Psychologists study human behavior and try to figure out why people act the way they do, rather the way your Great-Aunt Sophie might when she gossips with her cronies. Unlike Great-Aunt Sophie, however, most psychologists are licensed professionals, and must behave in accordance with their professional code of ethics and the laws and regulations of the state in which they practice. If not, a psychologist can lose her license.
Licensing and Certification
Anyone who uses the title “psychologist” or practices psychology must be licensed or certified in most states, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Psychologists who practice independently must be licensed, although each state regulates the practice of psychology and licensing requirements may vary. Clinical and counseling psychologists typically need a doctorate, an internship and up to two years of experience. They must also pass a national exam. School psychologists must be licensed or certified when they practice in schools.
Code of Ethics
Most professionals have a code of ethics, and psychologists are no exception. The American Psychological Association states that five general principles cover psychologists: beneficence and nonmaleficence; fidelity and responsibility; integrity; justice and respect for people’s rights; and dignity. From those general principles, the APA has developed some specific ethical expectations, such as competence in practice. Other ethical principles cover issues such as sexual relationships with patients -- a major ethical violation -- and honest billing practices. A psychologist who breaches an ethical boundary may be subject to disciplinary action including license revocation.
The Disciplinary Process
Losing your license is a serious matter, and many boards will take other actions before they actually revoke a license, according to American Psychological Association Insurance Trust. They may send a letter of caution, which is essentially a warning that the psychologist’s actions may be in violation of ethical principles or regulations. The next step is an official reprimand or censure. Suspension prevents the psychologist from practicing, but she still has her license. License revocation, as it sounds, means the psychologist no longer has a license and cannot practice at all. Suspensions and revocations are reported to the disciplinary database. In some cases, however, a psychologist can apply for license reinstatement.
A psychologist can lose her license very quickly, according to the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards. If the board has any indication that a licensee may cause physical, emotional or psychological harm to an individual or the public, the board can summarily suspend the psychologist’s license. The board must set up a hearing within 120 days, however, and the psychologist cannot be suspended longer than that period without a hearing. If the board finds the suspension was justified, it may revoke the psychologist’s license permanently.
Beth Greenwood is an RN and has been a writer since 2010. She specializes in medical and health topics, as well as career articles about health care professions. Greenwood holds an Associate of Science in nursing from Shasta College.