Speaking of Education

Continuing education (CE) is one mechanism to facilitate the lifelong learning that's essential to each and every psychologist as codified in psychology's Ethical Standards (2.03). Fundamental to lifelong learning are skills in accurate self-assessment and "learning how to learn"—a significant goal of doctoral education.

APA facilitates lifelong learning through its publication of books and journals as well as its Annual Convention. Throughout the convention, there are also opportunities for intensive knowledge and skill-building workshops selected through a competitive review process by APA's Continuing Education Committee.

Programming for our Toronto meeting includes 80 four- to seven-hour workshops to promote competence in diverse areas, such as structural equation modeling, multiculturalism, substance abuse, ethics, legal issues, practice management and teaching psychology. Taught by distinguished psychologists, participants come from a range of backgrounds in teaching, training, research and practice. Nearly one-third are not licensed psychologists, putting to rest the notion that CE is for practitioners only. Moreover, practitioners from states without CE requirements are also consumers of these services, so CE is not just for credit either.

The CE landscape has diversified rapidly over the last decade. With advances in technology, webinars and online programming are now common features. First launched in 2004, the APA Online Academy is expanding under the direction of our new associate executive director for continuing education and professional development, Dr. Greg Neimeyer. Recent additions include such topics as collaborating with physicians, teaching online courses and forensic assessment. Coming soon is a series on end-of-life issues and advocacy for psychology, the latter based on a series of webinars conducted by our Education Government Relations staff. Dr. Neimeyer has also launched the "Clinician's Corner," a series of workshops on such topics as grief therapy, sexual addiction, eating disorders and Internet addiction. These programs are held in our headquarters building and recorded for subsequent online delivery for a wider audience.

Dr. Neimeyer is also a scholar of continuing education in psychology. Before coming to APA, he amassed the single largest data set on CE practices and perceptions within the history of the discipline. In cooperation with the state, provincial and territorial psychology associations, he and his colleagues, Jennifer Taylor and Dr. Doug Wear, analyzed data from more than 6,000 psychologists.

Results were positive in that the vast majority of respondents were satisfied with their CE experiences, believing they had translated what they learned into practice, making them more competent, ethical and effective. However, we also know that the CE literature in psychology relies heavily on measures of participant satisfaction rather than a direct assessment of learning outcomes. And the impact of CE on subsequent professional behavior has not been a significant focus (although psychologists have contributed to such literature in other professions).

Although evidence on the effectiveness of CE is gradually developing, more work is needed to document the translation of CE into actual practice and ultimately, better service-related outcomes. Public pressures for accountability and demands for competence to be demonstrated over the professional life span are increasing.

The field of CE is also evolving to embrace evidence-based competency movements in professional psychology, and Dr. Neimeyer is a champion of what he has defined as Evidence-Based CE (EBCE). We believe that this movement will take on increasing importance since it is likely that CE will become a significant load-bearing mechanism for documenting the continued professional competencies demanded by the evolving health-care system.

In the future, measures of "seat time" will not suffice, any more than they do now in the preparation of professional psychologists. CE may involve more than lifelong learning and credit.

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