APA's Committee on Accreditation (CoA) hopes a special convention session will begin to resolve confusion over a question plaguing the field since 1996: What does "emerging substantive areas" mean?
Since the term was added at that time by CoA, some doctoral programs--such as clinical child or clinical health psychology--have tried to seek accreditation as an emerging substantive area rather than in the traditional substantive areas of clinical, counseling and school psychology. But CoA has been hesitant to accredit any programs in this area when the term has never been defined.
To gather input on two proposed solutions to resolve the issue, CoA will sponsor a session titled "Open forum on accreditation: emerging substantive areas." At the session, participants will consider the proposed solutions to either get rid of emerging substantive areas or better define them. Questions and comments submitted beforehand will be read and answered by CoA members (see Submit your question). Also, panelists at the session will provide preliminary findings based on comments gathered during CoA's online forum, conducted from October 2002 to April 2003, on the issue.
"This is such an important definitional issue for psychology," says CoA Chair Scotty Hargrove, PhD. "If we do define it, the way it is defined is very important because it will change the way programs present themselves for accreditation....We're hoping [the forum] will help us to move forward with action."
The confusion over substantive areas began in 1996 when the new area was added to the Guidelines and Principles of Accreditation for Programs in Professional Psychology. CoA accredits doctoral and internship programs in three broad areas of psychology--school, clinical and counseling, as well as combinations of those three--under traditional substantive areas. However, emerging substantive areas was added so that if a broad substantive area of psychology, besides the traditional three, emerged in the future, it could attain accreditation under this new area. But the language resulted in confusion.
CoA hopes forums might be the way to reach consensus. Certainly, strong arguments are being made on both sides. Those in favor of eliminating emerging substantive areas often say that psychology training at the PhD level should be "broad and general"--a guiding principle CoA follows with accreditation--and that any accreditation after that should be a more refined application. On the other hand, those wanting to keep the term say that the field is broadening and needs to encompass a greater range of areas.
"There is nothing clear-cut here," says Susan Zlotlow, PhD, APA's director of accreditation. "There is nothing that you could say 'Yes, it's definitely this or definitely that.' The arguments are logical on both sides, and that's why I think the issue has been around for so many years....The forum will be another mechanism to keep the process and the discussion open and transparent. Given the importance of how this is resolved to the field, open dialogue and transparency of the process are a priority."