PCSAS accreditation is voluntary. Programs do not derive either automatic or exclusive benefits from PCSAS accreditation, although they may experience other benefits from their accreditation status. Programs initiate the accreditation process by submitting a notice of interest to the Executive Director determine eligibility. Assuming they are deemed eligible, they submit the required application materials, pay the associated application fee, and receive a site visit prior to being evaluated by the Review Committee and being given a decision. The Review Committee has only two decision options: to accredit or to deny accreditation. A program receiving a denial must wait one year before reapplying.
Only doctoral programs in psychological clinical science that grant Ph.D. degrees and that are integral units within accredited, non-profit, research-intensive universities are eligible to apply for PCSAS accreditation. The purpose of PCSAS accreditation is to recognize and promote high-quality, science-centered education and training in clinical psychology. Eligible applicants are programs whose chief mission is preparing graduates for careers as clinical scientists, in the broad sense of that term. These are careers devoted to making significant contributions to both advancing and clinically applying scientific knowledge regarding the nature, origins, prediction, assessment, prevention, and amelioration of psychopathology and health-compromising behaviors.
To be accredited, a program must provide all of its graduates with first-class, science-centered training in clinical application, including practicum and internship training, thereby qualifying the graduates for psychological licensure to serve as independent providers of psychological services, to act as supervisors and trainers of others providers, and to integrate their scientific and clinical training in such roles as treatment developers, evaluators, educators, and disseminators.
To be eligible for PCSAS accreditation, an applicant program must demonstrate a strong commitment to high-quality science-centered education and training in clinical psychology, with an emphasis on integrating research and application. This commitment must be articulated explicitly in the program’s documents, public disclosures, and web site; must be operationalized through a coherent educational plan, curriculum, and allocation of resources; and must be demonstrated in the activities and accomplishments of the program’s faculty, students, and graduates.
Review Committee (RC):
PCSAS’s approach to reviewing applications is modeled after the grant review panels at the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation. Each applicant program is assigned a primary and a secondary reviewer, whose identities remain confidential. These reviewers are expected to evaluate the program’s application materials and prepare a preliminary report, which is made available to the RC members prior to a meeting. In addition, applicant programs are assigned a two-person team of site visitors, who also write a review for the committee. RC members are expected to become familiar with the materials and reviews for all applicant programs, not only those assigned to them. The designated reviewers and site visitors begin the committee’s deliberations on each applicant by presenting their summary findings. Then the full committee discusses the program’s perceived strengths and weaknesses. Finally, each RC member independently assigns a qualitative evaluation to the application and recommends a specific decision, either to accredit or to deny accreditation. RC members are expected to use a standard scale to anchor their evaluations, rather than making comparative evaluations based on a specific set of applications. RC decisions are based on the summative qualitative judgments of RC members regarding each applicant’s overall quality and outcome record.
The PCSAS focus on training outcomes is based on the view that all eligible programs intend to provide their students with high-quality doctoral education and training in empirically based clinical psychology, and that these same programs have put in place structures designed to accomplish this. These aspects of training are important and necessary. But aspirations and rational plans are not sufficient grounds for PCSAS accreditation. To be accredited, a program must document that it actually has delivered on these promises. PCSAS’s imprimatur represents a public trust; it is the public’s assurance that PCSAS-accredited programs abide by the principle of “truth in advertising.” That is, the RC must ensure not only that all PCSAS-accredited programs have admirable goals, coherent plans, and sound resources, but, above all, that they also have produced results that live up to their claims and to PCSAS’s standards.
To earn PCSAS accreditation, an applicant program must provide clear evidence of a consistent record of graduating clinical scientists–individuals who have made meaningful contributions to basic and applied research relevant to mental and behavioral health problems, or who have used their scientific knowledge and skills to design, develop, select, evaluate, deliver, supervise, and disseminate empirically supported clinical assessments, interventions, and prevention strategies. Such outcome evidence is the sine qua non of PCSAS accreditation and will carry the greatest weight in the RC’s qualitative evaluations of, and ultimate decisions regarding, applicant programs. A recent evaluation of the psychometric properties of a key judgment in review of PCSAS applications can be seen here: (Treat, Miller & Simons, 2023) Programs judged to be of highest quality will be those that demonstrate convincingly that the majority of their students contribute significantly to advancing scientific knowledge and to using that knowledge to improve public health.