Training for Clinical Practice

Training for Clinical Practice

Question are sometimes raised about the role that training for clinical practice plays in PCSAS accreditation. As indicated throughout the PCSAS review criteria, PCSAS accreditation requires that all graduates must be able to function effectively and independently as clinical psychologists. 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, Empirically Based Treatments, etc. 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.

From the PCSAS review criteria:

  • “Because psychological clinical science is an applied science, it requires that doctoral students acquire a deep and thorough understanding of the clinical phenomena that will be the central focus of their scientific careers. Graduates must be able to function as independent clinical scientists, able to assume clinical responsibility for patients with problems in their areas of expertise. Thus, they must be trained to a high level of professional competence in the most cost-effective, efficient, empirically supported procedures for the clinical assessment and treatment of specific populations and problems, and also must be capable of training and supervising others in these clinical procedures, where appropriate. Students must acquire clinical competence through direct application training, including well organized and monitored, science-based practicum and internship experiences. Innovative approaches to the design and implementation of the applied training are encouraged, with the aim of improving the effectiveness and efficiency of the clinical training; however, programs are expected to provide evidence that such innovations achieve or exceed the intended results.”

PCSAS reviewers and site visitors expect to see a clearly articulated overview of the applied training that all students receive. Applied training must be described in detail in the self-study we require and evidence for it must be presented in the site visit that subsequently takes place.  The training must entail:

  • “individualized on- or off-site training whereby [PCSAS students] gain direct, first-hand, mentored experience with specific science-based procedures and with populations or problems that are relevant to ensuring their competence in core areas of clinical science application–i.e., clinical assessment, diagnosis, prevention, treatment, supervision, and program evaluation” and      
  • “the sequencing, design and amount of these experiences must adequately prepare the student to function as an independent and integrative clinical psychologist competent to work in applied settings and also to function as a productive research scientist.”

One important aspect of PCSAS accreditation is that training experiences are evidence-based. PCSAS site visitors and reviewers expect to see relevant syllabi, evaluation forms from clinical supervisors, and evidence of ongoing assessment during treatment. Site visitors also ask about performance evaluations, and they meet with internal and external supervisors to get their views on the adequacy of the students’ clinical skills. All PCSAS students also complete year-long internships. Site visitors examine internship match rates and may examine performance evaluations from intern supervisors in students’ mid-year and end-of-year letters. Based on the many PCSAS site visits that have occurred, it is fair to say that the majority of the time on a PCSAS site visit is devoted to evaluating applied education and clinical training.

As to objective indicators of the effectiveness of this training, we are proud that PCSAS students as a whole score better on state licensing exams and are matched in internship placements at a higher rate than non-PCSAS students. Importantly, PCSAS graduates also make significant contributions to applied clinical science as evidenced by high levels of application-related publications in the scientific literature, serving as educators and trainers for future generations of clinical psychologists, assuming leadership roles in service delivery service organizations, and advancing treatment and assessment development, evaluation, and dissemination. 

And note that our graduates do practice. In a comprehensive analysis of over ten years of PCSAS graduates, 73% report engaging in clinical service delivery in their current positions. Bottom line: PCSAS accredited psychologists use their PCSAS clinical training to provide effective treatments to those suffering with mental disorders.