Psychology License Exemptions in Virginia

By: Chris Roberson, staff editor

Currently VA code §54.1-3606(A) requires that anyone who wants to “engage in the practice of applied psychology, school psychology, or clinical psychology” in Virginia needs to “hold a license.”

However, § 54.1-3601 states that:

The requirements for licensure provided for in this chapter shall not be applicable to… [p]ersons employed as salaried employees or volunteers of the federal government, the Commonwealth, a locality, or any agency established or funded, in whole or part, by any such governmental entity or of a private, nonprofit organization or agency sponsored or funded, in whole or part, by a community-based citizen group or organization, except that any such person who renders psychological services, as defined in this chapter, shall be (i) supervised by a licensed psychologist or clinical psychologist; (ii) licensed by the Department of Education as a school psychologist; or (iii) employed by a school for students with disabilities which is certified by the Board of Education. Any person who, in addition to the above enumerated employment, engages in an independent private practice shall not be exempt from the licensure requirements.

In short, this means that anyone working for the Commonwealth of Virginia is exempt from the license requirement to practice psychology provided that they are supervised, licensed as a school psychologist, or employed by a school for students with disabilities.  State Departments, therefore, can take advantage of this exemption provided they have a licensed psychologist who will supervise an employee practicing psychology.

According the Board of Psychology’s guidance documents, there are specific education requirements to meet before acquiring a license.[1] These are as expected: a doctorate from an accredited university, a relevant degree, practicum experience, and residency requirements, with minor variations and details across the three specializations (applied, school, clinical).[2]  The guidance documents also spell out the two processes for acquiring a license by examination or by endorsement.  The former is a test, but the latter is the reason why one would register and add a supervisor to their Board of Psychology file.  The only reason, it seems, to register with the Board and name one’s supervisor (pursuant to §54.1-3601 exemptions) is to track hours for meeting the licensure by endorsement requirements.[3] Should one not desire licensure, there would be no need to register or add a supervisor.

To confirm this interpretation of statute and code, I reached out to the Department of Health Professions, specifically the Board of Psychology.

Speaking with the Board of Psychology, a contact person there stated this very line of thought.  Moreover, that employee confirmed the exemption for State Employees. That individual stated that someone without the education credentials could not be hired.  She also “certainly hopes a department” would not hire someone without those education credentials.  At no point was she able to point to a legal requirement, however, that a government psychologist be licensed.  This individual was not a representative of the Board, nor was this an official statement.

I then reached out to the discipline department at the Psychology Board.  A contact person there revealed more information:

  1. The Board of Psychology has jurisdiction to discipline and regulate only those individuals who have registered with the Board; otherwise, the Attorney General must bring a suit against someone should there be an alleged violation of Virginia Law.
  2. The members of the Board of Psychology do not want to go on record confirming or denying a reading of a statute, but she did say that the suggested understanding of Virginia Code “made sense” with how their Board actually operates.

This second individual did not deny my understanding of the Virginia Employee License exemption herein advanced. The implications here are that the Board of Psychology will never actually get involved with an unregistered, unlicensed practitioner of psychology.  A third party would need to bring charges against that person independent of the Board of Psychology.

Further, the Board of Social Work, which has a similar exemption (VA Code § 54.1-3701), has interpreted their exemption to mean that “[w]ork in an exempt (not for-profit) setting does not require licensure to render services.”[4]

The ramifications for such minimal requirements are unsettling.  No school psychologist need have any background in psychology.  A department of the state, i.e. the Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services or Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, can retain a single licensed psychologist to oversee numerous unlicensed, practicing individuals.  According to the Virginia Code, Board of Psychology guidance, direct conversation with the Board of Psychology, and an interpretation by a parallel Department of Health Professions Board, it would appear that a Virginia department can have employees practice psychology provided that those individuals have a licensed supervisor (as stated in §54.1-3601) or work in certain school positions.  No matter the origins of this exemption, Virginia lawmakers would be helping meet the needs of their state should they be able to tighten regulations about the practice of psychology in the state of Virginia.

[1]; (18 VAC 125-20-10 et seq.).