FAQ

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 $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 Chairs of Psychology Departments or Directors of Clinical Training. Agreement emerged from the Summit on “the need for urgent reform of the [then-sole] accreditation system in psychology.”

Following several years of failed efforts working for reform within the then-sole accreditation system, the specifics of a separate system began with additional discussion in 1995 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, and 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, all 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.) And all 39 PCSAS programs are ranked highly by the National Academy of Sciences; higher on average than non-PCSAS programs by both their graduates’ scores on state licensing exams and their students’ placements in internships; and are distinguished by the publication records of PCSAS faculty.  

PCSAS is recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), the prestigious body founded by 3,000 universities that is the gold standard for evaluating accreditors (“a 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 provides a “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 is preeminent in PCSAS programs, in research and clinical training. This primary commitment to scientific perspectives in all aspects of clinical psychology plus growing concerns about the nation’s pressing but as yet unmet mental health treatment needs gave rise to PCSAS as a new accreditation system specifically designed to promote science-centered doctoral training.

The PCSAS aim is to foster clinical scientists who will improve public health by disseminating the existing science on what mental health treatments work, 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.

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 Veteran’s Administration’s need 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. For a fuller description, see Current Status and Future Prospects of Clinical Psychology.

PCSAS is completely separate from the American Psychological Association and its Commission on Accreditation (APA-COA). 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-COA accredits a broader range of programs. PCSAS now stands at 39 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 39 clinical science psychology programs in the United States and Canada, programs that are among the highest regarded in the field. All 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!) 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 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. That is, PCSAS students and graduates need no other accreditation credential.
  • Recognized at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), with the Director of the $1.6 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.”
  • 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).
  • Included 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 in a number of states, with Missouri being the most recent. 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 over multiple years, most recently in Department of Defense Appropriations for 2020, in which the DoD funding legislation states: “In order to ensure that the Department 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.”

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.” 

And that: 

“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). 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. 

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. This 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 over ten years of PCSAS graduates, 73% reported engaging in clinical service delivery in their current positions and, 5-10 years post Ph.D., 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. At the same time PCSAS does not require each school to meet this requirement with the same exact list of courses.

Every PCSAS accredited program mandates knowledge in assessment, intervention and treatment, psychopathology, and statistics; and every program concentrates on ethics, research methods, issues of diversity and much more. Every program also mandates applied experiences – practica during graduate coursework; and one-year 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. 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, fourteen  PCSAS programs – 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 at St. Louis, University of Arizona, University of Pennsylvania, Emory University and University of Washington – have declared intentions they may be solely PCSAS accredited in the future.  

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 (which PCSAS also has not sought) 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.

Teacher Education provides a 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.

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.

  1. 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 2018 policy 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).”               
  1. APA-COA internship accreditation requires that APA-COA 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.”
  1. 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). APBB 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.
  1. APA accreditation is recognized for entry level competencies to be a licensed psychologist in some states. However, Illinois, Delaware and Missouri now provide full legislative parity for PCSAS accreditation. Other states (e.g., New Mexico) provide full regulatory parity. Still others are in various stages of changing laws and regulations to recognize PCSAS, while additional states, including California and New York – the two states with the largest number of licensed psychologists – 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), 97% 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 82%. Similarly, PCSAS graduates do better on every subtest of the national exam.

Also, according to the most recent 6-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.