PCSAS applications must be submitted electronically. Potential applicants must submit a Letter of Intent to apply, in which they not only indicate their interest in applying for accreditation, but also provide sufficiently detailed preliminary information to allow a determination of whether they meet PCSAS's eligibility standards for applying for accreditation. Prior to submitting a Letter of Intent, potential applicants are encouraged to contact PCSAS with questions or concerns, and request an "Initiation Packet" for the Letter of Intent. Of course, such inquiries are without costs or obligations. The preliminary information contained in the Letter of Intent is reviewed by two independent reviewers. If these reviewers cannot agree on an eligibility decision, a third reviewer reads the material and a majority vote of the reviewers determines the decision about eligibility.
If a program is deemed ineligible, it may appeal this finding to the full RC, beyond which there is no other appeal. Ineligible programs must wait at least one year before submitting a new Letter of Intent. Once a program is deemed eligible, it will have up to one year to submit a completed application, although extensions may be granted if circumstances warrant. Programs are encouraged to maintain contact with PCSAS's Executive Director throughout the application process, not only for guidance, but also to inform PCSAS of their application's progress and status.
Interested programs must satisfy the following minimal requirements in order to be judged eligible to apply for PCSAS accreditation.
- The scope of PCSAS accreditation is limited to doctoral training programs that grant Ph.D. degrees in psychology with a core focus on the specialty of psychological clinical science, and that are housed in departments of psychology (or their equivalent) within accredited, nonprofit, research-intensive universities in the U.S. and Canada.
- In addition, accreditation is limited to programs that subscribe to an empirical epistemology and a scientific model--i.e., an epistemology and an educational model in which the advancement of knowledge and its application to problems are driven by research evidence, and in which research and application are integrated and reciprocally informing.
- Accreditation also is limited to doctoral programs with a primary mission of providing all students with high-quality, science-centered education and training that arms them with the knowledge and skills required for successful careers as research scientists in clinical psychology.
- Accreditation is limited further to programs within the intellectual and educational domain of clinical psychology, broadly defined. This domain may include hybrid varieties, such as clinical-health-psychology, clinical-neuroscience, clinical-behavioral genetics, etc. However, to be acceptable the hybrid model must involve the integration of clinical psychology--i.e., a focus on psychological knowledge and methods to research and application relevant to mental and behavioral health problems--with one or more complementary scientific perspectives for the purpose of gaining added leverage on specific target problems. In all cases, clinical psychology must be the core component of the model.
- Finally, accreditation is limited to programs with the primary goal of producing graduates who are competent and successful at (a) conducting research relevant to the assessment, prevention, treatment, and understanding of health and mental health disorders; and (b) using science methods and evidence to design, develop, select, evaluate, implement, deliver, supervise, and disseminate empirically based assessments, interventions, and prevention strategies.
- In their notice of intent and in their public documents, potential applicants must demonstrate an established commitment to providing an education within the limited boundaries that define PCSAS accreditation -i.e., in scope, epistemology, mission, goal, and domain.
- Potential applicants must agree to conduct a detailed self-study prior to preparing an application, and to provide an accurate summary of the self-study's results in their application materials. Each program must agree to a full disclosure of all information the Review Committee (RC) requires in order to carry out its responsibility of evaluating programs and reaching accreditation decisions.
- Applicants must agree to arrange, host, and complete a site visit of their program after submitting the application and prior to the scheduled RC review.
- Applicants must have paid in full the non-refundable application fee (prior to the review of their application).
- Finally, because PCSAS accreditation is voluntary, does not bestow any special privileges, and is not a professional requirement, the applicant must agree to accept the Review Committee's decision.
