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 $2.2 bill federal agency that funds a major portion of psychology’s mental health training; the Council of Graduate Departments of Psychology (COGDOP), the umbrella group for some 250 Chairs of Psychology Departments; and 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 Chairs of Psychology Departments or Directors of Clinical Training, all from accredited programs. Agreement emerged from the Summit on “the need for urgent reform of the [then-sole] accreditation system in psychology.”
Following years of ultimately unsuccessful efforts working for reform within the then-sole accreditation system, the specifics of a separate system began with additional discussion in 1995, continued for some years, and was formally established as an independent entity in 2007 by the Academy of Psychological Clinical Science (Academy), PCSAS’s parent organization. The Academy also was founded following the 92 Summit. The Academy’s 80 members are doctoral training programs or internship programs that share a commitment to the primacy of science in the education and training of clinical psychologists.
PCSAS accredited its first program in late 2009. To date, PCSAS has accredited 46 programs in the United States and Canada, with others in various stages of the application process (See Accredited Programs).
PCSAS programs are among the most highly regarded in the field. For example, all 20 of the U.S. News & World Report’s 20 top ranked clinical psychology programs are PCSAS accredited. Forty PCSAS programs in the U.S. are in the top 50. (U.S. News only ranks U.S. programs.) And all 46 PCSAS programs are ranked highly by the National Academy of Sciences, have graduates who score higher on average than those in non-PCSAS programs on state licensing exams, have students who “match” at a higher rate in internship placements, and are distinguished by the publication records of PCSAS faculty.
Science plays a part in all clinical training programs, but it is preeminent in PCSAS programs — in clinical training, in research training, and, importantly, in their integration. This commitment to scientific perspectives in all aspects of clinical psychology plus concerns that the nation’s pressing and growing mental health needs are not being met – witness what has been happening in the pandemic, including a surging suicide rate – gave rise to PCSAS as a new accreditation system specifically designed to promote science-centered doctoral training. The creation of PCSAS rests on the desire to spark training that will lessen the burden of mental illness.
PCSAS fosters clinical scientists who will improve public health by disseminating existing knowledge on what mental health treatments work today, by delivering empirically-based clinical services themselves, and by expanding scientific knowledge in clinical psychology through their research to create better mental health treatments for tomorrow.
Want proof of both the service delivery and research capabilities of those trained in PCSAS programs? In a comprehensive analysis of PCSAS graduates, 73% reported engaging in clinical service delivery in their current positions and 33% reported being investigators on federal research grants between 5-10 years after graduating. Many report doing both.
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), “a national advocate and institutional voice for promoting academic quality through accreditation.” Just ten years later, with renewed CHEA recognition, with 46 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.
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.
3. What is “clinical science?”
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 1948-49 in response to the Veterans Administration’s request to identify clinical psychologists whose training enabled them to effectively address the mental health of returning veterans and their families. Today, science is paramount within the more modern clinical science model, and science training for clinical practice and for conducting research are fully integrated and reciprocal. Research informs all aspects of clinical practice and clinical practice continuously informs research.
One indication of the growing acceptance of this model is that PCSAS is fully recognized today by the VA, the federal agency that began accreditation in psychology, to fill its mandate for excellent mental health treatment of our nation’s veterans
For a fuller description of the PCSAS model, see Current Status and Future Prospects of Clinical Psychology.
4. What is the relationship between PCSAS and APA?
PCSAS is completely separate from the American Psychological Association and its accreditation (APA). 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 accredits a broader range of programs. PCSAS now stands at 46 programs; APA is at over 500.
5. As a newer accreditation system, is PCSAS taking hold?
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 body of 3,000 colleges and universities representing the ‘Gold Standard’ in accreditor evaluation. CHEA is considered the “primary national voice for quality assurance to the U.S. Congress, U.S. Dept. of Education, the general public, opinion leaders, students, and families.” CHEA reaffirmed recognition of PCSAS in 2022.
Today, PCSAS accredits 46 clinical science psychology programs in the United States and Canada that are among the highest regarded in the field. For example, all 20 of the U.S. News & World Report’s 20 top-ranked clinical psychology programs are PCSAS accredited. Forty PCSAS programs in the U.S. are in the top 50. (U.S. News only ranks U.S. programs.) Similarly, all PCSAS programs are ranked highly by the National Academy of Sciences; have graduates who score higher on average than non-PCSAS graduates on state licensing exams and students who “match” at a higher rate than others in internship placements; and are distinguished 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.
- Recognized by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), with the Director of the $2.2 billion 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.”
