Texas judge upholds doctoral standard for independent practice of psychology

by Legal and Regulatory Affairs Staff

August 23, 2011– A Texas judge has affirmed the statutory authority of the Texas State Board of Examiners of Psychologists (Board) to require that Masters-level trained “psychological associates” be supervised by licensed psychologists, who are required under Texas statute to be trained at the doctoral level.

On August 18, Austin District Court Judge Rhonda Hurley ruled that the rules requiring such supervision “. . . are a valid exercise of the Board’s authority. Therefore, Plaintiff’s petition for a declaratory judgment is denied.”

In September 2010, the Texas Association of Psychological Associates (TAPA), which represents licensed psychological associates (LPAs), filed a lawsuit in Austin, Texas against the Board. TAPA sought a legal declaration that the Board had no statutory authority to prevent LPAs from practicing independently because the licensing statute does not specifically require supervision. The Texas Psychological Association (TPA) intervened on behalf of the Board, arguing that the state legislature clearly intended that only doctoral-trained individuals could provide independent psychological services.

“We applaud this ruling as consistent with the recently revised APA Model Licensing Act,” said APA Executive Director for Professional Practice Katherine C. Nordal, PhD. “Judge Hurley’s decision helps validate a major tenet of the Model Act: that the doctoral degree is the standard for the independent practice of psychology.”

Dr. Nordal noted that members of APA and the APA Practice Organization have identified upholding the doctoral-level standard for independent psychology practice as a key concern. In a 2011 member survey, more than 87 percent of respondents rated helping states protect the doctoral degree as the standard for psychologist licensure as “important” or “extremely important.”

“We appreciate the services provided by licensed psychological associates, but are fully committed to assuring that independent psychological practice in Texas remains solely for individuals trained at the doctoral level,” said TPA Executive Director David White, CAE.

The APA Practice Organization (APAPO) Committee for the Advancement of Professional Practice (CAPP) awarded TPA an emergency grant of $10,000 that was used to fight this legal battle in Texas. Practice Assessment payments from APAPO members provide the funding for CAPP grants. Further, APAPO staff attorneys collaborated with TPA regarding legal issues and strategy, including providing an analysis of Texas’ licensing law in comparison to other state laws.