Because the RC evaluates only applications from programs that explicitly claim to fit within the narrowly defined scope of PCSAS accreditation and to satisfy PCSAS's standards, the RC's review task essentially is one of evaluating each program's integrity and quality. Applying the principle of "truth in advertising" as its benchmark, the RC rigorously and objectively examines the evidence from each program's application materials and its site visit report to assess how well the program lives up to its claims and to PCSAS's standards. The RC makes qualitative evaluations of each program in five general areas:
(a) Conceptual foundations: To be eligible for review, each applicant program necessarily will have endorsed the epistemology, mission, goals, and domain that define PCSAS accreditation. However, a hallmark of PCSAS accreditation is its flexibility; programs are given leeway to develop their own distinctive and innovative approaches to translating these abstract principles into practical, effective, real-world doctoral programs. This may reflect not only local resources and opportunities but also efforts to move the field forward with well conceived training innovations. The RC is responsible for evaluating the quality, coherence, integrity, and success of each individual program's particular interpretation and embodiment of these core concepts.
(b) Design and resources: The RC examines the quality, logic, soundness, and coherence of each program's overall operation: its stability; educational plan and pedagogical approach; content and curriculum; administration; and availability and use of resources. The RC evaluates how effectively the program's design and resources are channeled toward realizing the program's goals.
(c) Quality of the science: The RC evaluates the overall quality of the scientific content, methods, and products of the program's doctoral training and education; i.e., how well the program embodies the very best, cutting-edge science of the discipline.
(d) Quality improvement: The RC examines the program's investment in continuous quality improvement--i.e., its on-going critical self-examination, openness to feedback, flexibility and innovation, and monitoring of program results.
(e) Outcomes: The RC's evaluations place the greatest weight on each program's record of success--i.e., to what extent do the activities and accomplishments of its faculty, students, and graduates exemplify the kinds of outcomes one expects of programs that successfully educate high-quality, productive psychological clinical scientists?
For each applicant program, the RC examines, integrates, and evaluates all the evidence across these five areas, makes a qualitative rating, and then decides whether the program deserves to be awarded the distinctive recognition of PCSAS accreditation.
The following examples illustrate the types of information considered by the RC in its evaluation of a program's performance in the five realms outlined above. These examples are only for purposes of illustration, and should not be construed as a checklist of the criteria by which a program would be assured of accreditation. Quality of execution is crucial in satisfying these criteria. Moreover, because PCSAS does not take a "one-size-fits-all" approach to accreditation, it is conceivable that an innovative program might not match all of these criteria in conventional ways, yet be evaluated favorably by the RC. The key point is that the burden of proof regarding the merits of a given program rests on the applicant's shoulders. Each program must demonstrate convincingly that it has a successful record of offering high-quality doctoral education and training in psychological clinical science.
1. Conceptual foundations:
- Does the applicant program offer a clear, rational explication of its mission, goals, philosophy, and epistemology?
- Are its conceptual foundations logically coherent, internally consistent, and compatible with PCSAS standards?
- Do its conceptual foundations have clear implications for the program's design, operation, climate, and outcomes?
- Does its mission statement permit a reasonable assessment of the program's success at achieving its mission?
- Do the program's goal statements include proximal and distal objectives that can be translated into observable, measurable outcomes?
- Are the program's philosophy and epistemology clearly related to the program's design and operation? Are they consistent with PCSAS's mission and standards?
- Are the activities of the faculty, students, and graduates consistent with the program's conceptual foundations?
2. Design, operation, and resources: The program's design, operation, and use of resources should contribute to the program's realization of its mission and goals. The following topics illustrate the information of particular interest to the RC:
a. Students recruitment, selection, and mentoring:
- i. How does the program recruit its students? Is there evidence that these methods are appropriate, efficient, and successful?
- ii. What are the program's procedures for selecting graduate students? Is there evidence that these are appropriate, valid, and successful?
- iii. How well do the scientific interests and career goals of matriculating students match the program's mission, goals, and design? Is there evidence of "fit?"
- iv. Do selection procedures yield high-quality students with strong educational backgrounds in science, research experience, and scientific interests and aptitudes? What is the evidence?
