The Standards of Accreditation (SoA) in Health Service Psychology: What you need to know

The SoA top five list.
1.  Public comment

Public comment on the proposed the SoA began on Jan. 16 and continues through July 7, 2014. This is your opportunity to pose questions to CoA, make recommendations and provide any other thoughts to help inform the development of the new standards. It is important to note that the SoA documents are proposals; nothing is final at this point and your feedback is important to CoA’s process. Based on the feedback received, CoA will review all comments and decide the timeline for moving forward. 

2. Process/timeline

One concern expressed by CoA’s publics is that new standards will be implemented within the next year or two. Given the profound impact new accreditation standards will have to the field and discipline, programs will receive ample notice of upcoming changes during a carefully executed implementation period. This of course will only occur after the approval process for the new standards ensues consistent with Implementing Regulation A-1 (PDF, 167KB). First, CoA-approved standards will be presented to the APA Board of Educational Affairs and Board of Directors for review. Upon completion of those reviews, the revised standards must be approved by the APA Council of Representatives.

In addition to the SoA, there are supplementary materials included in the revision process. For instance, the “Accreditation Operating Procedures” (AOP) will need to be revised to align to the new standards; they also will receive a separate period of public comment. In regards to the AOP, the commission is considering changing the maximum number of years of accreditation and structuring a contingency status for doctoral programs (similar to that approved in 2012 and currently in effect for internship and postdoctoral residency programs). 

As such, it is unlikely for implementation to occur prior to 2016, at which time there will be an appropriate phase-in and application of the new accreditation standards.

3. Programs in religious institutions

In moving forward with the SoA, the commission’s goal is to ensure that all programs, whether they are religiously-affiliated or in public or private institutions, are held to the same education and training standards while simultaneously ensuring that religious institutions are afforded their rights under the Constitution. In the new standards, the statements formerly in Footnote 4 are now broadly applicable core standards and can be found in the doctoral (Standard I.B.2), internship (Standard I.B.2) and postdoctoral (Standard I.B.3) standards.

4. Competencies

Based on review of public comment in both Phase I and Phase II of the roadmap process for revising accreditation standards, it was quite clear that sentiment is in favor of CoA’s requiring a common set of competencies for accredited programs. What was not clear was which set of the many competencies that have been developed and proposed by various entities should be required. Various individuals and groups have endorsed different lists of competencies. In order to ensure that CoA was accurately representing the field of health service psychology and to be consistent and fair to all groups, CoA implemented a methodology to identify competencies that are common across various competency sets that had already been developed. This was a multi-step process:

  • First, all of the major sets of psychology competencies in the training literature were collected. CoA review found that each set of competencies has two components: major competency areas (e.g., ethical and legal standards, evidence-based practice in assessment) and specific competencies within each area (e.g., knowledge and application of APA ethical principles of psychologists, knowledge and utilization of evidence-based criteria to select assessment methods). 
  • The second step was to determine which major competency areas would be included in the standards. CoA prepared a matrix that identified competency areas that were common across the literature. These commonly agreed-upon competency areas are those proposed for inclusion in the SoA as the required profession-wide competency areas. 
  • Third, specific, required competencies for each broad competency area will be described within Implementing Regulations. By describing these specific competencies in the IRs, rather than in the SoA, the commission will be able to modify and adjust specific required competencies in response to changes in the field and to differentiate specific competencies by level of training.

In addition, although profession-wide competencies will be required of all programs, the ways in which programs pursue these competencies are expected to differ based on a program’s specific training aims. Each accredited program will be required to describe its training aims and the ways in which these aims are integrated into training of the required competencies. Programs also may elect to augment the required profession-wide competencies with competencies of their own (i.e., program-specific competencies). Regardless of whether a program elects to rely solely on the profession-wide competencies or chooses to add program-specific competencies, the competencies must be integrated into the overall aims of the program, be clearly defined and be measurable. 

Programs will be required to collect data on achievement of all competencies, to use those data for program improvement, and to make those data available for accreditation review.

5. What has changed? What has not changed?

At the midwinter training council meetings, it became clear to CoA that the various parties served by accreditation would benefit from summaries of the salient differences between the Guidelines and Principles for Accreditation (G&P) and the proposed SoA. In response, CoA drafted summaries for each level of accreditation (doctoral, doctoral internship and postdoctoral residency).