Speaking of Education

One of the many responsibilities of APA's Education Directorate is facilitating the work of the APA Commission on Accreditation (CoA). An ongoing discussion is about what standards best identify for the public those education and training programs that adequately prepared psychologists to practice. Unfortunately, there have been a number of statements published and promulgated to the media about accreditation that mischaracterize the APA standards and processes in several important ways (see a report on the controversy in the December Monitor).

Myth #1: APA accredits ascientific and antiscientific programs.

Fact: Such programs are not eligible for APA accreditation. Even a cursory review of the Guidelines and Principles for Accreditation of Programs in Professional Psychology (PDF, 460KB) reveals that the science of psychology is foundational to education and training in professional psychology. (See IA, IIA3, IIB1, IIB3, IIIB1.) Regardless of training model, APA criteria require that all students acquire competence in “the breadth of scientific psychology” (IIIB3a), the “scientific, methodological and theoretical foundations of practice” (IIIB3b) including “training in empirically supported procedures” (IIIB3c). Science and practice are not endpoints of a continuum with some programs able to focus on one or the other. Concerns that a program does not meet accreditation criteria can be raised by anyone in the public comment period.

Comment: Phrases such as “education and training in scientific psychology,” “research training” and “preparation to become an independent scientific investigator” are often used interchangeably but can reflect very different concepts. Unlike medicine, psychology practice grew out of its scientific disciplinary base. But like medicine, psychology has no requirement that the training for entry to practice include competence in the conduct of independent research to create new knowledge — a core purpose of the alternative system supported by the Association for Psychological Science. However, many psychologists across various training models believe that, at a minimum, competence in conducting practice-based research for quality improvement purposes should be required. This is an important area for continued discourse and for delineation of promising practices. All “research training” is not the same.

Myth #2: The APA accreditation system is primarily an input, checklist-based evaluation with many course requirements.

Fact: Nearly 15 years ago, the APA accreditation system moved to an outcome-oriented evaluation focus. Section III, Domain F lists a number of outcome measures that must be addressed, and Implementing Regulation C20 specifies the measures that must also be in the public domain for an accredited program. There are no specific courses required, but training for competencies in a number of related domains must be demonstrated in all models. Finally, the outcomes of the CoA reviews are available at www.apa.org/ed/accreditation. Although most programs that have received accreditation continue to be accredited, CoA continues to place programs on “accredited, on probation” status and has denied accreditation to programs that do not meet its criteria.

Comment: As the culture of competency advances in all the health professions, the CoA continues to encourage programs to provide evidence of student competence. It is also important to note that accreditation is an evolving process and as such the commission regularly engages in self-study and evaluation. The CoA is recognized as an accrediting body by the Department of Education and is itself reviewed for its adherence to U.S. standards for accreditation systems. Unfortunately, organized psychology has little data on competencies of graduates of programs not accredited by APA, of which significant numbers seek licensure.

Assertion: Accreditation standards provide a basis for defining psychology as a profession and as such serve as a lightning rod for tensions in the field. Discourse on related issues have and should be encouraged as we strive to meet the goal of quality assurance in preparing psychologists to practice in serving the public.

Note from APA: The appearance of advertisements for educational programs on this site does not constitute endorsement by APA. Programs that describe themselves as accredited may be accredited by another body, but are not accredited by APA unless so stated.