Affirming the doctoral standard in West Virginia

Support urged for doctorate as the entry level degree for the independent practice of psychology

By State Advocacy staff

January 26, 2012—At the urging of the West Virginia Psychological Association (WVPA), the legislature is considering updating a nearly 40-year-old licensure law that makes it the only state in the country to grant the title of psychologist to those with less than a doctorate.

Proponents of doctoral level psychology licensure gather in the Capitol building after the public hearing On January 8, the legislature held a public hearing on the issue. Assistant Executive Director of State Advocacy Dan Abrahamson, PhD, testified to APA’s longstanding commitment, as reflected in the APA Model Act for State Licensure of Psychologists (PDF, 111KB), to the doctorate as the entry level degree for the independent practice of psychology. His remarks were reinforced and expanded upon by the strong testimony of several WVPA leaders who have been working on this issue for many years.

APA Executive Director for Professional Practice Katherine C. Nordal, PhD, sent a letter (PDF, 104KB) to West Virginia Legislature Representative Jim Morgan, chair of the house government operations committee, urging support for the WVPA proposal (PDF, 210KB) requiring the doctoral degree. In her January 6 letter, Dr. Nordal noted that because the state allows individuals with master’s level education and training to be licensed for the independent practice of psychology with the title “psychologist,” consumers cannot readily discern the varying levels of education and training.

In addition, she expressed concern that West Virginians may have less access to the full range of psychological services, as master’s level psychologists lack the necessary education and expertise to provide certain kinds of services, such as psychological and neuropsychological assessment, health psychology, pain management and behavioral sleep medicine, and the ability to integrate those skills with a broad array of other skills. 

On January 11, the House government committee announced it is not planning to produce a bill this year, leaving the WVPA looking to the Senate to move this issue forward.