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

The Psychological Clinical Science Accreditation System (PCSAS) is an independent, non-profit organization providing rigorous, objective, and empirically-based accreditation of Ph.D. programs that adhere to a clinical science training model — one that 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 dates to a 1992 Summit Meeting on The Future of Accreditation sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the Association for Psychological Science (APS) and the Council of Graduate Departments of Psychology (COGDOP). PCSAS began to develop in 1995 and was formally established as an independent entity in 2007 by the Academy of Psychological Clinical Science (ACPS), PCSAS’s parent organization, which also began with follow-up to the 92 Summit. ACPS’s 75 member programs are doctoral training programs or internship programs in psychology who all share a commitment to the primacy of science in the education and training of clinical psychologists. 

To date, PCSAS has accredited 37 programs in the United States and Canada, with many others in various stages of the application process (see Accredited Programs). By almost all measures, these programs are among the most highly regarded in the field. For example, all 36 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, or it would be all 37!)

Similarly, all PCSAS programs are ranked highly by the National Academies of Science, higher than non-PCSAS programs by both their graduates’ scores on state licensing exams and their placements in internship programs, and by the publication records of PCSAS faculty.  

Science is preeminent in PCSAS programs, in both research and clinical training.  This primary commitment to scientific perspectives in all aspects of clinical psychology plus growing concerns that the nation’s pressing mental health needs are not being met, gave rise to PCSAS as an accreditation system specifically designed to promote science-centered doctoral training. PCSAS fosters clinical scientists who will improve public health by disseminating existing knowledge, delivering empirically-based clinical services and expanding scientific knowledge in clinical psychology. Our ultimate goal is to provide the public with mental health services that are safe, that work and that are cost effective.   

Clinical science is the modern extension of the highest aspirations of what started as 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 effectively address the mental health of returning veterans and their families. Within the modern clinical science model, science is paramount and training for clinical practice and for conducting research are fully integrated and reciprocal. Research should inform all aspects of clinical practice and clinical practice should continuously inform research. For a fuller description, see Current Status and Future Prospects of Clinical Psychology.

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 scope is to accredit those doctoral programs that adhere to a clinical science training model, and APA-COA accredits a broader range of programs.

Yes, and gaining traction with each new accomplishment. PCSAS: became an independent accrediting body in 2007; accredited its first program in 2009; and in 2012 as soon as it was eligible, was recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), the national body that certifies accrediting organizations. CHEA affirmed PCSAS standards and processes as meeting and exceeding CHEA’s high standards for “quality, improvement, and accountability.”

Today, PCSAS accredits thirty-seven clinical science psychology programs in the United States and Canada, programs that are among the highest regarded in the field. All 36 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, or it would be all 37!) Similarly, all PCSAS programs are ranked highly by the National Academies of Science, by their graduates’ scores on state licensing exams and by the publication records of their faculty. In addition, PCSAS has been: 

  • Recognized by the U.S, Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), by far the largest trainer and employer of clinical psychologists in the world, as the sole eligibility requirement for VA internships and employment. That is, PCSAS students and graduates need no other accreditation credential.
  • 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 many psychological and mental health organizations including: the Association for Psychological Science; the Academy of Psychological Clinical Science; the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies; the Society for a Science of Clinical Psychology; the Society for Research in Psychopathology; and most recently the Boards of Directors for both the Council of Graduate Departments of Psychology (COGDOP) and the Council of University Directors of Clinical Psychology (CUDCP).
  • Recognized by the Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Centers (APPIC) for internship placements of PCSAS students.
  • Recognized in the laws and regulations in a number of states, with Missouri being the most recent. More states are pending as evidence increasingly demonstrates that PCSAS programs exceed state eligibility requirements for graduates seeking to be licensed psychologists.
  • Encouraged for support in the U.S. Congress in multiple official Congressional Reports, most recently in Department of Defense Appropriations for 2019, in which the U.S. House of Representatives “encourages the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Health Affairs) to review its regulations regarding employment of clinical psychologists who graduate from schools accredited by the Psychologist Clinical Science Accreditation System.”
  • Recognized in pending regulations for employment by the Office of the Surgeon General in the U.S. Public Health Service.

Yes. All students from PCSAS-accredited programs must be fully prepared for a required clinical internship. The PCSAS review criteria state specifically that:   

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.

The organization that manages internship placements agrees. The Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Centers (APPIC) recently updated its policy specifically to allow PCSAS students to apply for approved internships.

No. PSCAS goes to great lengths to review a program’s applied clinical training (e.g., in treatment and assessment). All PCSAS programs include high-quality research, but research is not the sole focus of the programs that are accredited by PCSAS. In fact, evaluating a program’s clinical training is what take up the most time and effort for each PCSAS site visit team. 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, importantly, in treatment settings. As one example, U.S. Public Health Service regulations now pending in the Office of the Surgeon General enables PCSAS graduates to be hired under either a Health Services (for treatment) or Science (for research) category.  

