How to Become a Psychologist

Overview of Psychologist Licensing and Certification

Any individual providing psychology services to patients or clients needs the proper certification and licensure. Each state has its own licensing requirements for psychologists and other psychology practitioners and licenses are issued by the state psychology board or another similar authority. Although many states offer a single, general psychology license for doctoral-level psychologists, some provide additional certification for specific areas of practice (such as school psychology) or for individuals who have a master’s degree in psychology. This page provides additional information on how to become a licensed psychologist.

Psychologist Licensure Requirements by State

If you are interested in becoming licensed as a psychologist, you should check your state’s specific licensure requirements. Click on one of the links below to find out more about how to become a psychologist in your state, including the steps to become a psychologist and the licensing process for your state.

Education Requirements to Become a Psychologist

In order to earn a psychology license, prospective professionals must first earn a master’s or doctoral degree. To obtain a license that allows you to use the title “psychologist” and provide a full range of psychological services, you must earn a doctoral degree in counseling, clinical, or school psychology. However, in some states you can earn a license for limited (usually supervised) psychology practice with a master’s degree in psychology. Because the requirements vary by state and practice area, the American Psychological Association (APA) recommends that students begin reviewing licensing laws in the state or territory where they intend to pursue licensure by their second year of study. State boards of psychology and local college psychology programs are great resources for finding further information on education requirements. If you are interested in more state-specific information about licensure, find your state(s) of interest and read more in the psychology licensure requirements by state section above.

Experience Requirements for Psychologist Licensure and Certification

Before applying for a psychologist license, candidates typically complete an internship as well as at least one or two years of post-degree experience. Though experience requirements can vary widely by state, candidates for psychology licensure should plan to complete an internship during graduate study as well as at least one year of postdoctoral supervised professional experience. In most states, professional experience must be earned prior to applying for a license to practice psychology. According to the APA, the average licensing requirements for psychologists are 2,000 hours of internship experience and 2,000 hours of postdoctoral experience, though some states require more.

Licensing Exams for Earning a Psychologist’s License

In all 50 US states, earning a passing score on the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP) is a requirement to qualify for a psychologist license. The EPPP is a standardized exam developed by the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB) that is used by state psychology licensing boards as one metric in the licensing process for measuring professional competency. Candidates take the exam after applying to the appropriate licensing board in their state or territory.

State boards of psychology often require candidates to take additional examinations beyond the EPPP, such as standardized tests specific to practice laws in a state or territory and professional ethics examinations. Information on the exams required for pursuing a psychology license can be obtained through the state licensing authority or from a local accredited college psychology program.

Following initial licensure, most states require licensed psychologists to complete continuing education to maintain their licenses. The ASPPB provides detailed requirements by state.

Psychologist Licensing and Specialty Certifications

Depending on the practice area, psychologists may need to become certified by a specialty board or licensing authority. For example, in some states school psychologists are required to be certified or licensed by the state’s department of education.

Practitioners in 13 areas of psychology, including clinical health psychology, couple and family psychology, and behavioral and cognitive psychology, can become eligible for specialty psychology certification by the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP). Not all psychologists are not required to earn board certification, but this achievement demonstrates a high level of professional expertise. Other specialty professional certifications are awarded by organizations such as the National Association of School Psychologists and the American Board of Clinical Neuropsychology. A list of specialties and recognized certification boards is available through the Council of Specialties in Professional Psychology.

Additional Resources

Frequently Asked Questions

Are specific courses required to earn a psychologist license?

Licensing requirements for psychologists, including coursework requirements, vary by state. All states require that you attend an APA-accredited program, which must include coursework in topics such as ethics, diversity, and supervision skills. Some states may also require you to have completed coursework in topics that are not mandated by APA, such as human sexuality, substance use, or child abuse. For specific information on how to become a licensed psychologist in your state, check with your state psychologist licensing authority.

How can I find out if a specific degree program will qualify me for a psychology license?

Psychology degree curriculums vary widely between schools. Most state boards of psychology require candidates for psychology licensure to hold a graduate degree from an accredited school. Accreditation from one of the six regional education accrediting associations or from the APA is commonly required. These requirements are usually outlined in each state’s psychologist licensing laws. You can also contact the degree programs you are considering to verify if the program meets licensing requirements in your state.

What is the difference between a psychologist license and psychologist certification?

A psychologist license is a license to practice psychology granted through a state licensing authority, whereas psychologist certification is an additional specialty credential granted by a professional association or licensing board. Pursuing certification beyond initial licensure can demonstrate a higher level of professional competency and may allow a psychologist to command a higher salary.