Counseling psychology training programs in the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico may be accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA) and, if they are, must indicate so in their published materials. APA accreditation is a designation that publicly indicates that the accredited program, through a voluntary self-study and an external review, meets certain expected standards of quality and engages in ongoing evaluation and enhancement. The process of accreditation protects the interests of counseling psychology students and the general public through improving the quality of teaching, learning, research, and professional practice. Only graduate programs in professional psychology (counseling, clinical, or school psychology) at the doctoral level are accredited by the APA, not master’s or specialist’s level programs. Doctoral programs in counselor education are also not accredited by the APA; they may instead be accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). The APA, which has given the responsibility for accreditation of professional psychology programs to its Committee on Accreditation (CoA), also accredits professional psychology internship programs and postdoctoral residencies in professional psychology. The CoA carries out accreditation responsibilities consistent with the recognition provisions of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), which provides a list of accredited institutions and programs to the U.S. Secretary of Education, who publishes it annually.
Structure of the Accreditation Process
Committee on Accreditation
In 1991, the APA outlined the foundation of a committee that would oversee the accreditation process in the Policies for Accreditation Governance. The committee members must represent a balance among graduate educators, practicing clinicians, and well-informed community citizens. Such a balance gives the committee the ability to scrutinize concerns from each of the three populations, thus creating a comprehensive accreditation process. The policy says that the CoA must consist of no fewer then 21 committee members. Four members must be graduate educators from psychology departments, ten members represent professional schools and training programs, four members are practicing professionals, two members are from the general public, and one member is a representative of graduate students. Of the ten members from professional schools and training programs, two each must be solicited by the Council of University Directors of Clinical Psychology, Council of Counseling Psychology Training Programs, Council of Directors of School Psychology Programs, National Council of Schools of Professional Psychology, and Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Centers.
The purpose of the CoA is to oversee formulation and implementation of accreditation policies and procedures, render final accreditation decisions on education and training, evaluate accreditation policies and procedures, provide guidance and information regarding accreditation, establish guidelines for site visitors (see below), establish developmental and evaluative research on the accreditation process, establish task forces and review panels, and implement other responsibilities. The CoA proposes changes in policy after allowing for a period for public comment, finalizes the proposed changes, and sends them to the APA Board of Directors to adopt. A recent change was to the operating procedures of the CoA; these went into effect in 2005.
Site visitors serve as representatives of the CoA in reviewing the quality and specific functions of the professional psychology program in question. They are professional clinical, counseling, and school psychologists or generalists who are psychologists in nonprofessional or nonpractice psychology disciplines. Site visitors who are professional psychologists must have earned a doctoral degree and have 5 years of experience working in a psychology field, hold an appropriate license or certification, and be active members of professional research organizations. Depending on the domain in which the professional psychologist works, he or she must also be associated with a doctoral training program, must have some association with a doctoral training program, or must be deemed to have adequate knowledge about educational, professional, and scientific issues in psychology. Site visitors who are generalists must have received a doctoral degree from a regionally accredited institution, have at least some professional experience, have some type of involvement with an institution that has an accredited training program, and be deemed to have adequate knowledge about educational, professional, and scientific issues in psychology. Site visitors must all be trained to be a site visitor or a site visit chairperson. They are evaluated postvisit by the program’s training director and other site visitors. Although expenses are reimbursed by APA, neither members of the CoA nor site visitors receive any monetary compensation; they do this as an important professional service.
Site visitors represent the CoA but are not decision makers. They look at the training program based on the program materials and their actual visit. Materials include the self-study report that the program submits to the CoA and any material the CoA requests in addition. During the visit, site visitors serve as the “eyes and ears” of the CoA. Site visitors observe the program and its quality in terms of the program’s philosophy, goals, implementation of goals, and expected and documented outcomes. Site visitors review the training program based on the guidelines and policies in the Guidelines and Principles for Accreditation of Programs in Professional Psychology. After the visit and review of materials, the team writes a report to the CoA based on their observations. The program is given an opportunity to respond to the CoA about the site visit report. Based on the self-study, the site visit report, and the program’s response to the site visit report, the CoA determines further action regarding accreditation status. The site team has no more contact with the program regarding the accreditation process.
