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Facts and Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About the Psychological Clinical Science Accreditation System (PCSAS) and Psychological Clinical Science


1. PCSAS Basics.    

The Psychological Clinical Science Accreditation System (PCSAS) is an independent, non-profit organization whose aim is to provide rigorous, objective, and empirically based accreditation of Ph.D. programs that adhere to a clinical science training model -- one that both increases the quality and quantity of clinical scientists contributing to all aspects of public health, and extends the science base for mental health care. 

The impetus for this new approach to accreditation dates to a 1992 Summit Meeting on the Future of Accreditation sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health (part of the National Institutes of Health), the Association for Psychological Science and the Council of Graduate Departments of Psychology. PCSAS began to develop in 1995 and was formally established as an independent entity in 2007 by the Academy of Psychological Clinical Science, an organization that also began with follow-up to the 92 Summit. The Academy's 75 member programs are all doctoral training programs or internship programs in psychology who share a commitment to the primacy of science in the education and training of psychological clinical scientists. 

To date, PCSAS has accredited 35 programs in the United States and Canada, with many others in various stages of the application process (see Accredited Programs). By many measures, these programs are among the most highly regarded in the field. For example, all 34 programs in the U.S are listed among the top 50 in U.S. News & World Report (U.S. News ranks only U.S. programs). Similarly, all programs are ranked highly by the National Academy of Sciences, by their graduates' scores on state licensing exams and the by publication records of their faculties.  


2. Why now for PCSAS?

Science is preeminent in PCSAS programs. This primary commitment to science, as well as growing concerns that the nation's pressing mental health needs are not being met with current training, gave rise to the development of PCSAS as an accreditation system specifically designed to promote science-centered doctoral training. PCSAS is designed to foster clinical scientists who will be able to improve public health by disseminating existing knowledge, delivering scientifically-based clinical services and expanding the body of scientific knowledge in clinical psychology. The ultimate goal is to provide the public with mental health services that are safe, that work and that are cost effective.  


3. What is "clinical science?"

Clinical science is the modern extension of the highest aspirations of the Scientist-Practitioner (Boulder) model. The Boulder model was created in 1948 in response to the Veteran's Administration's need to identify clinical psychologists whose training enabled them to address effectively the mental health of veterans and their families. Within the modern clinical science model, science is paramount and clinical practice and research training are fully integrated and reciprocally related: Research should inform all aspects of clinical practice and clinical practice should inform research. For a fuller description, see Current Status and Future Prospects of Clinical Psychology.


4. What is the relationship between PCSAS and APA-COA?

PCSAS is completely separate from the American Psychological Association and its Commission on Accreditation (APA-COA). Both organizations accredit clinical psychology education and training programs. However, the PCSAS mission is to accredit only those doctoral programs that adhere to a clinical science training model, and APA-COA accredits a much broader range of programs.


5. As a newer accreditation system, is PCSAS taking hold?

Yes, and PCSAS is gaining traction with each accomplishment. PCSAS became an independent accrediting body in 2007 and began accrediting programs in late 2009. In 2012, PCSAS was formally recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), the "national advocate and institutional voice for promoting academic quality through accreditation." CHEA affirmed PCSAS standards and processes as consistent with CHEA's high standards for "quality, improvement, and accountability."

Today, PCSAS accredits thirty-five clinical psychology programs in the United States and Canada. By many measures, these programs are among the most highly regarded in the field. For example, all 34 programs in the U.S are listed among the top 50 in U.S. News & World Report (U.S. News ranks only U.S. programs). Similarly, all programs are ranked highly by the National Academies of Science, by their graduates' scores on state licensing exams and the by publication records of their faculties. 

Along the way PCSAS has been:

  • Recognized by the U.S, Department Veterans Affairs (VA), the largest trainer and employer of psychologists in the world, as the sole eligibility requirement for VA internships and staff positions. That is, PCSAS students need no other accreditation credential. According to the VA, PCSAS's "significant attention to the implementation of interventions ...is consistent with the VA's clinical directions and strengthens [the] VA's care for Veterans."
  • Recognized at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), with the Director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) stating, "At NIMH, we thought of PCSAS at the cutting edge of where training should be in clinical psychological science, and as the model for how rigorous accreditation might have an influence even beyond psychology."
  • Endorsed by any number of psychological and mental health organizations including the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies, Association for Psychological Science, Academy of Psychological Clinical Science, Society for a Science of Clinical Psychology, and Society for Research in Psychopathology. 
  • Recognized in the laws and regulations in several states, with more pending, as evidence increasingly demonstrates that PCSAS programs more than meet state eligibility requirements for graduates seeking to be licensed psychologists.
  • Encouraged for federal support in a number of Congressional Reports, most recently in Department of Defense Appropriations for 2018, in which the U.S. House of Representatives weighed in that it "encourages the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Health Affairs) to review its regulations regarding the employment of clinical psychologists who graduate from schools accredited by the Psychological Clinical Science Accreditation System.
  • Recognized in pending regulations for employment by the Office of the Surgeon General in the U.S. Public Health Service. 


6. Are students from PCSAS-accredited programs qualified for a clinical internship?

Yes. All students from PCSAS-accredited programs must be fully prepared for a clinical internship. Specifically, the PCSAS review criteria state:

Students must acquire clinical competence through direct application training, including well organized and monitored, science-based, practicum and internship experiences.   

