Who is a "real" Psychologist?

Discussion in 'Nursing and medical-related degrees' started by laferney, Nov 12, 2005.

  1. laferney

    laferney Member

    In the majority of English speaking countries around the world the Masters is the degree needed to be licensed as a professional Psychologist. (UK, Australia, SA) Those that do go on for a doctorate do it to teach or engage in research. In the USA a doctorate is needed for licensure.( Ph,D, ED.D, Psy.D) One can not legally refer to oneself as a Psychologist with a Master's degree in Psychology. While there are many states that offer some type of licensure for a Master's degree in psychology most require supervision by a doctoral level psychologist or it is in a more restrictive role.
    There is an organization that is promoting the Masters degree as a credential for independent practice and the use of the title "Psychologist".
    Northamerican Association of Masters in Psychology. It has a certification program as a Nationally Certified Psychologist and advocates for licensure . For a list of States where the Master's degree can be licensed go to:
    The APA opposes this and has designated a doctoral degree for independent practice and licensure for any title with the word psychologist. It is hard to give up the title DR.
    My question(s) is :
    Is a doctoral degree really necessary to gain the skills needed to practice Psychology or could a Master's degree do it? (A Masters works for Psych Clinical Specialist Nurses, LMHCs and MSWs)
    Or is the Master's degree in Pyschology an obsolete credential? Should the title Psychologist be reserved only for doctoral degree holders?
    Thanks for all who participate in this debate!
  2. Jack Tracey

    Jack Tracey New Member

    One thing you will want to keep in mind as the responses come in is that the term "Psychologist" is not synonymous with "Psychotherapist." There are many, many academic programs award Masters and Doctoral level degrees in Psychology that are not Clinical Psychology degrees. Developmental Psychology, Experimental Psychology, Cognitive Psychology, Social Psychology are all sub-disciplines of the larger discipline of Psychology and one can earne Masters and Doctoral degrees in any of those areas. Therefore, you can be a "Psychologist" without being a Clinical Psychologist, having a license, etc.
  3. laferney

    laferney Member

    From the American Psychological Association
    Definition of "psychologist"
    APA policy on the use of the title "psychologist" is contained in the General Guidelines for Providers of Psychological Services, which define the term "Professional Psychologist" as follows: "Psychologists have a doctoral degree in psychology from an organized, sequential program in a regionally accredited university or professional school." APA is not responsible for the specific title or wording of any particular position opening, but it is general pattern to refer to master's-level positions as counselors, specialists, clinicians, and so forth (rather than as "psychologists").

    Non-clinical areas, as Jack states, might allow a person to call themselves a Psychologist. However they are not really viewed so by PHDS since most of these are research related areas and the Ph.D provides the reseach skills a Masters degree doesn't.

    Becoming a Social/Personality Psychologist

    Although some personality and social psychologists go to graduate school to earn a terminal masters degree (M.S. or M.A.), most seek a doctoral degree (Ph.D.). For some careers, a masters degree may be sufficient. Generally, however, the doctorate is preferred by employers and is usually necessary for employment as a professor at a university or college.

    Industral and School Psychologists may be called so with a Masters or ED.S.
    From the website
    Persons with a master’s degree in psychology may work as industrial-organizational psychologists or school psychologists. They also may work as psychological assistants, under the supervision of doctoral-level psychologists, and conduct research or psychological evaluations.
  4. fortiterinre

    fortiterinre New Member

    See "PhD in Human Services" thread below for more information on this topic. My sense is that old job titles that use the term "psychologist" at the master's level are being replaced with titles that do not, e.g., "school psychologists" are becoming "school psychology specialists" unless they have doctorates. I can understand the APA's desire to be protective of this title, and it seems they want psychologists to be as universally licensed as surgeons in this regard. Certainly state licensure boards do not hesistate to discipline the smallest infraction for misuse of the "psychologist" title.
  5. Guest

    Guest Guest

    I believe that anyone holding himself or herself out as a psychologist without a license in any state is illegal as psychology is a regulated profession.

    The best route to take if one wants to enter the psychotherapist field at the master's level, is the MSW and then be licensed as an LCSW. Insurance companies love LCSW's.

    In Indiana:

    Other state regs here.
  6. fortiterinre

    fortiterinre New Member

    Can anyone confirm for me whether or not specializing in a subdiscipline of psychology rules out licensure? Here in Illinois even counseling psychologists are licensed as "clinical" psychologists, and the regs specify that the doctoral program must be RA, at least 3 years in length, at least 350 direct face-to-face instructional hours, but also covering 7 content areas:

    The applicant shall complete a course in each of the 7 core content areas pursuant to Section 10(3)(b) of the Act as set forth below:
    A) Scientific and professional ethics in psychology set forth in Section 1400.80(k) and (l);

    B) Biological basis of behavior such as physiological psychology, comparative psychology, neuropsychology, sensation and perception, psychopharmacology;

    C) Cognitive-affective basis of behavior such as learning, thinking, motivation, emotion;

    D) Social basis of behavior such as social psychology, group processes, organizational and systems theory;

    E) Individual differences which includes instruction in theories of normal and abnormal personality functioning;

    F) Assessment which includes instruction in clinical interviewing and the administration, scoring and interpretation of psychological test batteries for the diagnosis of mental abilities and personality functioning;

    G) Treatment modalities which includes instruction in the theory and application of a diverse range of psychological interventions for the treatment of mental, emotional, behavioral or nervous disorders.

