The Psychological Clinical Science Accreditation System (PCSAS) is an independent, non-profit organization that provides 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 to accreditation dates to a 1992 Summit Meeting on the Future of Accreditation sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the $1.6 bill federal agency that funds a major portion of psychology’s mental health training; by the Council of Graduate Departments of Psychology (COGDOP), the umbrella group for some 500 Chairs of Psychology Departments; and by the Association for Psychological Science (APS), the 35,000 member organization supporting the science of psychology. That 3-day meeting brought together 140 delegates who either were Department Chairs or Directors of Clinical Training. Agreement emerged from that Summit on “the need for urgent reform of the [then sole] accreditation system in psychology.”
Following years of failed efforts working for reform within the then-current system, the specifics of PCSAS began to emerge in 1995 and was formally established as an independent entity in 2007 by the Academy of Psychological Clinical Science, PCSAS’s parent organization, which also grew from the 1992 Summit. The Academy’s 80 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 39 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, the 38 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 39!). And all 39 PCSAS programs are ranked highly by the National Academies of Sciences, higher than non-PCSAS programs by both their graduates’ scores on state licensing exams and their students’ placements in internships, and by the publication records of their faculties.
PCSAS also sought national evaluation and received approval:
- PCSAS is recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), the body of 3,000 colleges and universities that serves as the gold standard for evaluating accreditors like PCSAS (“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, CHEA provides a “seal of approval” (above) for meeting standards that are indicators of quality to the government. (“CHEA recognition affirms that the standards, structures and practices of accrediting organizations promote academic quality, improvement, accountability and needed flexibility and innovation in the institutions they accredit.”)
- Recognized by the U.S, Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), by far the largest trainer and employer of clinical psychologists in the world and the U.S. agency that began the accreditation movement in the 1940s. PCSAS students and graduates need no other accreditation credential for VA internships and employment.
- Recognized by 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 in a recent policy change by the Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Centers (APPIC), the organization that runs psychology’s internship placement service. PCSAS students are fully eligible for the APPIC “Match.”
- Recognized for licensing in a growing number of state laws and regulations, including the top population states of California, New York and Illinois. PCSAS is now recognized in states representing 25 percent of the U.S. population. 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 over multiple years, most recently in Department of Defense Appropriations for 2020, in which DoD funding legislation states: “In order to ensure that the Department [of Defense] continues to have full access to qualified clinical psychologists, the [Appropriations] Committee encourages the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs to review regulations regarding employment of clinical psychologists who graduate from schools accredited by the Psychological Clinical Science Accreditation System.”
Science plays a part in all clinical training programs, but it is preeminent in PCSAS programs — in research training, clinical training and, importantly, in their integration. This commitment to a scientific perspective in all aspects of clinical psychology plus growing concerns that the nation’s pressing mental health needs are too often not being met, gave rise to PCSAS as an accreditation system designed to promote science-centered doctoral training. The creation of PCSAS rests on the desire to spark training innovations that will lessen the burden of mental illness.
PCSAS fosters clinical scientists who will improve public health by disseminating existing knowledge of what mental health treatments work, delivering empirically-based clinical services, and expanding scientific knowledge in clinical psychology through their research.
Want proof of both the service delivery and research capabilities of those trained in PCSAS programs? In a comprehensive analysis of over ten years of PCSAS graduates, 73% report engaging in clinical service delivery in their current positions and 33% report being investigators on federal research grants. Many are doing both. Our ultimate goal is to provide the public with new and better mental health services that are safe, that work and that are cost effective.
And all this has been accomplished while PCSAS is still young. PCSAS accredited its first program 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.” Ten years later, with nearly 40 world-class programs accredited and with increased recognition coming from many sectors in mental and behavioral health, including from the U.S. government, PCSAS is seen as promoting the highest scientific standards in the training of clinical psychologists.