Essential Tools for Prospective and Early Career School Psychologists:
Credentialing for School and Independent Practice
Recent demographic data suggest that the majority of school psychologists work within the school setting, and approximately 88% of all practicing school psychologists maintain a school psychology credential through the state department of education (Castillo, Curtis, Chappel, & Cunningham, 2011). While only a minority of practicing school psychologists engage in independent practice as a primary (4.1%) or secondary (6.9%) place of employment, a larger number (38.2%) of school psychologists also maintain a credential through their state's board of psychology (Castillo et al., 2011). The percentage of school psychologists holding a credential for independent practice has slightly increased over the last 2 decades (Castillo et al., 2011), suggesting a continued interest within the field to enhance employment options. In fact, approximately 22.5% of school psychologists engage in some form of secondary employment (Curtis et al., 2008), a figure that may increase given ongoing economic instability and desire to supplement incomes.
What Is a Credential?
A credential is a generic term that refers to a state's official regulation of a professional practice and/or title. While many refer to a school-based credential as a “certificate” and an independent practice credential as a “license,” the official terminology varies from state to state. A state credential may regulate scope of practice, practice settings, and title.
Scope of practice. States may set rules for the actual services that may be provided. Numerous state education agencies (SEA) define the practice of school psychology in terms of a definition or set of regulations. State boards of psychology often have an extensive definition of psychology practice, but exempt credentialed school psychologists for services provided in schools.
Settings. Credentials define which settings one may work within. For example, most states do not allow individuals holding a school-based credential to practice outside of the school setting without an additional credential for independent practice. Most states require a school-based credential for school employment, regardless of an independent practice credential.
Title. Credentials may also determine an individual's professional title. For example, maintaining a school-based credential typically allows individuals to refer to themselves as a “school psychologist,” although they may not have the option to call themselves a “licensed psychologist” without an independent practice credential.
Credentialing Occurs at the State Level
Credentialing rules and requirements, both for school-based and independent practice, occur at the state level and are unique to each state. Each state has laws and regulations governing these practices. While NASP administers the Nationally Certified School Psychologist (NCSP) credential based upon national standards of training, each state maintains the authority to recognize this credential as meeting the state's standards for practice. At present, 30 states officially accept the NCSP as a route to the school-based credential, and several other states reference NASP's standards in its credentialing guidelines.
Who Is Responsible for Credentialing at the State Level?
School-based practice. SEAs or departments of education credential, title, and regulate school-based practice of school psychology in nearly all states, with the exception of Texas.
Independent practice. Generally a state board of psychology, often referred to as the Board of Examiners of Psychology or other similar title, credentials the independent practice of psychology. However, other credentialing bodies, such as the Board of Professional Counselors, the Board of Allied Mental Health (in MA), or the Board of Behavioral Sciences (in CA), may offer credentials in related disciplines, but usually do not offer a credential as a “psychologist.”
Detailed information on school-based credentialing requirements by state can be found by visiting http://www.nasponline.org/certification/state_info_list.aspx.
School-based credential. NASP standards for credentialing (completion of a 3-year, 60 semester-hour graduate program with a 1,200-hour internship) or a reasonable equivalent are required by most states. A doctoral degree is not required for the SEA credential in any state. However, a few states have different “levels” of the credential based on the degree (e.g., New Mexico). Entry-level credentialing requirements vary among states based on graduate preparation and practica/internship experiences, but most school psychology programs prepare candidates for obtaining a school-based credential in at least one state.
Independent practice. A doctoral degree is required in most jurisdictions for an independent practice psychology credential. Many (but not all) states also require:
- Graduation from a program accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA)
- Including a doctoral internship (most states do not require an APA or Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Centers [APPIC] internship)
- Completion of postdoctoral supervision hours
- Hours vary by state.
- Some states now allow supervision hours to accrue prior to graduation based on APA's recommendation.
- Some states allow use of practica as meeting supervised experience requirements.
- Passing the Examination for Professional Practice of Psychology (EPPP) and state jurisprudence/ethics exams
- State exams are used to assess knowledge of local mental health laws, ethical standards, and decision making. They may be offered as oral exams, competency exams, or interviews, which may include a case vignette, diagnostics, case conceptualization, awareness of own professional limits, diversity, ethics, and law.
About one third of states have a nondoctoral practice credential. Within those states, some school psychologists may qualify for an independent practice credential, but may be subject to supervision or other practice limitations. The best advice for early career school psychologists is to become knowledgeable about the credentialing requirements of the states and settings in which they wish to practice.
State School Psychology Credentialing http://www.nasponline.org/certification/state_info_list.aspx
National Certification of School Psychologists http://www.nasponline.org/certification/becoming_NCSP.aspx
American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP) www.abpp.org
Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB) www.asppb.net
American Psychological Association (APA) accredited internship programs http://www.apa.org/ed/accreditation/programs/internships-state.aspx
Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Centers www.appic.org
National Register of Health Service Providers in Psychology http://www.nationalregister.org/psychologists.html
Vaughn, T. J. (Ed.). (2006). Psychology Licensure and Certification: What Students Need to Know. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Castillo, J. M., Curtis, M. J., Chappel, A., & Cunningham, J. (2011, February). School psychology 2010: Results of the national membership study. Paper presented at the annual convention of the National Association of School Psychologists, San Francisco, CA.
Curtis, M. J., Lopez, A. D., Castillo, J. M., Batsche, G. M., Minch, D., & Smith, J. C. (2008, February). The status of school psychology: Demographic characteristics, employment conditions, professional practices, and continuing professional development. Communiqué, 36(5), 27–29.
This handout was developed by Eric Rossen, PhD, NCSP, and the NASP Early Career Workgroup. Eric is NASP Director of Professional Development and Standards