    My understanding is that one could be licensed as a "clinical psychologist" even if one held a PhD in "Developmental Psychology," as long as the other requirements were met.
  7. Michael Lloyd

    Michael Lloyd New Member

    Washington state regulations on using the term 'psychologist' at least in the clinical setting, are similar to those of other states.

    I once had a situation in which a LCSW with a MA, who worked as a behavioral health counselor, went on to earn a Ph.D in sociology. This was wonderful, I thought. But then she wanted to be addressed as 'Doctor' at work, and have her work ID changed to reflect her Ph.D. I (in my healthcare administration role) said no, on the basis that it could confuse patients that she was a doctoral-level clinical behavioral health practitioner and she could run afoul of the state licensing boards.

    She did not like my answer very much at all, and asked for an advisory opinion from our state licensing and disciplinary authority. Suffice it to say that they agreed with me and that she could not use her liberal arts doctorate in the clinical setting as a doctoral identifier. She is more than welcome to do so in social or academic settings, just not in the clinical setting in the context of providing patient care.
  8. fortiterinre

    fortiterinre New Member

    Thank you, Michael, this is is fascinating. One more question--Would it have mattered if her PhD was actually in Social Work? What if it was in "pastoral counseling" or some other unlicensed-but-not-liberal-arts field? I can remember similar situations where is was questioned whether a PhD holder could sign tx materials as "PhD, LCSW." The consensus back then seemed to be that this was not a problem as long as the "LCSW" was there.
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 12, 2005
  9. Michael Lloyd

    Michael Lloyd New Member

    Steve, I suspect that the answer to your question would depend upon how each state's psychology licensing/disciplinary agency interpreted the matter. I think that if you limit the issue to the scope of practice and training of a clinical psychologist, most states have pretty narrow criteria as to which doctoral degrees qualify. In Washington, it has to be a 'psychology' degree, along with the usual internship, postdoc practical supervised experience, EPPP and oral boards.

    Probably the key criteria would be to not use a non-psychology doctorate in a context in which patients could be misled. If you are talking about non-clinical psychology, the agencies may have a different interpretation.

    But as I tell the providers in these situations, it doesn't matter what you and I think, it is the state disciplinary agency that has the last word on such matters.
  10. PatsFan

    PatsFan New Member

    I tend to think "PhD, LCSW" would prevent any misunderstanding. I've been thinking a little bit about this myself, since at some point (hopefully in 2007) I will likely have "DMin, LICSW" on my business cards at the outpatient substance abuse clinic where I work.
  11. David Williams

    David Williams New Member

    See if this helps, Steve.

    It’s not uncommon for someone whose degree isn’t in one of the applied specialties (clinical, counseling, school) to obtain a license, depending upon state requirements. This is known as going through the back door. My general sense is it doesn’t occur as often as it did a couple of decades ago. Before the proliferation of the free-standing schools there were many fewer training opportunities.

    Clinical and counseling psychologists receive the same licensure. Within the profession we use the term ‘small c’ to differentiate matters pertaining to licensure from the specialty of clinical psychology. PhD level school psychologists (who complete an internship and choose to practice in a clinical setting outside the schools) may also pursue licensure as a ‘small c’ clinical psychologist.

    ‘Academic’ psychologist is code for someone whose specialization, like Jack notes, is in an area like experimental, developmental, or even history and systems that makes his career in academia. There was some kind of flap a few years ago – I’m hazy on specifics – about academics having the privilege of using the term psychologist. IIRC, a bright attorney 86d someone’s expert testimony because he didn’t have a license. The academics were not pleased but I have no idea how it was resolved.
  12. Michael Lloyd

    Michael Lloyd New Member

    I am drawing a blank on this: there was a media personality a few years back who either wrote some books or had a TV show and essentially provided counseling. She made a big deal of having a Ph.D., but in fact her doctorate was in dance or kinesiology, or something like that. It was not at all a doctorate in any sort of behavioral health or counseling field. Does anyone recall who this was?
  13. Jack Tracey

    Jack Tracey New Member

    Jimmy - I understand your point and I don't have any clear sense that you're wrong but here's my question:
    If a person has earned a PhD in, lets say it's Social Psychology, from a legitimate university (define that however you like) and they are a member of the APA and are employed as a tenured professor at XYZ State University where they teach a range of courses within the 100, 200, 300, 400 range as well as various grad level courses as well as serving as an advisor to Doctoral students. If they have published numerous articles in various well known scholarly publications and have presented at various seminars, etc. etc. BUT they do not have a license to practice Psychotherapy. You are telling me that it is actually illegal for that person to refer to themselves as a "Psychologist?"
    What term should they use?
  14. Guest

