Art? Science? A combination of the two? While there will likely always be some disagreement over what exactly psychology is, psychology can be broadly defined as the diagnosis, assessment, and treatment of mental, emotional, and psychological disorders and illnesses.
Within this field of study, psychologists practice a wide array of therapies, including psychotherapy, behavior modification, and cognitive therapies, among many others, and focus their work on everything from neuropsychology to clinical psychology to forensic psychology and beyond.
Though board-certified doctorate-level practitioners often come to mind when considering the practice of psychology, the reality is that master’s-prepared practitioners are also deeply involved in in this field, making their mark on this profession in academic, clinical, research, and counseling settings and in a variety of psychology subfields.
In short, you may be able to save yourself the time and financial burden associated with pursuing a doctoral degree and use your master’s in psychology to hit the ground running in this profession. Or, you can use your master’s in psychology as a stepping stone to begin working in the field before or while you pursue your doctoral studies.
The Master’s-Prepared Psychologist: State Guidelines for Practice
The American Psychological Association (APA) defines master’s-prepared psychologists as psychological associates, or assistants, who generally have a master’s degree in psychology. The APA notes that psychological assistants may require supervision and their practice may be limited in its scope.
This type of wishy-washy definition understandably generates even more questions about the profession: Can I practice psychology as a psychological assistant? Do I need to work under the supervision of a doctoral-level psychologist? Do I need to be licensed/registered in the state in which I work?
Simply put, the answers to all these questions depends on the state in which you choose to work. Some states don’t regulate their practice, while other states tightly control it through registration or licensure. Some states allow master’s-prepared psychological associates to practice independently, while others require them to work under the supervision of a board-certified doctorate-prepared psychologist.
In some states, such as Maine, Michigan, and Arkansas, psychological associates must be licensed practitioners, while in other states, such as California, Delaware, and Oklahoma, regulation is limited to registration.
In almost all cases, master’s-prepared psychologists must distinguish themselves from their doctoral-prepared counterparts through a varied title—usually psychological associate or a similar title. For example, these practitioners are referred to as psychologist-masters in Vermont, psychological associates in Oregon, and licensed psychological practitioners in Kentucky.
Still other states, such as New York, Florida, and Pennsylvania, have no established rules and regulations regarding the practice of master’s-prepared psychological associates.
Confused yet? You’re not alone!
The Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB) maintains a list of state requirements for master’s-level psychologists to practice psychology, whether independently or under doctoral-level psychologist supervision.
To date, about half of all states have established practice requirements for master’s-prepared psychological associates and recognize them through either licensure or registration.
States that license master’s-level psychologists to practice independently include:
- West Virginia
A number of states also allow master’s-level school psychologists to work independently:
- West Virginia
While the following states do not allow master’s-level psychologists to practice independently (they must practice under the direct supervision of a board-certified psychologist), they do recognize them in the form of registration or licensure:
- New Mexico
- North Carolina
- Oklahoma (governed by the State Department of Health)
Steps to Becoming a Master’s Level Psychological Associate
Similar to state differences regarding independent practice and supervised practice, the process to become a master’s-level psychological associate varies from one state to the next. However, the basic requirements to become a psychological associate (in states that regulate them) usually include:
- Completing a master’s degree in psychology
- Completing a period of supervised experience (internship, practicum, or post-grad experience)
- Taking and passing the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP)
- Passing a jurisprudence examination and/or oral exam
Master’s Degree in Psychology
While there are marked differences in requirements to practice as a psychological associate, a master’s degree in psychology is the minimum educational requirement across the board. Even in states that do not regulate these professionals, job posts for psychological associates reveal that employers demand a master’s degree in psychology.
Select states, such as Maryland, may approve a master’s degree in a field other than psychology if the licensing board determines that it contains “substantially equivalent subject matter and extensive training.”
Many states that license/register psychological associates require a period of post-graduate experience or the completion of an internship.
For example, psychological associates in California must complete a practicum, internship or experience in psychology (under the supervision of a licensed psychologist) of at least 450 hours, while Maine requires at least 1,500 hours of post-master’s experience that must be completed in 2 years.
Still other states like New Mexico and North Carolina have no experience requirements.
Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP)
Many—but not all—states require candidates to take and pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP) through the Association for State and Provincial Psychology Boards. The national EPPP assesses a candidate’s knowledge of the following areas:
- Biological Bases of Behavior
- Cognitive/Affective Bases of Behavior
- Social and Cultural Bases of Behavior
- Growth and Lifespan Development
- Assessment and Diagnosis
- Treatment, Intervention, Prevention, and Supervision
- Research Methods and Statistics
- Ethical/Legal/Professional Issues
The examination consists of 225 questions, 175 of which are scored. The cost to take the exam is $600, along with an $87.50 test site appointment fee. The EPPP is administered by Pearson VUE. Candidates schedule their test date once their application is approved by their state licensing board.
Some of the states that require candidates to take the EPPP include Tennessee, Vermont, Oregon, Minnesota, Kansas and Arkansas.
Other Required State Exams
Some states also require candidates to take and pass a state jurisprudence and/or oral examination as part of the application process. For example, candidates in Alaska must take and pass a state law and ethics exam, while candidates in Texas must pass a jurisprudence examination.