Criteria of Accreditation
The accreditation process was established to protect the rights of students, universities, consumers of psycho-logical services, and community citizens. There are a number of requirements that need to be met before a program becomes accredited. The applicant program must provide evidence that it can and will ethically and effectively prepare students or trainees to provide psychological services to the public. The CoA recognizes that there are a variety of reliable and valid ways to effectively prepare students to serve the public. In reviewing the initial application of a program, the CoA will help the applying program formulate specific goals, encourage experimentation in achieving these goals, and suggest ways of constructing flexibility and reasonable freedom within these goals. Once the applicant program has set forth a model of training that has been approved by the CoA, site visitors will visit the program and review eight different domains in order for the CoA to determine whether the program should be accredited or not. The CoA and the site visitors will review the following: eligibility; program philosophy, objectives, and curriculum plan; program resources; cultural and individual differences and diversity; student-faculty relations; program self-assessment and quality enhancement; public disclosure; and relationships with accrediting body.
Site visitors assess whether the program is housed in an environment that is conducive to the appropriate training of doctoral level students or trainees in professional psychology. To be eligible, the program needs to be sponsored by a regionally accredited higher education institution. The program also needs to have a mission statement congruent with the goals of the academic department in which it is housed; require each student to complete at least three years of academic coursework and one year of internship training before granting a doctoral degree; advocate for the development of students’ understanding of cultural and individual diversity; and produce a viable means in which information regarding their program is shared with all interested parties.
Program Philosophy, Objectives, and Curriculum Plan
Site visitors look for evidence of congruence of the philosophy and plans of the program with the mission statement of the sponsoring institution, and they determine whether the institution is appropriate for training in the science and practice of professional psychology. The match between the program and the sponsoring institution is considered vital for students to receive an education that is comprehensive, complex, sequential, and cumulative. The team also reviews whether program training objectives prepare students to serve the general public. They review student records and materials such as syllabi, dissertations, and comprehensive examinations and conduct interviews with students, faculty, supervisors, administrators, and support staff to determine the consistency and quality of the program’s philosophy and model of training, the substantive areas of professional psychology in which the students are trained, and the ability of the program to foster a high level of understanding of ethical, legal, and quality assurance issues related to the practice of psychology.
The site team also examines program curriculum to determine if all the major requirements are being met. The CoA expects that students have a comprehensive conceptualization of scientific psychology, theoretical foundations of psychology, diagnosis of difficulties through psychological assessment, cultural and individual diversity, and attitudes conducive to lifelong learning.
Last, site visitors assess whether each program has adequate and appropriate practicum experiences. Practicum sites should clearly commit to training, integrate practice with education, ensure that appropriate experiences are consistent with the program’s training model, and justify the sufficiency of the practicum experience in order for the student to be prepared for internship. Site visitors assess appropriate material and practices in internship and postdoctoral residency programs.
In regards to the program resources domain, the CoA is concerned with the ability of the program to successfully implement methods to achieve the stated mission, objectives, or goals. Site visitors assess whether or not the program has an identified core faculty (or supervisors) who are responsible for training, education, and supervision; has identified a sufficient number of quality students who have the necessary skills and abilities to effectively practice psychology; is housed in a stable learning environment; and effectively utilizes resources that enhance the level of preparation of the students or trainees.
Cultural and Individual Differences and Diversity
Site visitors use their “eyes and ears” for the CoA to assess whether and how the program recognizes the importance of cultural and individual diversity in professional psychology. They look at whether the program has and continues to make systematic, coherent, and long-term commitments to recruit and retain diverse students and faculty or supervisors into the program. They also look at the extent to which the program takes steps to ensure an encouraging, supportive environment appropriate to the education and training of individuals from diverse backgrounds. The team further assesses the program’s incorporation of relevant knowledge and experience with culturally diverse individuals and issues into the science and practice of psychology.
