The power of any accrediting body is derived from the trust and authority granted to it by those seeking its imprimatur. Each of the initial 35 programs to have gained PCSAS approval is recognized as a top clinical psychology program in the United States or Canada. By most measures, they are among the most highly regarded in the field. For example, all 34 U.S. programs are listed among the top 50 in U.S. News & World Report. (U.S. News ranks only U.S. programs.) And all 35 PCSAS programs are ranked highly by the National Academies of Sciences, by their graduates’ scores on state licensing exams, and by the publication records of their faculties.
PCSAS also has sought external evaluation and approval. We are recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), the prestigious body founded by over 3,000 universities that is well-known for evaluation of accreditation entities (“a primary national voice for quality assurance to the U.S. Congress, U.S. Department of Education, the general public, opinion leaders, students, families”). CHEA’s sole purpose is quality assurance of higher education through accreditation. In this role, CHEA provides a “seal of approval” for meeting standards that are indicators of quality to government.
The two hallmarks of PCSAS accreditation are: (a) an emphasis on outcome evidence of a program’s quality and success; and (b) flexibility in evaluating how programs structure their training to produce clinical scientists. The flexibility hallmark does not mean a compromise of standards, nor does it mean that “anything goes.” It does reflect recognition that different programs may employ different academic strategies and methods that, nonetheless, get positive results. The burden of proof to demonstrate the success of a program’s approach rests with the application. However, successful accreditation applications have certain key characteristics in common: clearly articulated goals and coherent plans for achieving those goals; providing significant clinical experiences (i.e., practicum; internship) and research experiences; and records of achievement that would predict continued success.
Psychological clinical science is an applied science concerned with disseminating the best of what current knowledge has to say about treating mental disorders, with creating new knowledge on the nature of psychological problems, and with translating that knowledge into new applications that improve the human condition. All three – disseminating, creating and applying clinical knowledge – require excellent applied training. Applied clinical training and preparation to be licensed are critical to PCSAS accreditation.
We believe that public health is best served by training clinical psychologists to advance basic knowledge as well as to develop, deliver, and evaluate more cost-effective interventions, assessments, and prevention strategies. PCSAS-accredited programs prepare their graduates to assume independent responsibility for ensuring the delivery of mental and behavioral health care of the highest quality–whether the graduates themselves are delivering the care or are overseeing or evaluating its delivery by others.
The structure of tomorrow’s health care system must be determined based on the best scientific evidence available. Clinical psychologists trained as clinical scientists in PCSAS programs are qualified to play leading roles in this future — designing, building, overseeing, delivering, and evaluating the science-driven health-care system of tomorrow.
PCSAS accredits only doctoral training programs that grant the Ph.D. and are housed in non-profit, research-intensive, accredited universities. To be accredited by PCSAS, a doctoral program must demonstrate that it provides students with high quality science-centered education and training in both research and application, and that it has established a record of producing graduates who have demonstrated they are competent: (a) to conduct research relevant to the assessment, prevention, treatment, and understanding of health and mental health disorders; and (b) to apply clinical science to design, develop, select, evaluate, deliver, supervise, and disseminate empirically based assessments, interventions, and prevention strategies.
This commitment to integrative training in research and application must be evident in the program’s curriculum and operation, apparent in the accomplishments of its faculty and graduates, and explicit in its documents, public disclosures, and web site.