Our Japanese colleagues have a phrase for it--kaizen. It means continuous improvement. It's also called lifelong learning, continuing competency education and professional development. Continuing Professional Education, or CE as it's commonly known, is more prominent on the professional landscape than ever before. All professions define it as an ethical responsibility. Most mandate it to some degree. Psychologists in 40 states are required to earn CE credits for license renewal. The need for new competencies and knowledge in an ever-changing marketplace has escalated CE's visibility within APA.
There are many "rules" governing CE. State legislatures enact laws. State licensing bodies issue regulations implementing requirements. APA's Council of Representatives approves policies and regulations for APA-approved Sponsors of Continuing Education. The reason for these rules--providing the highest possible quality CE programming for the ultimate protection of the consumer--is admirable. But, the rules sometimes belie what's at the heart of continuing professional education: access to education that equips a psychologist to practice his/her discipline at the highest level of competency, in whatever environment that might be. As we plan for the future, we must move confidently in the direction of change that will expand the horizons of CE and lead to the continuous improvement all psychologists seek in a rapidly changing professional climate. To accomplish this, we must break with tradition.
Flexibility and choice
Mandated CE requirements may be here to stay, but within that context a psychologist should have reasonable flexibility to select CE programs that best meet his/her specific needs. One province in Canada, in a shift from mandating CE, uses a model of self-assessment and portfolio development that allows a psychologist to design a personalized plan for CE that targets specific areas of competency. In the United States, one state board of psychology is exploring a pilot program for a similar model. A change of this kind will certainly generate policy questions that require honest debate, but we must recognize that CE in psychology is not a case of "one size fits all." As our profession becomes more mobile, we need to be open to new models if our true goal is continuous improvement as a discipline.
CE should provide the forum where new, and even controversial, ideas are shared, debated and challenged as a way of encouraging the natural evolution of the discipline. The complexities and uncertainties of the marketplace are challenging the practice of psychology in ways no one could have predicted. We find ourselves in professional roles that often require skills not taught in school. Practice management, leadership skills and conflict resolution are valid CE topics, but only if those are the topics an individual psychologist needs. Sitting through a CE course one does not need, just to earn a few credits, is not education. One may not share a colleague's judgment about the value of a particular CE program, but shouldn't we trust each other to make those judgments, rather than legislating learning?
Technology is on everyone's horizon today. There's a dizzying array of online educational programs, an increased demand for CE that is available when, where and how it is most convenient. The question is not whether distance education is here to stay, but how we can best use it. In just one year, the number of colleges offering online degrees doubled. Today's society is an Internet-based, virtual one.
I am very pleased that APA is planning a distance-education initiative, developed with a global perspective. This will take a significant commitment of resources, but we have every intention of providing a service that ultimately all APA members will find beneficial. The goal is that every psychologist will take advantage of this opportunity. Licensing bodies will grapple with the reality of this form of educational delivery, so as not to limit the opportunities for psychologists to benefit from innovation. We are in the century of change.
APA needs to know how to shape CE to meet your professional needs. We invite you to participate in a newly created listserv providing a forum for CE issues in psychology, monitored by the APA Office of Continuing Professional Education. To subscribe, send an e-mail to Listserv. Leave the subject line blank. The body of the message should say: subscribe CEPsych [your e-mail address] firstname lastname.
On a personal note
I join many of you in mourning the loss of Dr. Catherine Acuff, an individual whose passion for psychology was superseded only by her warmth, wit and intelligence. APA, and psychology at large, has lost a treasured friend. Aloha.