- v. Mentoring Model: What is the program's model for providing the kind of intensive mentoring of individual students that is required to produce first-rate clinical scientists who integrate research and application?
- vi. How is the faculty mentoring organized? Are students distributed among the faculty in a manner that promotes high quality training? Are the interests of matriculating students matched to their mentors' expertise? What is the evidence that the program's mentoring model is successful?
- vii. How long does it take for a student to complete the program, on average, and what is the distribution for time-to-completion? What factors influence this pattern, and is it reasonable?
- viii. How does the program deal with underperforming, troubled, or discontented students? Is there a formal system for communicating performance feedback and handling grievances? How well do these work?
- ix. Specific information that the RC would examine to evaluate these issues would include:
(a) the credentials (e.g., GPA, GRE, undergrad majors/curricula, research work, publications, etc.) of applying, admitted, and matriculating students over the past ten years;
(b) student/faculty ratios, and distribution of students across mentors and content areas;
(c) sources and distribution of financial support for doctoral students;
(d) records of student progress, the evaluation process, and history of dealing with underperforming students; and
(e) formal grievance policies, procedures, and implementation.
b. Curriculum design: Meritorious clinical science training is not restricted to one particular set of courses, training methods, or content areas. Rather, it is assumed that there are multiple ways to reach common goals. Thus, it is up to each program to specify its goals; to develop a clear plan for achieving these goals; to devise a curriculum that gives individual students the necessary flexibility to tailor their training to their specific goals; to identify appropriate benchmarks for assessing the curriculum's results; and to relate performance on these benchmarks to the overall goal of providing high caliber education and training in psychological clinical science. Because broad areas of science may be relevant to the advancement of psychological clinical science, programs are encouraged to design curricula that promote integration, innovation, collaboration, and exploration across diverse areas of psychology and other sciences. The RC will be interested in examining the following aspects of the curriculum:
- i. How is the curriculum structured? What are the pedagogical rationale, logic, and specific goals of this structure?
- ii. How flexible, individualized, and integrative is the curriculum design. To the extent that it is individualized, how are decisions made, and by whom?
- iii. What are the key indicators of progress and success (or difficulty and need for attention), and how are these monitored as individual students move through the curriculum?
- iv. What are the common, critical milestones, and how are they designated, observed, and measured?
- v. How well does the curriculum's design serve the program's mission and goals? What is the evidence of its achievements?
- vi. How are research and application integrated in this curriculum?
- vii. Possible indicators of interest to the RC:
(a) the core curriculum, its timeline, and its degree of breadth and flexibility;
(b) course syllabi and instructors;
(c) opportunities and procedures for individualizing the educational experience;
(d) methods for monitoring and evaluating the progress of individual students;
(e) sample exams in critical courses and sample qualifying/prelim exams;
(f) student academic awards.
- viii. In addition, although there are few specific course requirements for PCSAS accreditation, the RC will look for evidence that the program
(a) provides effective training in the major areas of psychological clinical science--i.e., psychopathology and diagnosis, broadly conceived; assessment, measurement, and individual differences; and prevention and intervention;
(b) allows for individualized training; and
(c) stays abreast of the evolving knowledge base in psychological science. Although the RC does not insist that students acquire expertise through specific required courses, the RC will expect clear evidence of students' expertise. Each applicant has the opportunity and responsibility to make this case.
c. Research training: One of the primary missions of PCSAS-accredited doctoral programs is to train psychological clinical scientists who will be able to generate new knowledge relating to mental and behavioral health problems. Therefore, programs must demonstrate that its students conduct meaningful research as a focal part of their graduate education. Some key indicators of the quality of research training would include:
- Is research training at the core of the program? Are students actively involved in scientific research throughout their graduate education?
- Is the student's research training integrated meaningfully with all other aspects of the student's training--e.g., coursework, application training, teaching experiences?
- Do students receive individualized mentoring in faculty laboratories?
- Are students the authors and co-authors of high quality research presentations and peer reviewed publications?
