APA Accreditation: Protecting the Public

The Commission on Accreditation (CoA) of the American Psychological Association (APA) has been accrediting programs in professional psychology for over 60 years. The CoA is formally recognized as an accrediting body by both the US Department of Education and the Council of Higher Education Accreditation. The CoA is responsible for the accreditation of education and training programs in professional psychology consistent with its recognized scope of accreditation practice which includes doctoral level education, internship training in professional psychology and postdoctoral specialty training in professional psychology. 

Since its beginnings in 1948, this accrediting body has emphasized the importance of the science of psychology as the foundation of professional psychology. Yet, in a recent article which was further cited by various media, Baker, McFall, and Shoham (2009)1 decry the “dismal situation” of clinical psychological practice, which they attribute to poor scientific training in clinical psychology graduate education. The solution they envision is a newly developed accreditation system, the Psychological Clinical Sciences Accreditation System, intended to accredit clinical science psychology programs.  

This has prompted the CoA to briefly describe its history, its fundamental values and reiterate its usual practices for interested readers. More thorough discussions of these topics can be found elsewhere2,3,4.

The CoA reviews programs consistent with the Guidelines and Principles for Accreditation of Programs in Professional Psychology (G&P) (PDF, 460KB), as well as the specific goals and mission of the program and the institution in which it is housed. The goals for programs accredited by CoA include a wide range of practice and career options for psychologists in such areas as service delivery, scholarly research, program development and supervision. The CoA requires all accredited programs to clearly identify and emphasize:

  • The integration of science and practice;

  • A focus on articulating standards for all aspects of training goals and delivery; and

  • The assessment of trainees’ competence throughout graduate training, culminating in evidence of competence for entry level practice of psychology.

The primary objective of CoA’s accreditation process is to provide optimal service to and protection of the public. These “Guiding Principles of Accreditation” have been at the forefront of the manner in which CoA conducts accreditation and have been reflected in the G&P since 1996. They include:

  1. The Purpose and Practice of Accreditation

  2. Professional Principles and Values

  3. Outcome-Oriented Evaluation Focus

  4. Function of the CoA: Professional Judgment


1 Baker, T.B., McFall, R.M., and Shoham, V. (2009). Current status and future prospects of clinical psychology: toward a scientifically principled approach to mental and behavioral health care. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 9(2), 67-103.

2 Altmaier, Elizabeth M. (2003). Setting standards in graduate education: Psychology's commitment to excellence in accreditation. Washington, DC: APA.

3 Guidelines and Principles of Accreditation (1996, 1999, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2008)

4 Policy Statements and Implementation Regulations, Commission on Accreditation