- Recognized by the U.S. Public Health Service, the federal organization that houses the nation’s uniformed health and medical professionals and is headed by the Surgeon General. New Public Health regulations have been created to allow PCSAS graduates to be hired under either a Health Services (for treatment) or Science (for research) category.
- Recognized by Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), that part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that funds a major portion of training for health professionals. HRSA funds are particularly aimed at creating a workforce to serve those who are geographically isolated and economically or medically vulnerable.
- Recognized by multiple 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 two important umbrella groups – the Council of Graduate Departments of Psychology (COGDOP) representing 250 psychology department chairs; and the Council of University Directors of Clinical Psychology (CUDCP) representing 200 psychology clinical training programs.
- Recognized by the Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Centers (APPIC), the organization that runs psychology’s internship placement service such such that students from PCSAS programs are fully eligible for the APPIC Match.
- Recognized in the laws and regulations of states representing over 30 percent of the U.S. population, including the large population states of California, New York and Illinois. Others are Michigan, Missouri, Delaware, New Mexico and Arizona, which is the most recent state to recognize PCSAS. Four more states are pending – Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia – which would bring the total U.S. population recognized to more than 45 percent – as evidence increasingly demonstrates that PCSAS programs exceed state eligibility requirements for graduates seeking to be licensed psychologists.
- Recognized for support in the U.S. Congress over multiple years and in multiple federal agencies, most recently in Department of Defense Appropriations for 2023. DoD’s funding legislation orders DoD to “brief the House and Senate Appropriations Committees not later than 180 days after the enactment of this Act… [T]he assessment should include a review of related regulations to determine what impact a change in regulations to allow the employment of clinical psychologists who graduate from schools accredited by the Psychological Clinical Science Accreditation System may have on the Military Health System.
6. Are students from PCSAS programs qualified for a clinical internship?
Yes. All students from PCSAS-accredited programs must be fully prepared for the clinical internship that we require of all students. 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 Association for Psychology and Postdoctoral Internship Centers (APPIC), the organization that runs the internship matching service for psychology students agrees. PCSAS students participate in the internship “Match.”
See the Training for Clinical Practice page of the PCSAS website for additional information.
7. I have heard that PCSAS only considers research in accrediting programs. Is that true?
No. PSCAS goes to great lengths to review a program’s applied clinical training. In fact, evaluating a program’s clinical training takes up the most time and effort for each PCSAS site visit team and in every Review Committee discussion.
PCSAS site visitors interview each individual clinical faculty member with this in mind, asking how they and their program conduct the clinical training aspect of the program. Our most intensive interviews on clinical training are with the Director of Clinical Training and Clinic Director. Site visitors also interview external practicum supervisors.
PCSAS site visitors look at how each program ensures that all graduates are clinically competent. We would not accredit a program that couldn’t demonstrate this. A program must convince us that all students show mastery of Empirically-Based Assessments and Empirically Based Treatments. This is one reason why we look carefully at both clinical training experiences that typically are offered within the program (e.g., early assessment and therapy training) and supervisor evaluations for advanced practica experiences that often are offered outside the program by seasoned clinicians in real-world settings.
The PCSAS Review Committee was recently site visited by our own recognition body, the Council of Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) and our concentration on evaluating clinical training issues was confirmed by CHEA as was our concentration on what clinical science activities PCSAS graduates engage in after they left their programs. CHEA’s site visitor called PCSAS the “poster child” for outcome based accreditation.
PCSAS accredits programs that educate and train students in clinical science in the broadest sense of that term. This means preparing students to work in treatment settings, an outcome that is widely recognized. As just one example, the U.S. Public Health Service in the Office of the Surgeon General changed its policy in June, 2021 to allow PCSAS graduates to be hired under either a Health Services (for treatment) or Science (for research) category.
Want more proof of both the practice and research capabilities of those trained in PCSAS programs? In a comprehensive analysis of PCSAS graduates, 73 percent reported engaging in clinical service delivery in their current positions and, 5-10 years post PhD, 33% reported being investigators on federal research grants. Many are involved in both.
8. One hallmark of PCSAS is program flexibility, but does this mean PCSAS lacks a core curriculum?
No. PCSAS requires the curriculum of each accredited program to have a full spectrum of courses and requirements to deliver the core knowledge necessary to excel in the field of clinical psychology. But PCSAS does not require each school to meet this requirement with the same exact list of courses.
Every PCSAS accredited program mandates knowledge in psychopathology, assessment, diagnosis, intervention and treatment, supervision, and statistics. Every program concentrates on ethics, research methods, data analysis, and on issues of individual differences and diversity. Every program also mandates applied experiences – supervised clinical experiences both within their programs and via external practica; and one-year clinical internships post coursework.