- Are all students required to demonstrate a solid grasp of research methods and quantitative methods?
- Do all students demonstrate a solid understanding of the important knowledge base and theories across diverse areas of psychological science and other sciences, and does this understanding inform their own research?
- Do students produce high-quality dissertations that help launch their careers and that advance psychological science?
- Do graduates function as productive research scientists?
- Possible indicators:
(a) student research products, grants, presentations, publications, awards;
(b) evidence of student involvement in research, such as research courses taken, specific skills acquired; and
(c) research involvement after graduation, such as appropriate post-doctoral positions (including but not limited to tenure-track faculty positions emphasizing research productivity), grants, publications, and awards.
d. Application training: Because psychological clinical science is an applied science, it requires that doctoral students acquire a deep and thorough understanding of the clinical phenomena that will be the central focus of their scientific careers. Graduates must be able to function as independent clinical scientists, able to assume clinical responsibility for patients with problems in their areas of expertise. Thus, they must be trained to a high level of professional competence in the most cost-effective, efficient, empirically supported procedures for the assessment and treatment of specific populations and problems, and also must be capable of training and supervising others in these procedures, where appropriate. Students must acquire clinical competence through direct application training, including well organized and monitored, science-based, practicum and internship experiences. Innovative approaches to the design and implementation of the applied training are encouraged, with the aim of improving the effectiveness and efficiency of the training; however, programs are expected to provide evidence that such innovations achieve or exceed the intended results.
Clinical science training in applications should be characterized by
(a) a clear scientific evidence base for the assessments and interventions taught;
(b) an integrated focus on consistent evidence-based principles and processes across both research and applied activities; and
(c) a meaningful assessment of skill acquisition in specific research-supported procedures for specific problems.
Clinical scientists also should be prepared to select, train, supervise, and evaluate mental health workers from multiple disciplines in the application of research-supported treatments. Finally, they should be expected routinely to gather, analyze, and interpret data on the procedures and outcomes associated with their applied activities. Because PCSAS accreditation is outcome focused, there are few requirements regarding specific coursework or other specific forms of applied training experiences that must be provided across all accredited programs. However, the training should produce clinically competent, license eligible graduates. Possible indicators of interest to the RC would include the following:
- Do students receive individualized on- or off-site training whereby they gain direct, first-hand, mentored experience with specific science-based procedures and with populations or problems that are relevant to ensuring their competence in core areas of clinical science application--i.e., assessment, diagnosis, prevention, treatment, supervision, and program evaluation?
- Do the sequencing, design, and amount of these applied experiences adequately prepare the student to function as an independent and integrative clinical psychologist who are competent to work in applied settings and also to function as productive research scientist?
- Examples of possible proximal indicators:
(a) syllabi of relevant coursework and training experiences demonstrating the integration of science and application;
(b) performance evaluations for applied clinical science activities, such as empirically based practicum experiences and high-quality internships;
(c) relevant performance samples and examinations;
(d) student publications, grants, and presentations related to applications and their scientific bases;
(e) outcome data from application research;
(f) results on licensure examinations.
- Examples of possible distal indicators:
(a) evidence of leadership and training roles in the delivery of empirically supported applications;
(b) specific contributions to improving public health, including the development of new or more effective interventions, evaluations of interventions, dissemination of interventions, cost-effectiveness analyses, health-care policy analyses, etc.;
(c) evidence of public health impact, including papers and publications, media reports, grants, awards, citations, outcome data;
(d) records of use of science-based applications, and
(e) involvement in advancing science-based application through teaching, training, supervision, evaluation, policy making, and program administration.
e. Program faculty: The program's faculty must have the credentials to educate and train psychological clinical scientists--individually and collectively. Individually, faculty members should be exemplary role models for students of the kind of clinical scientists that the program envisions its students becoming. Collectively, they should provide broad representation of contemporary clinical science, should exemplify the kind of integration and collaboration that is a program goal, and should have a track record of mentoring students who have gone on to successful careers, making significant contributions to the advancement of psychological clinical science and to the application of the science to improving the human condition. The RC will look for these kinds of indices of faculty quality:
- Active research laboratories
- High-quality, high-impact research publications
- Research grant support
- Peer recognition, influence, and awards
- Evidence of teaching influence, including ability to attract and retain high-quality students, positive student evaluations, membership on student committees, course syllabi, teaching awards and honors.
