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
PCSAS accredited its first program in late 2009. To date PCSAS has accredited 43 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, 41 of 42 PCSAS 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.) And all 43 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.
PCSAS is recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), the body of 3,000 colleges and universities that is the gold standard for evaluating accreditors. That is, CHEA is the “primary national voice for quality assurance to the U.S. Congress, U.S. Department of Education, the general public, opinion leaders, students, families.” CHEA’s sole purpose is quality assurance of higher education through accreditation. In this role, CHEA provided PCSAS its “seal of approval” 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.”
Science plays a part of all clinical training programs, but it is preeminent in PCSAS programs — in research training, clinical training, and, importantly, in their integration. This commitment to scientific perspectives in all aspects of clinical psychology plus growing concerns that the nation’s pressing and growing mental health treatment needs are too often not being met – witness the surging suicide rate in the U.S. – growing 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.
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.” Ten years later, with 43 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.
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, today to fill its needs for mental health treatment,
For a fuller description of the PCSAS model, see Current Status and Future Prospects of Clinical Psychology.
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 43 programs; APA is at over 400.
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 43 clinical science psychology programs in the United States and Canada, programs that are among the highest regarded in the field. All 41 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.) 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 $1.8 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 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 most recently the Council of Graduate Departments of Psychology (COGDOP) and the Council of University Directors of Clinical Psychology (CUDCP).
- Recognized in a 2018 policy change 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 28 percent of the U.S. population including the large population states of California, New York and Illinois. In early 2020, Michigan became the most recent state to recognize PCSAS. More states are pending as evidence increasingly demonstrates that PCSAS programs exceed state 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 Health and Human Services Appropriations for 2021, in which HHS legislation states: “The [House Appropriations] Committee supports the review by the Surgeon General’s office to update HHS regulations to permit the graduates of the 43 doctoral programs in clinical psychology accredited by the Psychological Clinical Science Accreditation System (PCSAS) to be employed by the Public Health Service Corps. This update is necessary as PCSAS was recognized in September 2012 by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) and now accredits 43 programs that are among the highest ranked clinical psychology program in the country. The Veterans Administration, the Association of Psychological Postdoctoral and Internship Centers, and others have already updated their regulations to permit the employment of the graduates of PCSAS accredited programs. The Committee urges the Surgeon General’s office to finalize and implement these changes as soon as possible.”
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.”
See the Training for Clinical Practice page of the PCSAS website for additional information.
No. PSCAS goes to great lengths to review a program’s applied clinical training (e.g., in treatment and assessment). Yes, all PCSAS programs include high-quality research, but research is never the sole focus of the programs that are accredited by PCSAS. 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.
Further, 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 to our satisfaction. That is, 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 so 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, and by seasoned clinicians in real-world settings.
More generally, 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, we are working with U.S. Public Health Service in the Office of the Surgeon General to have PCSAS graduates 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 (more evidence for the clinical competency of PCSAS graduates) and, 5-10 years post PhD, 33% reported being investigators on federal research grants. Many are involved in both.
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 our 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.
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, fifteen PCSAS programs have declared intentions they may be solely PCSAS-accredited in the future – 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 in St. Louis, University of Arizona, University of Pennsylvania, Emory University, University of Washington, and Yale university. University of California-Berkeley and Stony Brook University specifically announced dates for becoming solely PCSAS-accredited.
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.
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 already because the universities that house PCSAS programs are DOE-recognized. That is, PCSAS universities are federally recognized.
We were advised by the Department that because our universities already are DOE-recognized, we may not be even eligible for additional DOE recognition under the newer DOE principle of PCSAS having no “unique federal purpose.” And we wouldn’t learn if we were eligible until we submitted a several thousand page application and go at least partially through a multi-year review, one that is not based on an assessment of our quality. This from the Department of Education’s accreditation website:
“An accreditor seeking recognition from the Secretary of Education must… have a link to a federal program (e.g., federal student aid).” And “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 [DOE] recognition for reasons other than quality.”
Further, a trend for all accrediting bodies either is not to seek DOE recognition in the first place (just like PCSAS) 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) has just announced that it is applying for CHEA recognition. Not only does this mean that there soon will be another separate accreditor of psychological services, but it is also true that NASP will not be applying for DOE recognition.
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. We repeat. The largest education group of its type chose not to be recognized by the U.S. Department of Education! 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.
But make no mistake, PCSAS is federally recognized — by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), 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 fully eligible for year-long internships organized by the Association of Psychology Internships and Postdoctoral Centers (APPIC). (See 12, below)
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). APPIC policy had been that only students from programs accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA) or the Canadian Psychological Association (CPA) were eligible for the APPIC Match. However, APPIC’s policy changed and now states that students from PCSAS accredited programs are fully eligible to participate. 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.
- APA accreditation is recognized for entry level competencies to be a licensed psychologist in some states. However, seven 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, and New Mexico. They represent 28 percent of the U.S. population. Other states are in the process of changing laws/regulations and we expect a steady flow 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 the truth is 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.