Our bottom line is that students must know the core of our field. The PCSAS Review Committee would not approve a program if they did not nor would a state licensing board admit such a PCSAS graduate to practice. (We are proud that 97% of PCSAS graduates pass their state licensing board exams.) This knowledge is mandated because it is the foundation that makes for a clinical psychologist. A PCSAS graduate cannot function as a clinical psychologist without knowing it. That core is built into all our programs.
At the same time, PCSAS emphasizes program flexibility to take advantage of the specific expertise and resources in an individual clinical training program. There are multiple ways to get to a common endpoint of mastery in clinical psychological science. But it also is true that within this expert pool of faculty and unique clinical experiences, students must gain core knowledge.
9. If programs are accredited by both APA and PCSAS, might they one day choose to be accredited by only one of these organizations?
This will be up to programs. Some may hold dual accreditation; others may maintain only PCSAS accreditation. Both are appropriate outcomes for PCSAS.
To date, eighteen PCSAS programs have declared intentions they may be solely PCSAS-accredited in the future – Emory University, University of California-Berkeley, UCLA, University of Illinois, University of Iowa, Stony Brook University, University of Delaware, Indiana University, University at Buffalo, University of Wisconsin, University of South Florida, Washington University in St. Louis, University of Arizona, University of Minnesota, University of Pennsylvania, University of Southern California, University of Washington, and Yale University.
University of California-Berkeley, Stony Brook University and Washington University in St. Louis specifically announced dates for becoming solely PCSAS-accredited. Berkeley already admitted its third PCSAS-only graduate class and Stony Brook its first. Wash U admitted its first PCSAS-only program in the fall 2022. Ohio State’s clinical psychology program in Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, perhaps the best program of its type in the United States, is only PCSAS accredited
10. If programs drop APA accreditation and remain accredited solely by PCSAS, will these programs stop training students in applications?
No. Treatment and the 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 renewal but wanted to keep its PCSAS accreditation, we would approve that program only if it still maintained excellence in applied clinical science education and training. (See Training for Clinical Practice.) Third, PCSAS’s own recognition by CHEA is dependent on PCSAS programs providing quality clinical training. CHEA recognition of PCSAS would be forfeited if such training did not occur. Finally, in a comprehensive analysis of over ten years of PCSAS graduates, 73% report engaging in clinical service delivery in their current positions. Our graduates practice! They need and would demand clinical training for their future employment. Students wouldn’t apply to PCSAS programs if we did not deliver on our promise to train them to provide effective treatments to those suffering with mental disorders.
Here is a real-world example. UC-Berkeley already has admitted its third PCSAS-only class. In doing so, they have been developing a new PCSAS curriculum. One of its defining features is a continuing commitment to excellence in applied clinical training. Here is what they report:
“In the new PCSAS curriculum with its more flexible course requirements, applied clinical training continues to be a cornerstone of our training program. In the PCSAS curriculum, students will be involved in closely supervised applied clinical experiences in every year of their training during the 9-month academic year. We hope to be able to expand clinical opportunities into the summer as well. Reflecting this earlier start for applied clinical work, the new PCSAS curriculum provides expanded early training in basic clinical skills (e.g., interviewing, risk assessment, case formulation), and an expanded proseminar in clinical theory and research, both designed to smooth the transition into working with clients and conducting clinically-relevant research. Applied clinical training will continue to meet all current legal and ethical standards.
“In the PCSAS-only era, Berkeley is maintaining and expanding its in-house Psychology Clinic, which provides affordable, evidence-based assessment, intervention, and consultation services to the Berkeley and other Bay Area communities and is a primary training site for students in the program. In addition to providing clinical services, the Psychology Clinic is becoming more deeply involved in clinical research, housing a growing number of innovative treatment development and assessment projects. For example, in collaboration with the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at UC San Francisco, the UCSF-UC Berkeley Schwab Dyslexia and Cognitive Diversity Center, will focus on learning disorders and learning differences across the lifespan. This program will provide the Psychology Clinic and its trainees with access to psychiatric supervision, expanded telehealth capabilities, and training and research opportunities working with new populations in multi-disciplinary teams. It reveals the commitment of the PCSAS Clinical Science program to expand into cross-campus and cross-disciplinary clinical efforts.
“Thus, as Berkeley has transitioned toward sole accreditation by PCSAS, there has been neither dilution nor diminution of applied clinical training. Instead, using the additional curricular flexibility and greater ability to take advantage of local resources, applied clinical training in Berkeley’s PCSAS program is starting earlier, broadening in scope, and becoming more integrated with contemporary multidisciplinary approaches to assessment, training, and research.”
