What is their training?
A licensed psychologist is a psychologist who has graduated with a Ph.D. or Psy.D. from an accredited program in psychology. Usually, the program will fall into one of the following domains: clinical psychology, counseling psychology, or school psychology. A Ph.D. or doctorate of philosophy includes extensive coursework, a pre-doctoral internship and a dissertation. Ph.D. programs are often very research-focused. In contrast, a Psy.D. or doctorate of psychology is often a more clinical program with less of a research component. A Psy.D. also requires an internship and a publishable paper/ project. Some Ph.D. programs may have fewer research requirements, and some Psy.D. programs may have more research, as every program is unique. However, the research component is generally the difference. The American Psychological Association (APA) outlines certain training standards for programs in these disciplines. Programs must meet these standards in order to be APA-accredited.
A neuropsychologist also completes a Ph.D. program and has additional rotations, often with medical school students, focusing specifically on understanding the structure and function of the brain and how the brain impacts psychology and behavior. Often, neuropsychologists only provide assessment. They have expertise in traumatic brain injury and memory. Some neuropsychologists also provide treatment in form of psychotherapy.
For all of these clinicians, after a pre-doctoral internship and dissertation (or publishable paper for Psy.D.) defense, the degree is conferred, and the clinician is called “doctor.” Clinical, counseling, neuropsychology and school psychology programs are all different, but each of these clinicians may diagnose. Clinical programs focus on the treatment and diagnosis of mental health conditions, often across the lifespan. School psychology programs focus on the age range of birth to age 22 and have special consideration for the diagnosis and treatment of disabilities that impact education, such as Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), learning disabilities, Autism, Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), anxiety and depression. Counseling psychologists focus on assessment, but they tend to have more emphasis on treatment models and therapeutic tools. Neuropsychologists have emphasis on the structure and function of the brain and often do more assessment than treatment. Each of these psychologists is eligible to become licensed and thus can be called a “licensed psychologist.” In order to diagnose and treat an individual in a clinical setting, without supervision, a psychologist must become licensed. Neuropsychologists can also pursue an additional “board certification in neuropsychology” by taking additional boards not unlike what a medical doctor does.
To become licensed, a psychologist must meet the state standards for post-doctoral work experience, complete an ethical standards test, go through various paperwork processes documenting their practical experience and sometimes sit for oral board exams. Each state has different requirements to obtain and maintain a license. Each state requires a psychologist to take and pass the Examination of Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP). Once a psychologist has gone through this rigorous process, he or she is granted a license that is regulated by the state. Most states require biannual professional development and renewal of licensure.
A doctoral level psychologist does not have to pursue licensure or maintain a license. Some psychologists with university positions may choose not to be licensed. You do not have to be licensed to teach and do research. A doctoral level school psychologist may choose to work in a school setting. School psychologists working in a school setting do not diagnose; they make educational identification. This professional may be a doctor but may not be able to diagnose your child because they may not hold a license for clinical practice. Often, school psychologists do not pursue licensure, but if they want to work in clinical practice, they must.