Site visitors assess whether the program is conducive to the formation of ethically appropriate relationships between the student body or trainees and the faculty or supervisors that enhance the quality of learning experiences. The team attempts to determine whether the faculty or supervisors are accessible to provide appropriate guidance and supervision to the students and if the program acknowledges students’ rights, advocates for the cultural and individual diversity among the students, provides students with written policies and procedures upon entering into the program, and documents all complaints and grievances filed against the program.
Program Self-Assessment and Quality Enhancement
Site visitors attempt to determine if the program is committed to excellence and enhancement of the quality in its training and supervision. The program should engage in continual self-study to assess the effectiveness of meeting its philosophical goals and objectives. The program should frequently review its goals and objectives in order to be congruent with an evolving body of scientific and practical knowledge that serves as the basis of psychology practice.
The program must publicly disclose information regarding the procedures and policies that underlie its training and education. The program should make available to the general public accurate and complete documents relative to its goals, mission statement, faculty, students, admission criteria, administration policies, research and practicum experiences, education and training outcomes, and accreditation status. As of January 1, 2007, for doctoral graduate programs, this information needs to include time to degree completion, program costs, success in obtain-ing internships, and attrition.
Relationships with Accrediting Body
The program is expected to demonstrate its commitment to the accreditation process by fulfilling responsibilities outlined in the Guidelines and Principles for Accreditation of Programs in Professional Psychology. It is expected to follow APA’s published principles and policies, to inform the CoA of relevant changes to the program’s philosophy or model of training, and to be in good standing with the CoA and APA in terms of financial and accreditation status.
Importance of Accreditation
For students, faculty members, supervisors, university officials, administrators, state licensing boards, and community members, the process of accreditation engenders a sense of assurance that the accredited program reflects a high level of quality in its philosophy, goals, implementation of its policies and procedures, and training and education. During their graduate training or education and required internships and optional postdoctoral residencies programs and specialization, professional psychology students and trainees invest a significant amount of money and time in obtaining their degrees and completing the required supervised experiences necessary for psychology licensure. It is important for them to choose a program that fosters a high standard of learning that will adequately prepare them to face the challenges of an entry level psychologist in the job market. By choosing an accredited program, students and trainees can be assured that their rights will be respected, they will receive a significant amount of guidance and supervision from faculty members and supervisors, and the program will continually review policies and curriculum so that it meets the demands of evolving scientific and practical knowledge.
An accredited program provides benefits to university officials and faculty members and to internship and postdoctoral supervisors and administrators. The accreditation process provides guidelines that, if followed, will help protect them from ethical violations and enhance the quality of their relationships with students and trainees.
The accreditation process engenders a sense of security, credibility, and trustworthiness in the community. Accreditation indicates that a program reflects a high standard of quality in the preparation of its psychology trainees to effectively meet the needs of the public. State psychology licensing boards look for licensure applicants to come from APA-accredited programs or to document an equivalent training and supervised experience.
Overall, accreditation reflects a standard of quality and accountability that protects the interests of students, faculty and university officials, internship and postdoctoral training institutions, psychology licensing boards, and the community.
- American Psychological Association. (2006). Frequently asked questions about accreditation in psychology. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/support/accreditation.aspx
- Committee on Accreditation. (2005). Accreditation operating procedures of the Committee on Accreditation. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/ed/accreditation/about/policies/operating-procedures.pdf
- Committee on Accreditation. (2005). Guidelines and principles for accreditation of programs in professional psychology. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/ed/accreditation/about/policies/guiding-principles.pdf
- Council of Counseling Psychology Training Programs. (1987). Director of training manual. Retrieved from http://www.ccptp.org/training-directors-manual
- Office of Program Consultation and Accreditation. (2006). Site visitors and the accreditation process. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/ed/accreditation/visits/process.aspx
- Smith-Bailey, D. (2004). Why accreditation matters: Accreditation guidelines set the standard for your education—and can ease your way to licensure. DEGREE In Sight, 2(2). Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/gradpsych/2004/04/accreditation.aspx