How to Become a Psychologist

A psychologist is a professional who provides mental health services to groups or individuals. To become a psychologist, you typically need a doctoral degree, licensure, and proper certification.

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. This page provides information on how to become a licensed psychologist, including education, licensure, and experience requirements.

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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

Prospective professionals must earn a doctoral degree in counseling, clinical, or school psychology in order to earn a psychology license and provide the full range of clinical psychological services. For school psychologists, an Educational Specialist (EdS) degree is considered the entry-level degree and is accepted by most states for licensure to provide the full scope of professional services in schools or educational settings. An EdS is an advanced degree that is beyond a master’s degree but typically requires less coursework than a doctoral degree.

In some states, like Michigan, a master’s degree in psychology qualifies graduates for limited psychology licenses (usually supervised). Because requirements vary by state and practice area, prospective psychologists should proactively research licensing laws in the state or territory they want to gain licensure.

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 residence or interest and read more in the psychology licensure requirements by state section.

Experience Requirements for Psychologist Licensure and Certification

To qualify for a psychologist license, candidates must complete an internship and have at least one to two years of supervised, postdoctoral experience. According to the American Psychology Association (APA), the average licensing requirement for psychologists is 2,000 hours of internship experience and 2,000 hours of postdoctoral experience, though experience requirements vary by state.

Licensing Exams for Earning a Psychologist License

In all 50 US states and Washington DC, 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). State psychology licensing boards use a passing EPPP exam score as one measure of professional competency. Candidates take the exam after applying for licensure in their state or territory. A passing score is 500 or higher.

State boards of psychology often require candidates to take additional examinations beyond the EPPP, such as professional ethics examinations or jurisprudence exams. For information on the exams required to pursue a psychology license, reach out to your state’s licensing authority or local accredited college psychology program.

Three Steps to Becoming a Psychologist

To become a licensed psychologist, you need to complete the appropriate degree, gain experience, and apply for licensure in the state in which you want to practice. The process can be broken into three main steps.

1. Earn a bachelor’s degree and (optionally) a master’s degree in psychology.

The first step to becoming a psychologist is to earn a bachelor’s degree in any subject; you do not have to major in psychology. Both Bachelor of Arts (BA) and Bachelor of Science (BS) degrees fulfill this requirement. These degrees consist of 120 credits and take full-time students four years to complete. There are various schools with psychology programs to help you meet the educational requirements in your state.

After finishing your bachelor’s degree, you may choose to earn a stand-alone master’s degree. This degree is optional, as many students earn master’s degrees as part of their doctoral programs. However, earning a master’s degree first might make you a more competitive candidate for admission to doctoral programs. Most psychology master’s programs require a certain number of psychology credit hours as a prerequisite. Master’s degree programs typically require between 30 to 45 credit hours and take about one to three years to complete. The degree awarded is either a Master of Arts (MA) or Master of Science (MS) degree.

2. Earn a PsyD or PhD in Psychology.

Practicing psychologists in most states need a terminal, doctoral degree in psychology. There are two types of doctoral degrees in psychology: a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Psychology and a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD). Regardless of which type of program you choose, the doctoral program should be regionally accredited and, in most cases, accredited by the APA. Doctoral degrees in psychology usually take four to seven years to finish. You can learn more about the differences between these degrees on our home page.

3. Accrue the required supervised experience and get licensed to practice as a psychologist.

Psychologists in all states need proper licensure. In addition to a doctoral degree in psychology, you will need to gain supervised experience in your field. Each state requires a certain number of supervised experience hours before you are eligible for licensure. These typically take place over a span of two years. Most states allow you to include doctoral internships and practicums as part of this requirement.

Once you complete the education and experience requirements, you are ready to apply for psychology licensure in your state. To earn a license, you need to submit an application to your state board and pass the EPPP, as well as any required state jurisprudence exams.

Maintaining Your License and Continuing Education

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

Most states require psychologists to renew their licenses every other year. To renew, psychologists need around 36-40 CE hours for each renewal period. Some states require CE hours to cover certain content areas, such as suicide intervention or ethics. Make sure to check with your state’s board for details on license renewal and CE.

Psychology License Reciprocity

Most states do not allow psychologists to practice with a license from another state. However, most states will recognize licenses from other states if they meet certain criteria. In these cases, qualified applicants can apply for licensure by reciprocity or endorsement, depending on the state. To be eligible, out-of-state practitioners typically must have been licensed and practicing independently for at least five years, depending on the state. In some states, qualified psychologists must hold a credential to qualify for licensure by reciprocity or endorsement. In addition to an application, state boards may require a passing score on the jurisprudence exam and/or letters of recommendation.

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 many states, school psychologists are required to be certified or licensed by the state’s department of education. In addition, national boards such as the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP), offer specialty certifications for psychologists who wish to demonstrate a high level of professional expertise. Voluntary certification with national boards is also beneficial to out-of-state psychologists applying for licensure by reciprocity.

The ABPP offers specialty certifications for 15 areas of psychology, including clinical health psychology, couple and family psychology, and behavioral and cognitive psychology. Qualified psychologists can also pursue the Certificate of Professional Qualification in Psychology (CQQ) offered by ASPPB and the Health Service Psychology (HSP) credential offered by the National Register of Health Service Psychologists (NRHSP). Qualified psychologists can find additional specialty professional certifications through organizations such as the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) and the American Board of Clinical Neuropsychology (ABCN). 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 a degree from an APA-accredited program, which must include coursework in topics such as ethics, diversity, and supervision skills. Some states may also require additional coursework in topics 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 curricula 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 and/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 whether 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 credential, usually in a unique specialty, 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.