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GPA History

Written by William F. Doverspike, Ph.D.

In 1946, a small group of psychologists met to discuss writing legislation that would create a licensing law for the emerging profession of psychology. On August 27, 1947, this group of psychologists incorporated the Georgia Psychological Association (GPA). One of GPA’s founders, Hermon Martin, Ph.D., served as its first President (1946-47). The group also included Atlanta psychologist Robert Hughes, Ph.D., who served as GPA’s second President (1947-1948)1, and Athens psychologist Austin S. Edwards, Ph.D., who later became GPA’s fourth President (1949-50). Three years after its incorporation, with assistance from the American Psychological Association (APA), the new state association began to formulate plans for legislative action in obtaining a licensing law. In 1950, GPA’s Legislative Committee formulated a brief précis of the proposed licensing bill to be used in an educational campaign to create favorable public opinion for its passage. At the GPA Annual Meeting, final plans were made to secure enactment of the bill by the Georgia General Assembly. In 1951, with passage of Act No. 276, Georgia became the first state in the country to enact a licensing law for psychologists. Governor Herman Talmadge announced members of the State Board of Examiners of Psychologists. On July 13, 1951, the first Georgia applied psychologists, including the initial founders of the movement, were licensed as Applied Psychologists.2

In the early 1960s, GPA was still firmly rooted in the academic community, which supplied most of the organization’s officers (Moore, 1996).3 By the late 1960s, GPA’s membership grew and became more politically active.4 There was debate and disagreement within the profession as to whether psychologists should seek insurance reimbursement for providing psychotherapy. While psychologists in other states were battling with insurance companies for recognition as independent providers, GPA achieved its legislative goal of requiring insurance companies to reimburse licensed psychologists for psychotherapy services---a benefit that many psychologists and their clients now take for granted.5 Since the enactment of this legislation in the 1970s, psychologists have become the mental health providers of choice for insurance companies, managed care panels, and preferred provider organizations.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, GPA’s success in creating direct access to third-party payment resulted in economic independence from the profession of psychiatry. By the 1980s and 1990s, GPA’s advocacy efforts expanded hospital privileges for psychologists, improved mental health parity in health insurance, and increased the role of psychologists in providing expert testimony in the courts. GPA’s legislative activities resulted in the creation of dozens of laws related to patient’s rights, consumer protection, freedom of choice, and protection of the practice of psychology. These laws provide access to psychologists under health insurance plans (1972), freedom of choice of providers without physician referral (1976), diagnosis and treatment of mental and nervous disorders added to statutory definition (1980), hospital privileges for health service provider psychologists (1983), authorization for emergency admission of mentally ill persons (1988), authorization for psychologists to evaluate dangerous persons for involuntary commitment (1991), authorization for psychologists to evaluate competency for probate courts (1993), authorization for psychologists to write orders for nurses in hospitals (1996), improved mental health parity in health insurance (1997), establishment of the "best interest of the child” rather than mandated joint custody in divorce litigation (1999), a Georgia Insurance Commissioner directive that mental health be treated like any other illness when offering point-of-service (POS) coverage (2000), authorization for psychologists to provide involuntary evaluations (2001), and so on. A search through the Georgia Code using the LexisNexis® database reveals that the word "psychologist” appears in over 100 state laws.

At the dawn of a new millennium, the profession of psychology found itself facing new challenges: addressing the complexities of an increasingly multicultural society; providing interventions to face the threat and consequences of domestic and global terrorism; and managing the privacy, security, and storage of electronic protected health information (EPHI). Research psychologists design studies to expand the increasing body of knowledge in the field of neuroscience, and academic psychologists teach a new generation of students for whom psychology has become the most popular major on college campuses. Private practitioners find themselves coping with the increasing biologicalization of the mental health field, incorporating clinical trials and other scientific evidence into treatment protocols, and developing new standards to improve service delivery and quality in the emerging field of telepsychology.

Today, professional psychology is alive and well in Georgia. Still connected to their academic roots, GPA members serve as faculty members in all six of Georgia’s psychology doctoral training programs. Known as the educators of the mental health professions, GPA members volunteer an average of one media event per week and provide dozens of continuing education workshops throughout the year.6 Dedicated to providing professional care to others, GPA members provide hundreds of hours of pro bono services to the public each year in addition to tens of thousands of hours of professional services.7 Each year, the GPA Referral Service receives over 1,000 calls from prospective clients.8 GPA’s magazine, the Georgia Psychologist, has been recognized as one of the top five state psychological association magazines in the country (Doverspike, 2009). The GPA Ethics Committee provides advisory consultations to psychologists, physicians, attorneys, and the general public.9 In an age of legal complexities, GPA’s Legal Service Plan is utilized by over one hundred psychologists.10 The GPA Legal and Legislative Committee continues to monitor legislation on a variety of societal concerns including improved mental health parity, greater access to mental health care for indigent children, and statutory immunity from liability for licensed psychotherapists who issue third party warnings of foreseeable danger and terroristic threats.

