By Sally McGregor, COPAGS President
An accreditation divide is brewing that has the potential to shake up doctoral programs in clinical psychology
Until recently, I always understood American Psychological Association (APA) accreditation process by the Commission on Accreditation (CoA) to be the gold standard in American psychology. My current graduate program recently underwent two major reaccreditation processes. One involved the PsyD (Doctor of Psychology) program, and the second sought re-accreditation for our affiliated internship consortium. My classmates and I are not only part of one of the first PsyD programs in clinical psychology, but also one that prides itself on being one of the first to secure APA accreditation. Accreditation matters a great deal in terms of quality control, easing licensure, and securing employment. I consider myself fortunate to be part of a program willing to jump through the numerous hoops involved in ensuring our APA accreditation remains. However, a younger accrediting body, Psychological Clinical Science Accreditation System (PCSAS) has set out to change the game a bit.
While over 400 programs adhere to APA standards, PCSAS is gaining momentum. PCSAS accredits clinical psychology PhD programs which adhere to a clinical-science training model. This model considers itself to be a modern extension of the well-known scientist-practitioner (Boulder) model, and regards clear scientific evidence to be paramount in the field of psychology. The accreditation body emerged out of a growing concern that scientific standards for psychology are not sufficiently rigorous under APA, which impedes the effectiveness of service providers. PCSAS is not some small, rogue, competing organization to APA. It counts the likes of Harvard, Duke, Emory, Vanderbilt, UC Berkeley, and Northwestern Universities among its 39 PCSAS accredited programs in clinical psychology.
Although it is growing, it is probable that PCSAS will not directly impact my life. The PsyD program I belong to adheres to the practitioner-scholar model which, as the name suggests, emphasizes the practical application of scholarly knowledge. Simply put, this model is aimed at training therapists and assessors rather than researchers and academics. I doubt my program is at risk of shifting to a new accreditation system in the foreseeable future, because producing research is not the highest priority of a PsyD education. However, I am interested in understanding the growth of PCSAS because it will certainly impact psychologists at large.
I anticipate a growing divide will occur in the field between clinicians who prefer a medical model in which treatment is standardized and efficient, and those who worry that overly manualized treatment dismisses the value of relational and psychodynamic approaches to healing. It is easy to see how in a world increasingly centered around integrated care, many psychologists will find utility in PCSAS’s approach. In the other camp will be psychologists (many PsyDs, I imagine) who argue that the therapy most appropriate for producing reliable research is not always the therapy most conducive to creating long lasting and meaningful change in patients’ lives. The continued debate between APA and PCSAS promises to be interesting for clinical psychology students to watch unfold.
***This brief blog post offers far from an exhaustive description of PCSAS. If you are interested in learning more about the new kid on the psychology accreditation block, you can find them here. à https://www.pcsas.org/