The Kentucky Board of Psychology has asked John Rosemond, a parenting advice columnist, to stop identifying himself as a "psychologist" in his byline. Mr. Rosemond is currently licensed as a "psychological associate" in the state of North Carolina. It looks to me that "psychological associate" is the term used in North Carolina for someone with a masters-level degree, which Rosemond has. In North Carolina, such people are allowed to call themselves "psychologists." The problem is that in Kentucky, you have to be doctoral-level (e.g., Ph.D.) to call yourself a psychologist.
It seems like this problem would go away if Rosemond would simply stop identifying himself as a psychologist. People seem to want this case to be about free speech but it is about professional identity. Many people give "legal advice" and it is not against the law to do so. For example, I warn my students that when a police officer is talking to you, he is gathering evidence which he hopes will be used by the state's attorney to convict you. He is not "just trying to find out what happened here." He is talking to you because you are the one he is about to arrest and he wants you to make a self-incriminating statement before he has to remind you of your right not to make self-incriminating statements. If you have been arrested, you are not going to get yourself unarrested by blabbing to the police. Now, my right to offer such advice is protected by the First Amendment. However, the First Amendment does not entitle me to call myself an attorney.
Any schmo off the street can offer parenting tips or other psychological advice, for free or for pay, in print or face-to-face. But in Kentucky, and in many other states, there are many conditions concerning who gets to call himself a "psychologist." Rosemond doesn't qualify, so, in my amateur legal opinion, he should knock it off.
Excerpts from a piece by Rosemond's lawyers in the Wall Street Journal:
"Can occupational-licensing laws—which require the government's permission to work—trump free speech? Some government licensing boards, which function increasingly as censors, certainly think the answer is yes.
Consider the facts of this particular case, which involves an advice columnist named John Rosemond, who is also a licensed family psychologist based in North Carolina and the best-selling author of more than a dozen books on parenting. Since 1976, Mr. Rosemond has written a column on parenting that is syndicated in more than 200 newspapers across the country, including some in Kentucky.
In February, Mr. Rosemond wrote a column responding to a question from parents about their 17-year-old son, whom they described as a "highly spoiled underachiever." Mr. Rosemond, who believes that children need clear boundaries and discipline, wrote that their son was in "dire need of a major wake-up call" and advised that they suspend his privileges until he shapes up.
The day after Mr. Rosemond's column ran in the Lexington Herald-Leader, a retired Kentucky psychologist contacted the Kentucky Board of Examiners of Psychology to complain. Astonishingly, the Kentucky attorney general and the board sent Mr. Rosemond a letter ordering him to stop publishing his column in the state.
Kentucky's theory is that one-on-one advice about parenting—even if it is published in a newspaper—is the practice of psychology. Because Mr. Rosemond is licensed in North Carolina, but not Kentucky, the state government thinks his advice constitutes the unlicensed practice of a profession and is not protected by the First Amendment. The state also told Mr. Rosemond that it is illegal for him to call himself a psychologist in the byline of his column—even though he is one—because he is not a Kentucky-licensed psychologist."
Here's the North Carolina Board of Psychology's definition of the practice of psychology:
Practice of psychology. -- The observation, description,
evaluation, interpretation, or modification of human behavior by
the application of psychological principles, methods, and
procedures for the purpose of preventing or eliminating
symptomatic, maladaptive, or undesired behavior or of
enhancing interpersonal relationships, work and life adjustment,
personal effectiveness, behavioral health, or mental health. The
practice of psychology includes, but is not limited to:
psychological testing and the evaluation or assessment of
personal characteristics such as intelligence, personality,
abilities, interests, aptitudes, and neuropsychological
functioning; counseling, psychoanalysis, psychotherapy,
hypnosis, biofeedback, and behavior analysis and therapy;
diagnosis, including etiology and prognosis, and treatment of
mental and emotional disorder or disability, alcoholism and
substance abuse, disorders of habit or conduct, as well as of the
psychological and neuropsychological aspects of physical
illness, accident, injury, or disability; and psychoeducational
evaluation,, therapy, remediation, and consultation.
Psychological services may be rendered to individuals,
families, groups, and the public. The practice of psychology
shall be construed within the meaning of this definition
without regard to whether payment is received for services
If Kentucky's definition is similar (which it probably is), then Rosemond certainly does seem to be "practicing psychology" in Kentucky without a license to do so. He evaluated human behavior for the purpose of eliminating undesired behavior, to use their terms. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in court. Where does advice-giving end and the provision of state-regulated clinical services begin? "Portability" of licensure across state lines is a whole different mess and one that probably won't be fixed with this case.
I am all for strict rules that regulate who can call himself or herself a psychologist. I think that North Carolina does the profession a disservice by allowing masters-level practitioners (who have less than half the education and training of doctoral-level practitioners) to call themselves psychologists. Personally, I think that only clinical psychologists who provide direct clinical services need be licensed by state boards of psychology. It seems silly to license organizational/industrial psychologists who work for corporations. Also, academic psychologists are unlikely to harm the public during the course of their work. But there are a lot of bozos out there offering quasi-psychological services to the public who are a real danger. Licensure is one way for the public to discern the docs from the quacks.
I think that Rosemond's byline should read, "Mr. Rosemond is a licensed psychological associate." (Mine would read, "Dr. Sullivan is a licensed clinical psychologist.")