This will be up to programs. Some may hold joint accreditation; others may maintain only PCSAS accreditation. Both are appropriate outcomes for PCSAS. To date, thirteen PCSAS programs – University of California-Berkeley, UCLA, University of Illinois, Stony Brook University, University of Delaware, Indiana University, University at Buffalo, University of Wisconsin, University of South Florida, Washington University at St. Louis, University of Arizona, University of Pennsylvania, and Emory University – have declared intentions they may be solely PCSAS accredited in the future.  

No. Treatment and clinical assessment of mental disorders are fundamental to PCSAS accreditation. First, most of a PCSAS site visit is devoted to evaluating applied education and clinical training. Second, if a program did not seek APA-COA accreditation or renewal, but wished to maintain PCSAS accreditation, we would approve that program only if it still maintained excellence in applied clinical science education and training. Finally, PCSAS’s own continuing recognition by CHEA is dependent on PCSAS programs providing quality applied clinical training. CHEA recognition of PCSAS would be forfeited if such training did not occur.

No. DOE recognition of an accrediting body mainly is for Title IV of The Higher Education Act for student federal financial aid — for loans, grants and work study. PCSAS students have access to these programs because the universities that house PCSAS programs are DOE recognized already. So, PCSAS universities are federally recognized. But PCSAS, itself, also is federally recognized — by the Department of Veterans Affairs, by far the largest provider of mental and behavioral health services in the world. It is a recognition that is substantially more focused on health and mental health than would be had from DOE.  

Further, a trend for all accrediting bodies either is not to seek DOE recognition in the first place (which PCSAS also has not sought) or to discontinue DOE recognition. The trend includes: Marriage and Family Therapy; Social Work; Counseling and Related Education Programs; Physician Assistants; Medical Physics; Audiology; Respiratory Care; Health Informatics; Nuclear Medicine; Healthcare Management; Forensic Science; and Educator and Teacher Preparation. 

All these professions and PCSAS are recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), which has as its sole purpose “to assure and improve the academic quality of programs” through accreditation. None are DOE-recognized. Some have dropped DOE recognition; not one has dropped CHEA. 

Teacher Education provides a striking example. Two DOE-recognized accreditation systems merged to form the Council for the Accreditation of Education Preparation (CAEP), with over 800 programs. But CAEP, the largest and most influential education group of its type, elected not to be DOE-recognized. Why? Its programs already are in DOE-recognized universities, just like PCSAS programs. Of course, CAEP is CHEA-recognized.

The trend is not limited to health and education programs. The largest accreditor of Engineering and Computing Sciences, with over 3,700 programs, also dropped DOE recognition while maintaining CHEA.   

In its role, CHEA provides a “seal of approval” in meeting standards that are indicators of quality, including to the federal government. The VA in recognizing PCSAS said they hold CHEA as the “gold standard” for determining quality. 

The pipeline from enrollment in a doctoral program to licensure as an independent professional involves several key steps.

 1.     All graduates from PCSAS-accredited programs must complete a clinical internship. A match system for internships is organized by the Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Centers (APPIC). APPIC policy had been that only students from APA-COA or the Canadian Psychological Association (CPA) were eligible for this match. This was not a problem since all PCSAS-accredited programs also are APA or CPA accredited. However, we are delighted that following discussions between PCSAS and APPIC and between the VA and APPIC, APPIC updated its policy to fully recognize PCSAS on par with APA and CPA. We support the change, particularly since thirteen PCSAS programs – more than 1/3 of all PCSAS programs – have announced intentions they may be solely PCSAS accredited in the future.

One important note. Throughout this discussion, we never were asking APPIC for special treatment for PCSAS students, only that PCSAS students be allowed to compete on a level playing field with APA and CPA students. If our students didn’t measure up, they wouldn’t be selected. (But of course PCSAS students do measure up. APPIC’s most recent match data from 2011-2016 shows that PCSAS students were selected over those years at an average of a 90% to 94% match rate depending on definitional items. Non-PCSAS students matched at a 78% rate.) 

2.     APA-COA internship accreditation requires that APA-COA accredited internships accept students from APA or CPA accredited doctoral programs. There is a provision for an intern to come from non-APA/CPA programs, but “the program must discuss how the intern is appropriate for the internship program.”

3.     For many states, APA accreditation is recognized for entry level competencies to become a licensed psychologist. Illinois, Delaware and Missouri now provide full legislative parity for PCSAS accreditation. Other states (e.g., New Mexico) provide regulatory parity. More (e.g., California, New York) do not link accreditation to licensing. So PCSAS graduates already can be licensed in many states.

As more states provide parity for PCSAS programs, the final step in the pathway for graduates of PCSAS-accredited programs will become easier, fulfilling the promise made by PCSAS: To provide the public with an increased supply of clinical scientists who have received advanced 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.