No One in Virginia Schools is Licensed to Practice Social-Emotional Learning

Gov. Northam – Neither a clinical nor applied psychologist

by James C. Sherlock

The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotion Learning defines SEL as:

the process through which children and adults understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.

It raises the question of who in the school system is qualified and licensed to practice the process of SEL.

The answer appears to be no one.

James Lane
Superintendent of Public Instruction – also neither a clinical nor an applied psychologist


The practice of SEL requires the practice of group psychology. Group psychology requires license and endorsements for clinical and applied psychologists using social psychology, not school psychologists. According to Wikipedia:

Social psychologists typically explain human behavior as being a result of the relationship between mental state and social situation, studying the conditions under which thoughts, feelings, and behaviors occur and how these variables influence social interactions.

The following professions are regulated by the Board of Psychology.

  • Applied Psychologist. 18VAC125-20-55. Education requirements for applied psychologists. Requires a Ph.D
  • Clinical Psychologist. 18VAC125-20-54. Education requirements for clinical psychologists.  Requires a Ph.D
  • School Psychologist. 18VAC125-20-56. Education requirements for school psychologists. Requires a Masters degree.
  • School Psychologist-Limited. 18VAC125-20-43. Requirements for licensure as a school psychologist-limited.
  • Sex Offender Treatment Provider

Common definition of the role of a school psychologist:

School psychologists  work to support students through various developmental and mental health issues on an individual level. They focus on assessing and testing students who may qualify for special services.

I refer you to the laws and regulations of Virginia governing the practice of psychology.

18VAC125-20-150. Standards of practice:

B. Persons licensed by the board shall:
1. Provide and supervise only those services and use only those techniques for which they are qualified by training and appropriate experience. Delegate to their employees, supervisees, residents and research assistants only those responsibilities such persons can be expected to perform competently by education, training and experience. Take ongoing steps to maintain competence in the skills they use;

18VAC125-20-160. Grounds for disciplinary action or denial of licensure.

4. Negligence in professional conduct or violation of practice standards including but not limited to this chapter;
5. Performing functions outside areas of competency;


So how about teachers. Are they exempt from the rules if supervised by a school psychologist? Again, no.

Code of Virginia § 54.1-3601. Exemption from requirements of licensure.

Persons 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.

That may be read to allow a school psychologist to practice SEL, depending upon a ruling by the Virginia Board of Psychology, but appears to forbid school psychologists from supervising teachers who practice SEL.

If I were a teacher in the school system, I would not participate as an ethical issue. I would know I was neither sufficiently trained nor experienced to practice the psychology required by SEL…

the process through which children and adults understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.

Seriously? No non-psychologist with a sense of ethics would tackle that.

Virginia Board of Psychology

I have urged the Virginia Board of Psychology to weigh in on the license required to practice SEL and supervise teachers who practice SEL. The Regulatory Committee of that Board is composed of three clinical psychologists and a citizen member. They should be able to figure it out.

I honestly cannot imagine that they would rule that the current employees of Virginia’s public schools can practice psychology at the level of SEL.

I have not heard back.