Clinical science training in application 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.


7. I have heard that PCSAS only accredits research programs. Is this true?

No. PSCAS goes to great lengths to review a program's applied clinical training (e.g., in assessment and intervention). All clinical science doctoral programs include high-quality research, but research cannot be the sole focus of the programs that are accredited by PCSAS. PCSAS is designed to accredit programs that educate and train students in clinical science in the broadest sense of that term. This means preparing students to work in both research and applied settings. As one example, the U.S. Public Health Service now has pending regulations in the Office of the Surgeon General that enables  PCSAS graduates to be hired under either their Health Services (for treatment) or Science (for research) categories.  


8. If programs are jointly accredited by both APA-COA and PCSAS, might they one day choose to be accredited by only one of these organizations?

This will be up to the graduate program; some may wish to hold joint accreditation and others may wish to only maintain PCSAS or APA-COA accreditation. As of July, 2017 five PCSAS programs - UC, Berkeley, UCLA, University of Illinois, University of Delaware and Stony Brook University - have posted statements on their websites that although they are now accredited by both APA-COA and PCSAS, at an appropriate time they may choose to be solely PCSAS accredited. 


9. If programs elect to drop APA-COA accreditation and remain accredited solely by PCSAS, will PCSAS stop training students in the application of clinical science?

 No. The applied side of a clinical science is fundamental to PCSAS accreditation. In fact, a PCSAS review of any application and site visit is devoted to evaluating applied education and training as a primary focus. If a program does not seek APA-COA accreditation, but wishes to maintain PCSAS accreditation, it also must continue its applied clinical science education and training. Finally, PCSAS's own continuing recognition by CHEA is dependent on PCSAS programs providing this same quality of applied clinical training.


10. I have heard that PCSAS is not recognized by the Department of Education (DoE). Is that a problem?

No. DoE recognition of an accrediting body is required for Title IV of The Higher Education Act for student federal financial aid, grants, and work study. (From various official websites: "USDE recognizes accreditors as gatekeepers for federal funds. In this role, USDE is concerned mainly with the mechanisms accreditors have in place to monitor the federal funding process.") PCSAS students already have access to these programs and must also monitor this funding because the universities that house their programs are accredited by bodies recognized by DoE.

Some previously recognized DoE accrediting bodies have chosen either not to seek DoE recognition or to discontinue that recognition, including those for Marriage and Family Therapy, Social Work and Physician Assistants.

In contrast, the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), which recognizes the accrediting bodies for these and many other professions, is "a primary national voice for quality assurance to the U.S. Congress, U.S. Department of Education, the general public, opinion leaders, students, and families." CHEA's sole purpose is quality assurance of higher education through accreditation. In this role, it provides a "seal of approval" in terms of meeting standards that are indicators of quality to government. The VA holds CHEA "in very high esteem," calling it the "Gold Standard" in accreditation and advising us to apply for CHEA recognition. The groups mentioned, although not DoE recognized, are certainly not dropping their CHEA accreditation.


11. What about internship placement and licensing for PCSAS students and graduates?

The "pipeline" from enrollment in a doctoral program in clinical psychology to licensure as an independent professional involves several key steps. In order for graduates from PCSAS-accredited programs to be eligible for internship and licensure, several barriers must be addressed:

  • All graduates from PCSAS-accredited programs must complete a clinical internship as a requirement for graduation. A clinical internship match system is organized by the Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Centers (APPIC). Beginning in 2017, APPIC has mandated in its policies that only students from APA-COA or the Canadian Psychological Association (CPA) will be eligible for the internship match. This policy prevents students from PCSAS-accredited programs that do not also have APA-COA accreditation from entering the internship match. This currently is not a problem because all PCSAS-accredited programs also have APA-COA or CPA accreditation. PCSAS hopes to be able to work with APPIC to broaden their policy to include students from PCSAS-accredited programs. Regardless, PCSAS students are eligible for prestigious Veterans Administration internships, with nearly 680 VA internship positions available. The VA is the largest single trainer of psychology interns.
  • Also, beginning in 2017, APA-COA internship accreditation requires that APA-COA accredited internships accept students from APA-CoA or CPA accredited doctoral programs. However, within those standards, there is a provision for an intern to come from non APA-CoA/CPA programs but "the program must discuss how the intern is appropriate for the internship program."  

For many states, APA-COA accreditation is recognized as evidence of the entry level competencies to become a licensed clinical psychologist. Two states (Illinois and Delaware) now provide full legislative parity for graduates from PCSAS programs. Other states (e.g., New Mexico) provide regulatory parity. Still, others (e.g., California, New York) do not link accreditation to licensing and PCSAS graduates can be licensed there.

As more state licensing boards and legislative bodies provide parity for PCSAS programs, the final step in the pathway toward licensure for graduates of PCSAS-accredited programs will become easier, thus fulfilling the promise made by PCSAS: To provide the public with an increased supply of clinical scientists who have received cutting-edge clinical and research education and training with the ultimate goal of reducing the nation's burden of mental illness by providing services that are safe, that work and that are cost effective

© 2011, Psychological Clinical Science Accreditation System, All Rights Reserved.
Last update: 07/31/2017