Sidebars

Ask private practitioner Jennifer F. Kelly, PhD, of Atlanta how she feels about American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP) certification, and she laughs. "I am not the poster child for ABPP certification!" admits Kelly, an APA Board of Directors member speaking on her own behalf.

There are two schools of thought about certification, she says. Many academics and some practitioners really believe in it, she says. Others wonder what the point is, since they already have successful practices.

Kelly is decidedly a member of the latter group.

"I have a very good practice and am treated with a lot of respect by my colleagues as well as the insurance carriers and others," she says. "I really don't see how having those four letters behind your name can make a difference in terms of what you do on a day-to-day basis."

That doesn't mean Kelly hasn't specialized. She has specialized in health psychology since graduate school. That's part of what irks her. Her graduate training, internship, postdoc and practice all focused on health psychology. "That's not enough for me to say that's my area of specialty?" she asks. "I've been working in the field since 1987, and now I have to take an exam?"

In addition to her personal qualms, Kelly wonders whether certification confuses the public. "We have enough of a problem really getting across to the public what it is psychologists do," she says. Adding certifications just adds another level of confusion, she says. She's also concerned that would-be patients in isolated or underserved areas may feel that practitioners certified in a specific area aren't able to provide the broader range of services.

Kelly also worries about certification's impact on the field more generally. "Will insurance companies use this to pit one clinician against another?" she wonders. She also fears that insurers may start requiring certification or begin basing pay on certification status. And how many specialty certifications will one practitioner need to remain relevant?

But now Kelly has surrendered to what she calls peer pressure from colleagues. After resisting "forever and a day," she says, she is seeking ABPP certification in health psychology. Her reasoning? She and a physician are launching a new practice called the Atlanta Center for Integrated Health.

"Even though I've been doing health psychology all these years, now I'll be able to say, 'I'm certified in health psychology,'" she says. "I resisted as long as I could."

—R.A. Clay