- Personal embodiment of the integration of research and application.
f. Resources and environment: Does the program have the necessary resources to achieve its mission and goals?
- Does it have stable leadership and administration?
- Does it have a faculty of sufficient size, with sufficiently diverse interests and expertise, who themselves are strong models of clinical science? Does the student-faculty ratio permit high quality, intensive supervision?
- Does the faculty take responsibility for ensuring that the students receive high-quality integrated research and application training?
- Are students well supported financially and in other critical ways?
- Does the program treat applicants, students, faculty, staff, graduates, and the public respectfully, fairly, and ethically?
- Do student-faculty, student-student, and faculty-faculty relationships foster an atmosphere of collaboration, intellectual stimulation, and learning that is conducive to scientific training and research productivity? What is the evidence for this?
- Does the program have strong support from and collaborative relationships within its department and institution? Evidence?
- Do the faculty and students have access to the settings, space, equipment, staff, technicians, and other support they need in order to engage in cutting-edge scientific research?
- Does the program ensure that all its students demonstrate sensitivity to the role of contextual factors--cultural, social, biological, and other sources of variability and individual differences--in their generation, interpretation, and application of scientific evidence and knowledge?
3. Quality of the science: What is the overall scientific quality of the doctoral program's intellectual content, pedagogical and research methods, research products, and involvement in public health applications? How well do these various aspects of the program reflect and promote high quality and significant scientific knowledge and application? The RC will arrive at a qualitative judgment after examining the content and substance of the important components of the program's education and training. Examples of relevant evidence of quality would include syllabi, faculty and student research publications, dissertations, examinations, colloquia topics, selection of applications, and the breadth and depth of basic science content and methods that students learn.
4. Quality improvement: Does the program have an enduring commitment to continuous quality improvement? Does it routinely collect data on its own performance outcomes to evaluate its goal attainment? Does it provide the faculty, students, and staff with informative, self-corrective feedback based on these data? Do the students, staff, and faculty participate actively in proposing and selecting modifications aimed at improving outcomes? And does the program provide the public--potential applicants, oversight agencies, etc.--with accurate, unbiased summaries of this information, and with descriptions of changes aimed at self-improvement? The RC expects each program to monitor its design, operations, and outcomes, and to use these data to pursue excellence.
5. Outcomes: The sine qua non for a program to receive a favorable RC accreditation decision is clear and compelling documentation that the program has built a solid record of successfully producing graduates who have gone on to lead productive careers, and to make high-quality contributions, as psychological clinical scientists. The evidence would include such things as graduates' records of research publications, grants, leadership roles, awards, and contributions to translating basic science into effective applications. To document such outcomes, programs need to provide detailed records for all of their graduates over the past ten years or more. In general, the RC will be asking, "What is the evidence that the majority of a program's graduates actively have pursued careers, and engaged in professional activities, that have contributed meaningfully to the advancement and application of scientific knowledge regarding the origin, assessment, diagnosis, prevention, and amelioration of mental and behavioral health problems?" This primary focus on outcome evidence is driven by the mission statement and specific goals underlying PCSAS accreditation. The program must provide admissions, retention, and other outcome data to prospective students and the public on its website, in addition to tracking the post-graduation careers and achievements of its former students.
The procedures and criteria summarized in this section have been adopted formally by the PCSAS Board of Directors as the framework within which the Review Committee is expected to evaluate the quality of applicant programs and to determine whether they should be awarded the imprimatur of PCSAS accreditation.