Advice for Postdocs

If you are a psychology postdoc in California, or are about to be, and are working towards getting your psychologist license, this article is for you.

Navigating the path from graduating with your doctorate degree to earning your psychologist license is a strange and difficult one. You can get the detailed list of requirements, rules, and laws regarding licensure on the Board of Psychology website. Rather than copy the list of requirements, I thought it might be more helpful to give you a timeline. And so, as a public service, I’m offering this article to make your journey a little easier (or at least a little less confusing).

1. Begin postdoc search

This is perhaps the biggest variable on the road to licensure. You must end up with 3000 hours of supervised experience, 1500 of which must be earned after graduation. To earn hours after graduation you must register with the Board of Psychology, either as a Psychological Assistant (which will be true for most of you) or as a Registered Psychologist (if you work for a non-profit community agency which receives 25% or more of its funding from governmental sources, not including MediCal or Medicare)—unless you are working for an approved or accredited educational institution or governmental agency, in which case you won’t need to register with the Board (see how complicated it’s getting already?). Registration as a psychological assistant comes with an arrangement with a supervisor; it isn’t something you can do on your own.

If you enjoy dry legalese, you can read Section 1387 of the California Code of Regulations to get all the juicy details regarding supervision and earning your postdoc hours. In short, a postdoc is an arrangement between you and a clinical supervisor. For the most part, this is done in the context of a job, usually for a clinic, hospital, school, or government agency. It is possible to set up a postdoc with a psychologist in private practice (basically making you a semi-private practice clinician) although this is relatively rare and can lead to long waits to get all your required hours. In other words, if you want to and can find a situation where you can earn adequate hours working with a private practice psychologist, then that can be pretty sweet (just make sure you both have all your i’s dotted and t’s crossed…the Board doesn’t have a sense of humor about the rules). However, the vast majority of you will just get a job as a psychological assistant or registered psychologist.

You need to start looking for that job about 4 to 6 months before graduation. The APA has a primer article on looking for postdoc positions. Basically, the trick is to both network and scour the Internet, even looking for positions on (that’s where I found my postdoc). I’ve known several colleagues who were able to stay on at their internship sites, so that might be something to investigate. You can even try cold contacting local clinical psychologists to see if they have any advice or leads (I actually did this and came close to finding a position this way).

2. Graduate

Earn your doctorate degree from an approved or accredited educational institution in psychology, educational psychology, or education (with a specialization in counseling psychology or educational psychology). Celebrate and enjoy the moment before the crushing reality of your school loans sets in.

3. Get your fingerprints scanned

The Board requires a background check and so they need your fingerprints. If you have a postdoc already lined up, chances are you will do this through their procedures. But if you don’t have a postdoc yet, you can go ahead and take care of this step on your own. Here are the Board’s fingerprinting instructions.

4. Apply for licensure

Yeah, you heard that right. Download the Board of Psychology’s Application for Licensure (PDF) and get it turned in soon after graduation. There is no advantage to waiting—turn it in ASAP.

This step is understandably counterintuitive since you’ve got at least a year of postdoc work ahead of you and there are certainly requirements listed on the application that you haven’t taken care of yet. That’s okay, it doesn’t matter. Just check “No” on everything you’ve yet to do and send it in (along with the fee, of course). Doing this gets you into the Board’s system and, most importantly, starts the process to qualify you for the EPPP (see below).

5. Take the extra courses

The Board requires five courses, some of which you might not have taken in graduate school: human sexuality (10 credit hours), child abuse (7 hours), substance dependency (semester or quarter term), domestic abuse (15 hours), and aging (10 hours). The good news is that you can take these courses online! I did mine at the Zur Institute. They are reasonably affordable and don’t take much time to complete. Go ahead and get these out of the way. If you finish a course at Zur, the website immediately provides you with a “diploma” that you can print out. I suggest that you print out each as you finish the courses you need and then send them all in one package to the Board.

6. The dreaded EPPP and CSPE

About 4 months or so after you send in your license application, someone at the Board will contact you and let you know that you are eligible to take the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP, also known as the Extremely Painful Psychology Probe). Do not wait to take this test—get it over with as soon as you can (yes, you can take this test any time after graduation).

I won’t sugarcoat it—the EPPP is really hard. You should give yourself three or more months to study for it using one of the big prep courses. I used PsychPrep but I’ve heard AATBS is good, too. Whatever you do, make sure you get access to practice tests; those are key to passing. While you don’t have to pass the first time, you want to since it costs $600 a pop. Here is a good intro to the EPPP on the APA site.

Okay, so you’ve passed the EPPP…congrats! Now buckle down for the California Psychology Supplemental Examination (CPSE). Yes, it is easier than the EPPP, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. It doesn’t have any I/O or research questions, but it does ask a lot about treatment protocols and California law. It only costs $129 to take it, but if you fail you can’t take it again for another six months! So study, study, study!

Keep in mind that, unlike the EPPP, you can’t take the CSPE until after you’ve collected your 3000 hours. So, before you can qualify for it you will need to send in the Verification of Experience form signed by your supervisor as well as the original supervision agreement.

7. Final steps

Okay, you got your degree, finished your 3000 hours of supervised experience, taken all five of the required courses, and passed the EPPP and the CSPE. You are at the finish line! That wasn’t so hard, now was it?  Immediately upon passing the CSPE you will be given the real application for licensure, the one that will result in actually getting your license. For one last fee of $400, it’s all yours! Send that sucker in and in about four weeks you’ll get your magic number. Try not to obsessively check the BreEZe license verification site 10 times a day waiting to see your new status. Good luck!

NOTE: Things always change in a bureaucracy and eventually information on this page will get outdated. If you happen to know that something here is wrong or if a step has been added or subtracted to the licensing process in California, please let me know! I hope this article has been helpful.