Seven U.S. states don’t require continuing education (CE) for license renewal of professional psychologists. Should they?

To find answers to this and other questions, Greg J. Neimeyer, PhD, and colleagues surveyed 6,095 professional psychologists about their CE experiences, perceptions and preferences. What they found was enlightening, says Neimeyer, director of APA’s Office of Continuing Education in Psychology.

In a 2009 paper in Professional Psychology: Research & Practice (Vol. 40, No. 6), for example, Neimeyer and his co-authors reported that psychologists in states without CE mandates completed a third fewer credits than those in states with mandates.

“There has long been speculation that, in the absence of CE requirements or mandates for license renewal, some percentage of psychologists might not take CE at all and that maybe it would be the group that would need it most,” says Neimeyer.

The survey confirmed those suspicions. Eighteen percent of practicing psychologists in states without mandates completed fewer than five CE credits a year, the researchers found. Of course, Neimeyer adds, there was broad variation. While some psychologists engaged in no CE, others were completing 100 or more credits a year. “It’s the full range of saints and sinners,” says Neimeyer.

Certain topics — ethics, anxiety disorders and assessment — are especially popular, Neimeyer and colleagues report in an article in press in Professional Psychology. Ethics was by far the most popular choice, with more than 55 percent of survey respondents reporting completion of ethics CE — perhaps a reflection of the fact that 20 states require such programs for license renewal.

Other CE choices varied according to psychologists’ work settings. Those in medical settings, for example, tended to choose CE on such topics as neuropsychology, cognitive disorders and health and behavior. In contrast, the most popular choice among independent practitioners is CE on couples therapy.

One thing psychologists participating in CE programs do have in common is a reluctance to be tested on what they’ve learned, the researchers found. While nearly 92 percent of survey respondents agreed or strongly agreed that CE programs should assess their satisfaction levels, only 44 percent wanted an objective test of what they had learned. Just 29 percent wanted skills assessments designed to measure the outcomes associated with their CE experiences.

For Neimeyer, that finding suggests two conflicting impulses within psychology. “We have a field that’s strongly committed to evidence-based practice and really wants documentation regarding the outcome of the services they’re providing.” But, he says, “that goes straight up against this fear of evaluation.”

What’s needed, Neimeyer says, is a way to convince psychologists that CE is not only useful, but intrinsically satisfying. “That’s so vital to the field,” he says.

—R.A. Clay