Beginning with the nation’s first psychology licensing law in 1951, GPA’s activities over half a century have changed the face of psychology in Georgia. Without the forethought and planning of its pioneers, the field of psychology may have remained only a scientific discipline confined to the ivory towers of academia. Instead, the birth of the profession paved the way for doctoral psychologists and training programs to thrive, even as the pioneers of the profession became points of historical reference forgotten by most of us. Current professors of psychology now see their graduates conducting research and providing services in areas that their predecessors could have only imagined.


Doverspike, W. F. (2007, Fall). Georgia psychology is alive and well. Georgia Psychologist, 61(4), 3.

Doverspike, W. F. (2009, Spring). A chapter from the story of the Georgia Psychologist. Georgia Psychologist, 63(2), 3.

Georgia Code, Free Public Access (2012). Retrieved from

Murdoch, B. (1969, October). President’s column. Georgia Psychologist, 24(4), 1.

Moore, N. A. (1996, Spring). Past and present. Georgia Psychologist, 50(2), 83.

Remembrances from GPA Past Presidents: 1967-1987. (2007, Winter). Georgia Psychologist, 61(1), 14-18.

Reminiscing. (1996, Spring). Georgia Psychologist, 51(2), 41.


1. GPA’s second President was Robert Hughes, Ph.D., who was unable to serve his term (1947-48) due to a diagnosis of tuberculosis, resumed his leadership as GPA’s 11th President (1957-58). Dr. Hughes taught psychology at the University of Georgia and he later became the first psychologist to work in full-time private practice in Atlanta (Reminiscing, 1996). GPA’s first woman President was Emily Dexter, Ph.D., who served as GPA’s 8th President (1953-1955), although she is not listed as having ever been a licensed Applied Psychologist.

2. In order to determine who would be issued the first license, Dr. Hermon Martin and Dr. Austin Southwick Edwards, who was the first chair of the Department of Psychology at the University of Georgia, agree to decide the matter on the basis of a coin toss. Dr. Edwards was issued psychology license PSY000001 on July 13, 1951. By the end of 1951, a total of 26 psychologists, including four women, had been licensed. The first women licensed psychologists included Euri Belle Bolton (1951: PSY000005), Florence Mary Young (1951: PSY0000190, Christine Wyatt Felts (1951: PSY000020), and Grace Marie Freymann (1951: PSY000027).

3. In 1962, GPA was comprised mainly of academic psychologists. According to GPA’s N. Archer Moore, Ph.D, GPA’s 34th President (1980-81), meetings were frequently held on college campuses, with the only noticeable privilege being that psychologists were allowed to "go to the head of the line” in the student cafeteria (Moore, 1996, p. 83).

4. According to Bernard C. Murdoch, Ph.D., GPA’s 23rd President (1969-70), in 1969 every member of GPA served on at least one committee (Murdoch, 1969). By the late 1970s, GPA’s membership had grown to approximately 200 psychologists.

5. Virginia Academy of Clinical Psychologists v. Blue Shield of Va., 624 F.2d 476 (4th Cir. 1980), cert. denied, 450 U.S. 916 (1981). It was in 1980 that the nation witnessed a U.S. Supreme Court decision in a civil action that was known as the Virginia Blues case, which affected the future financial viability of the profession of psychology. The Virginia Academy of Clinical Psychologists (VACP) filed a lawsuit against Blue Shield of Virginia because the insurance company refused to provide direct payments to clinical psychologists for outpatient psychological services rendered to the company’s subscribers unless those services were ordered, supervised, and billed by a physician. VACP alleged that the insurance company’s refusal violated the Sherman Act and Virginia’s freedom-of-choice legislation. VACP alleged that Blue Shield of Virginia failed to pay claims for psychotherapy provided by licensed psychologists even when the policy would pay for the same services provided by licensed physicians. In response to the lower court’s ruling in favor of Blue Shield, VACP appealed the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit and prevailed. Blue Shield’s petition for writ of certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court was denied.

6. Estimates based on 2011 data, which included 29 workshops at Central Office plus 20 workshops at Annual Meeting (Personal communication, Amy Dietrich, March 29, 2012).

7. Estimates obtained from GPA Central Office (2007).

8. Estimates obtained from GPA Central Office also include website hits to Referral Service (2007).

9. Estimates obtained from GPA Ethics Committee (2007). Estimates for 2011 were 22 ethics advisory consultations (Personal communication, Amy Dietrich, March 29, 2012).

10. Estimates based on 2011 data, which included 102 Low Cost Legal Consultation Plan in Fiscal Year 2011-2012 (Personal communication, Amy Dietrich, March 29, 2012).

The author was born the same year that the Georgia General Assembly passed the nation’s first psychology licensure law (1951). Dr. Doverspike is GPA Editor Emeritus and a former GPA President (2003-2004).