11. 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 for Title IV of The Higher Education Act for student federal financial aid — for loans, grants, and work-study. PCSAS students already have access to these programs because the universities that house PCSAS programs are DOE-recognized. That is, PCSAS universities are federally recognized.
We were advised by senior DOE officials that because our universities already are DOE-recognized, we probably are not eligible for additional DOE recognition under the DOE principle of PCSAS having no “unique federal purpose.” This from various sections of the Department of Education’s accreditation website:
“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.” And “An accreditor [e.g., PCSAS] seeking recognition from the Secretary of Education must… have a link to a federal program (e.g., federal student aid).” More specifically, “Some criteria for recognition, such as the criterion requiring a link to Federal [aid] programs have no bearing on the quality of an accreditor; however, they do have the effect of making some accreditors ineligible for recognition for reasons other than quality.”
Further, a trend for all accrediting bodies either is not to seek DOE recognition in the first place 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 recognition.
The newest example is that the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) is applying for CHEA recognition. Not only does this mean that there soon will be another separate accreditor of psychological services, but one, like PCSAS, that also will not be DOE-recognized.
Teacher Education provides another 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. In its role, CHEA provides a “seal of approval” in meeting standards that are indicators of quality, including to the federal government.
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 recognition.
States also are moving in this direction. New Mexico recently changed its psychology licensure regulations so that only graduates from a CHEA recognized psychology accreditation system (.e.g., PCSAS) would be allowed to sit for a licensing exam. That is, if the program you graduated from was recognized solely by DOE, you cannot be a licensed psychologist in New Mexico.
But make no mistake, PCSAS is federally recognized — by the U.S. Public Health Service, by the National Institutes of Health, by the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration, and by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). And note that the VA is by far the largest provider of mental and behavioral health services in the world. It is a recognition that is substantially more focused on the quality of health and mental health training than would be had from DOE. In recognizing PCSAS, the VA said they hold CHEA as the “gold standard” for determining quality. In fact, it is our recognition by the VA that makes PCSAS students eligible for year-long internships organized by the Association of Psychology Internships and Postdoctoral Centers (APPIC). (See 12, below)
12. What about internships and licensing for PCSAS students and graduates?
The pipeline from enrollment in a doctoral program to licensure as an independent professional involves several key steps.
- All graduates from PCSAS-accredited programs complete a clinical internship. A “match” system for internships is organized by the Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Centers (APPIC). Students from PCSAS accredited programs participate in the APPIC “match.” This from APPIC’s Revised Policy webpage: “As of May 2018, the eligible accrediting organizations are American Psychological Association’s Commission on Accreditation (APA), the Canadian Psychological Association (CPA), and the Psychological Clinical Science Accreditation System (PCSAS).”
- APA requires that APA-accredited internships accept students from APA or CPA accredited doctoral programs. There is a provision for interns who come from non-APA/CPA programs that “the program must discuss how the intern is appropriate for the internship program.”
- In many states, the requirements for licensure include taking the licensing exam that is administered by the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPBB). ASPBB is currently advocating for a revised version of this exam. PCSAS is closely monitoring this process and will be advocating for full eligibility for students from PCSAS-only programs to take this exam, which now appears to be the case.
- Ten states to date, either through recently passed legislation, newly revised regulations, or interpretations of existing regulations as communicated to us, currently allow for PCSAS graduates to be licensed. They are: California, New York, Illinois, Delaware, Missouri, Michigan, Arizona, and New Mexico, Texas, and Virginia. The Minnesota and Pennsylvania licensing boards recently voted to recognize PCSAS, which starts the regulatory change process in those states and would mean that all told over 45 percent of the U.S. population would be covered. We expect a steady flow of more states over the next several years. Additional states have no need to change anything since they do not link accreditation to licensing. So PCSAS graduates already can be licensed in many states.
PCSAS has not nor will we ever ask for special privileges for PCSAS graduates. We only ask that our students be allowed to compete on a level playing field in psychology. If PCSAS students don’t measure up, so be it. They won’t have earned the right to a license or to practice.
But our graduates do measure up. According to the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Board (ASPPB), 98% of PCSAS graduates pass the national licensing exam wherever it is given. The comparable figure for the entire population of clinical psychology graduates (which includes PCSAS graduates) is 81%. Similarly, PCSAS graduates do better on every subtest of the national exam.
Also, according to the most recent 8-year data on internship placements, PCSAS students have an internship “match” rate of well over 90% – up to 98% depending on definitional terms – compared to under 80% for non-PCSAS students.
We believe PCSAS graduates will make an important contribution toward fulfilling our promise 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.