Introduction to the Professional Psychologist’s Guide


The world of professional psychology is in constant flux. Building a career in independent practice, once the norm for young professionals, is giving way to practice patterns that often include employment in a hospital or large clinic setting, sometimes with a solo or group practice on the side. This transition reflects trends in other health service professions. According to the APA’s Center for Workforce Studies 2014 survey of APA members, only 33% of full-time employed psychologists were in independent practice (APA, 2014). Government agencies such as Veteran’s Affairs hospitals are becoming the largest employers of clinical and research psychologists. Between 2004 and 2014, the VA added more than 3,000 psychologists to its national rolls, and is now the largest single employer of psychologists in the world. The number of psychologists in the military has expanded at a similar pace as military planners and leaders became aware of the mental health needs of service members and their families. In many settings, the number of active duty and contract military psychologists is almost double that of  a decade ago. Similarly, government entities, such as the Public Health Service (both the commissioned corps and the civilian corps) and sub-units like the Indian Health Service are increasingly recognizing that unmet psychological needs exist in the populations they serve. Thus, graduates of doctoral programs have an expanded array of employment opportunities in front of them.

When the National Register first published this guide in 2007, its intended audience was the early career psychologist setting out to establish a private practice. In less than a decade, the career path of newly minted psychologists has changed considerably. Although some will still pursue careers in independent practice, the reality is that many will find principal employment in agency settings. Many of these psychologists will supplement, both intellectually and financially, their agency work with involvement in additional solo or group practice opportunities. In such cases, the provider must adhere to the policies and procedures established not only by the agency where they are employed but by the rules covering private practices.

Acknowledging the increasingly broad range of career options, this updated version of the Professional Psychologist’s Guide reflects these changes as well as the reality that as practice patterns change, psychologists are increasingly flexible in their careers and may work in a variety of settings during their professional lives. Nevertheless, we remain aware that whether the psychologist is seeking a career in independent practice or one in agency service, graduate schools generally do not fully prepare students for the business aspects of the profession. It is our intent to provide some essential concepts that can be useful to both those seeking to set out independently and those seeking to join an agency workforce. This edition also addresses the needs of those psychologists who are contemplating retirement, and includes an entirely new chapter on closing a practice.

The National Register of Health Service Psychologists is pleased to provide you with this professional psychologist’s guide. Regardless of the career path you choose, we hope it will contain valuable information to allow you to develop realistic goals that will be of material assistance in establishing and growing your professional practice.

Very truly yours,

Morgan T. Sammons, PhD, ABPP
Executive Officer


American Psychological Association (2014). Center for Workforce Studies: 2014 APA Member Profiles. Washington (DC): Author.

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