What is PCSAS?
What is unique about PCSAS and why is it important now?
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 gave rise to PCSAS as a different 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 for all people. PCSAS fosters clinical scientists who will improve public health by disseminating existing knowledge on what mental health treatments work today, by delivering evidence-based clinical services themselves, and by expanding scientific knowledge in clinical psychology through their research to create better mental health treatments for tomorrow. Our ultimate goal is to provide the public with new and better mental health services that are safe, that work and that are accessible and cost-effective and accessible.
What is “clinical science?”
What is the relationship between PCSAS and the APA-CoA?
PCSAS is completely separate from the American Psychological Association (APA) and its Commission on Accreditation (CoA). Both organizations accredit clinical psychology education and training programs. However, the PCSAS scope is narrower with a goal to accredit those doctoral programs that adhere to a clinical science training model. The APA-CoA accredits a broader range of programs. PCSAS currently accredits 46 programs; APA accredits over 500 programs.
As a newer accreditation system, has PCSAS taken 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.
What programs are accredited by PCSAS?
How is PCSAS involved in promoting Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Social Justice?
PCSAS accreditation requires that programs demonstrate a commitment to the integration of diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice into all aspects of the program. Programs must attend to the demonstrable role played in mental and physical health by dimensions of human diversity, including but not limited to race, color, ethnicity, age, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, marital status, national origin, ability status, beliefs, religion, physical appearance, and culture, as well as how these identities and others may intersect. Programmatic activity must acknowledge and reflect how dimensions of diversity have historically and persistently been shown to meet with prejudicial, stigmatizing, and discriminatory experiences that result in negative health impacts and disparities. Programs are required to promote the principles of social justice by recognizing and attending to the broader social, economic, and political forces and structures that contribute to health and mental health disparities. The specific mechanisms by which programs meet these requirements may vary, but the values of DEIJ must be incorporated into the scholarly content of instruction and program requirements (e.g., research and application training; required coursework/experiences, presentations, and milestones, etc.); recruitment and retention of faculty and students; client populations; and the inclusiveness of the climate and student well-being within the program.
What agencies and organizations recognize PCSAS accreditation?
PCSAS has been formally recognize by a number of organizations and agencies including: the U.S, Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the U.S. Public Health Service, Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), multiple psychological and mental health organizations (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; the Council of Graduate Departments of Psychology (COGDOP); and the Council of University Directors of Clinical Psychology (CUDCP), and the Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Centers (APPIC). In addition, PCSAS is Recognized in the laws and regulations of states representing about 50% percent of the U.S. population, including the large population states of California, New York, and Illinois. Others are Arizona, Delaware, Michigan, Missouri, New Mexico, Texas, and Virginia. Two more states are in the process of altering regulations to recognize PCSAS: Minnesota and Pennsylvania.
PCSAS continues to work with our programs to gain recognition of PCSAS in individual states. The specific requirements for licensure and internship placements vary by jurisdiction and institution and are subject to change. As of September 2023, about a quarter of the states recognize PCSAS explicitly and two-thirds recognize APA explicitly in their policies. The remaining states either do not have language about an accreditation requirement or they do not require accreditation from a program-level accreditor like PCSAS or APA-CoA. The process for gaining recognition for PCSAS can be lengthy and must be initiated by programs within a state. PCSAS has resources available for programs interested in approaching their state licensure boards to request that PCSAS accreditation be recognized for licensing purposes and will assist in that process.
The Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB) is an alliance of state, provincial, and territorial agencies responsible for the licensure and certification of psychologists throughout the United States and Canada. Click here for a link to the ASPBB website where a comprehensive list of individual state contact information and licensing regulations can be found.
Are students from PCSAS programs qualified for a clinical internship?
Yes. In fact, 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.” 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.”
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 could not demonstrate this. A program must convince us that all students show mastery of evidence-based assessments and evidence-based treatments. Indeed, in a recent 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.
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, equity, inclusions and social justice. Every program also mandates applied experiences – supervised clinical experiences both within their programs and via external practica; and a required one-year clinical internships post coursework. Our bottom line is that students must know the core of our field. The proof that the PCSAS curricula works can be seen in the fact that, of the PCSAS graduates who take the national licensing exam, 97% pass. 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.
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 their intentions of possibly becoming a PCSAS-only accredited program in the future. The University of California-Berkeley, Stony Brook University and Washington University in St. Louis specifically announced dates for becoming solely PCSAS-accredited. Ohio State University’s clinical psychology program in Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, arguably the best program of its type in the United States, is only PCSAS accredited.
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 the 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. 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.
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. In fact, PCSAS was 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.” A number of program-level accreditors have decided either is not to seek DOE recognition in the first place or to discontinue DOE recognition, including: 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; Educator and Teacher Preparation; National Association of School Psychologists, and Council for the Accreditation of Education 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.