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WHY SUPPORT THE PSYCHOLOGICAL CLINICAL SCIENCE ACCREDITATION SYSTEM (PCSAS)?


Clinical psychology is in great need of reform. While psychology as a whole, and clinical psychology in particular, are vital scientific disciplines yielding continuing and important research discoveries, the training of clinical psychologists and the accreditation of training programs have not kept pace.

Over the past 30 years, much of the training of clinical psychologists has shifted from University settings to free-standing, for-profit training programs. Many of these programs are characterized by low admissions standards (low GPA's, low test scores), very high acceptance rates, large class sizes, and poor professor-student ratios. Moreover, many of these programs explicitly endorse training models that devalue scientific research as a basis for determining practice decisions (type of therapy, assessment strategy). Instead, such programs emphasize such factors as personal experience in making treatment decisions. Graduates of these programs tend to earn significantly lower scores on the ASPPB licensing examination than do students trained in University based programs, and they rarely produce any peer reviewed, empirical research. The large number of students trained by such programs is partly responsible, no doubt, for data showing that clinical psychologists today do not use the most effective treatments for their clients, do not know what those treatments are, and do not use scientific evidence to make treatment decisions. This situation has an incalculable public health cost; although highly effective and cost-effective psychological interventions now exist, they are not readily available to those who need them.

The status of clinical psychology today resembles that of medicine at the dawn of the 20th century, where many physicians were trained by for-profit programs that did not base their training on science, but relied instead on personal experience. At that time, neither the public nor employers could identify which physicians were trained in strong, scientifically based programs and which were not. Today, patients cannot tell if the clinical psychologist they see will be guided by science, or instead by personal experience and nonscientific training. Think of how disturbing it would be if you saw a physician and had no notion as to whether s/he used research evidence to guide treatment and diagnostic decisions. We need to reform the field of clinical psychology so that clinical psychologists use more effective, science based treatments, and so that patients and others can tell if the psychologist is scientifically trained.

Medicine was reformed by actions taken by the AMA (e.g., the 1910 Flexner Report) that increased standards for training of physicians: e.g., demanding that training occur in University based programs and that training emphasize science. The Association for Psychological Science (APS) and the Academy of Psychological Clinical Science (the Academy) have supported the recent development of a new accreditation system that is intended to accredit clinical psychology training programs that similarly emphasize science in their training. This body will recognize only training programs that produce strong evidence that they train clinical psychologists who master science based curricula and who both generate new science and use science to guide their treatments.

PCSAS needs financial support if it is to become a viable and influential accreditation body. It has been recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) and the Office of Veterans Affairs.  It has obtained financial support from the Academy of Psychological Clinical Science, from leading universities, and from individual donors.  Nevertheless, it requires additional financial support to accomplish its mission. The Board of Directors of the PCSAS is asking leading universities in North America that house the top science-based clinical psychology training programs to provide financial underwriting support for this new accreditation system. We anticipate that the need for such support will be time-limited, as accreditation/application fees increasingly support the system.

If you are a strong research University, the PCSAS is appealing for your support. This request is strongly endorsed by the members of the Academy of Psychological Clinical Science, an association of 70+ premier Clinical Psychology doctoral programs in North America, all housed in leading Universities and Departments of Psychology. (In addition, eleven of the top science-oriented internship programs are members of the Academy.) Academy programs are urging their Universities to support PCSAS for the following reasons:

  • Such support is consistent with the ethos of their Departments of Psychology and their Universities, which both strongly endorse the value of science as the surest route to cumulative progress and high quality education and training. These Universities should support this endeavor because it is the correct and enlightened course of action.

  • The doctoral training programs in the Academy are the top-rated clinical psychology training programs in the US and Canada. Each of these programs strongly endorses the values of the PCSAS and believes that this new accreditation system will enhance the status of its own program, department, and university. Indeed, it will enhance the status of clinical psychology, in general.

  • Such recognition will distinguish further the graduates of these doctoral programs and their Universities, and will enhance the ability of these graduates to secure high quality, productive, post-graduate positions.

  • This system ultimately will enhance the health and welfare of the public. Just as strengthening training standards in medicine markedly enhanced the quality of health care, improved training standards in clinical psychology will enhance health and mental health care dramatically. Evidence based treatments not only are highly effective, but also are cost effective relative to other interventions. Thus, they could help control spiraling health care costs.

We are at a unique point in history where a few deeply committed leaders in the field are willing to devote a great deal of time, energy and resources to this endeavor. The leading Universities in North America now have a unique window of opportunity to support this effort, thereby helping to bring about much-needed reforms in the system.

The Board of Directors of PCSAS is asking your University to join with a select group of major Universities in becoming members of the Founders' Circle group by pledging to provide the PCSAS $15,000/year for five years. Universities that choose to join the Founders' Circle pay no application fees or site visitor expenses if they apply for PCSAS accreditation. If accredited, they pay no annual dues for their first five years. In addition, Founders' Circle Members will be recognized publicly by PCSAS in appreciation for their pioneering support. Please consider this appeal seriously if it is consonant with the ideals of your University. Joining the Founders' Circle has the potential to improve the quality of doctoral education in Clinical Psychology and to enhance dramatically the quality of mental and behavioral health treatment in your State and beyond.

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Last update: 07/22/2016