psychology can handle. The Ph.D. at this point in her professional life is fairly meaningless.

The requirement is that graduates must first acquiesce to serve a mandated one-year postdoctorate internship. Then they can sit for the licensing exam.

Forcing Ph.D’s to obtain master’s licensure–sometimes in an unrelated field–to earn a living while pursuing the required year of postdoctoral supervised training was just one of many concerns expressed here during the State Leadership Conference in March.

Many of the state leaders saw the current situation as a failing of the psychology profession that has seen manifold changes in the training and education of graduate students since the postdoctoral requirement was established decades ago.

The March conference was the first opportunity for state leaders to discuss the issue of when today’s psychology graduates are qualified to sit for licensure and begin unsupervised practice.

A report by the Commission on Education and Training Leading to Licensure in Psychology, a 30-member cross-constituency group that studied the postdoctorate requirement during 2000, was accepted by the American Psychological Association Council of Representatives in February and is currently undergoing review by various governance groups.

The report will be considered for adoption in August during the next Council of Representatives meeting in San Francisco.

Among other items, the report recommended that APA policy be changed to allow the required one-year internship to be served prior to graduation.

APA President Norine G. Johnson, Ph.D., who headed the commission, said that while the commission recommendation wasn’t unanimous, nobody supported the current system that requires a year of postdoctoral supervised training before new Ph.D.s can sit for licensure.

The commission voted 26-3 in favor of the change, with all three votes against the report cast by representatives of the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB). As chair, Johnson did not vote.

Changes in the current licensing laws will have to be made in individual states, regardless of what the APA adopts as model licensure language.

In her remarks to several state psychological association leaders, Johnson called them “change agents” and said no one should be fooled by how long it will take for changes in licensing laws or regulations to be adopted.

Reversing policies that were developed during the last 40 years will take at least 20 years, she said.

One state leader who expressed enthusiasm for getting the process started was Andy Hogg, Ph.D., president of the Arizona Psychological Association and director of training for the Arizona School of Professional Psychology in Phoenix.

“We hope to be the first state to enact the proposed changes in licensure,” Hogg said. Hogg said that a task force has been looking at the problem of postdoctoral training in Arizona for the last three years.

He explained that it was the association’s plan to combine the mobility issue with the postdoctoral training change at the same time.

He said efforts will be made to convince Arizona legislators and regulators to consider acceptance of the Certificate of Professional Qualification from the ASPPB at the same time proposals are made in postdoctoral training requirements.

“These two issues,” Hogg added, “are part of the same battle. The issue is access. We need to increase accessibility for psychological services in the state and this would be two ways we could accomplish both goals.”

Hogg said he is optimistic that the changes can be made as “housekeeping” measures, although he is aware that they will take time and that being first involves some risk.

“There’s a difference between the ‘Lone Ranger’ and being in the vanguard. We want to be in the vanguard of change, but we don’t want to be the only state making these changes,” Hogg explained.

Ruth Paige, Ph.D., of Seattle, who served a co-chair of the Commission, said research is underway in Washington State to see if changes in licensure laws can be made through the regulatory process instead of changing state laws.

While state leaders were generally upbeat about tackling the postdoctoral training issue in their states, some sounded a note of caution and warned of the dangers of opening up licensing laws that could offer an opportunity for masters level holders to seek recognition and for psychiatry to introduce limitations on scope of practice.

The dangers posed when opening up licensure laws were what motivated the three votes against the Commission report by the ASSPB.

Stephen T. DeMers, Ed.D., who cast one of three ASPPB’s votes against the report said it was the belief that too much mischief could be caused if states opened up the licensure process.

“And we just don’t think that doing away with the year of postdoctoral training will accomplish what the Commission thinks it will,” DeMers added.

Ruth Ochroch, Ph.D., said the New York licensing board is opposed to making any changes in the postdoctoral training requirements.

Even though Alaska has no doctoral level psychology programs, it was that state’s president, Phillip W. Baker, Ed.D., who brought up the subject of Ph.D. graduates being forced to seek master’s level practice in order to survive financially until they have completed the year of postdoctoral training.

“We have psychologists coming into the state who want to practice but can’t because they have no way of living until they complete their year of postdoctoral training,” Baker said.

“That’s a failing of the profession of psychology and it’s something that needs to be changed if new graduates are going to enter into practice soon after graduation,” he said.

“There’s no reason someone with thousands of hours of clinical training should have to seek master’s level work when they are qualified to practice independently,” he added.

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