    Guest Guest

    Dr. Laura Schlessinger
  15. Guest

    Guest Guest

    This may answer your question, Jack:

  16. Jack Tracey

    Jack Tracey New Member

    Thanks Jimmy - I guess that Sec. 14 (a)(1) covers the hypothetical case I mentioned. I think I understand that such laws exist to protect the public from unscrupulous persons claimimg to be "Psychologists" without having real credentials. However, if I'm a new "Psychology" PhD and unemployed, I'm going to refer to myself as a Psychologist and they will have to come and arrest me if they want me to stop.
  17. Guest

    Guest Guest

    You're welcome, Jack.

    This is a problem I have had over the years with licensure.

    One who has a degree in sociologist can legally refer to oneself as a sociologist; a degree in biology, a biologist; a degree in math, a mathematician; a degree in physics, a physicist, etc.

    So, one with a degree in psychologist should be allowed to call oneself a psychologist; degree in social work, a social worker, etc.
  18. David Williams

    David Williams New Member

    Credentialing can be confusing.

    I know of one MSW who can’t refer to himself as a social worker. I had a lucrative offer several years ago to do nursing home consultation. The organization was interested in having me sign off as either a licensed psychologist or a licensed social worker so I filled out the paperwork. Although I have a perfectly kosher CSWE-accredited MSW and at one point I was an ACSW my application was denied on the basis of insufficient experience. Prima facie, I can accept this; it’s crucial to have the skills to practice effectively. The stakes are potentially very high if a mental health professional makes an error in clinical judgment. But here’s the rub. A licensed psychologist in the state was eligible to supervise a newly minted MSW to obtain clinical licensure. By definition it would seem I had the skills required of a clinical social worker. I appealed my case to the board although it was denied. What a Pandora’s box of ironies this opened! Can I supervise myself? Is it ethical for the psychologist I supervised who just got her license to supervise me as a social worker? It seemed like pretzel logic to me, thank you Steely Dan. In the end it just wasn’t worth the hassle to pursue.

    I guess the moral to the story is Bruce may have to arrest and have us share a cell if either, 1) I call myself a social worker or 2) Jack gets that new degree in psychology. :)
  19. fortiterinre

    fortiterinre New Member

    Dr. Laura, who I used to love for awhile back there, had a PhD in "physiology," "hard science" laboratory stuff, and then went back to school and earned a "post-graduate certificate in marriage and family therapy," which made her a LMFT (although she did not keep up the licensure for very long at all). In Dr. Laura's defense, she claimed the whole theme of her show was philosophical ethics and not clinical treatment. But she was (justly IMHO) criticised for using the Dr. title. Colleen Kelly-Mast, who I currently love, makes me roll around the floor in my death throes for titling her radio show "The Doctor Is In" on the basis of her HONORARY doctor of letters combined with a master's in "health education" which would be a stretch for licensure even at the master's level. She gives good advice, though!

    But back to a more substantive point, it is interesting to note that purely academic psychologists are exempted from the name game regs. I suspect this is largely due to the fact that such a decreasing proportion of the psychology PhD community is tenured in academia and doing nothing else that very few people are actually exempted. For many others, by the time you are tenure track, you have likely done licensable things to earn your daily bread, whether you are a "developmental" or "social" or merely "unemployed" psychologist.

    I think ways around the title conundrum include writing a rigid employee handbook that says, "Steve's Counseling Center permits currently licensed physicians, psychiatrists, and psychologists ONLY to use the title "Doctor" while on duty at Steve's Counseling Center." But it would be interesting to see how LCSW's and pastoral counselors with PhD's would do if they had doctorates in their proper professions and wanted to be addressed as such. I can't imagine we would forbid social workers from signing things, "DSW, LCSW," so why "PhD, LCSW"?
  20. Michael Lloyd

    Michael Lloyd New Member

    When it comes to signing clinical documentation used in patient care, if you wish to use anything over and above your licensure credentials (LCSW, MD, Ph.D., etc.) behind your name, you may wish to first ask your state licensure board about this. If you are an LCSW, for example, will your board have any problem with you signing your chart notes DMin, LCSW?

    Asking them politely first may save some trouble later. Again, some of the state boards can be somewhat testy about clinicians using a non-clinical doctorate degree in a clinical context. Since I do work in healthcare, I have no informed opinion on doing this outside of the clinical setting, such as business, education or academe.

    If you do work in a clinical setting, the malpractice insurer may also weigh in on this. If you are claiming additional qualifications over and above the 'typical' LCSW, does that mean that you are obligated to provide a higher standard of care than the 'typical' LCSW. And are you using these qualifications in your clinical work as a means of persuading patients to see you rather than another counselor? If so, good legal arguments can be made that you do have to provide a higher standard of care than your peers, and as such, your mistakes may be judged more harshly.

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