In 1976, 19 psychology programs met to flesh out a vision of doctoral training first enunciated three years earlier in Vail, Colo.-one whose focus was to educate and train psychology students for careers in practice.

Thirty years later, that group-the National Council of Schools and Programs of Professional Psychology, or NCSPP-has 57 member programs and is one of psychology's major training councils. Recent APA and NCSPP data show that NCSPP member schools award more doctorates in clinical psychology than nonmembers-about 90 percent of them PsyDs.

Over its three decades, NCSPP has crafted an identity of inclusion and innovation, its leaders and members say. Besides emphasizing real-world applications of psychological knowledge (see "Novel PsyD programs tackle modern ills"), it has nurtured ethnic, gender and sexual- orientation diversity in faculty, students and practice; established seven "core competencies" for practice students that have influenced many psychology program, opened the field to more student, and reached out to new programs that want to become established and accredited.

"We're not just focused on product, we're also focused on process," says NCSPP President-elect Philinda S. Hutchings, PhD, a psychology professor and dean at Argosy University/Phoenix. "Because we consciously value relationship-one of the core competencies of our model-we try to demonstrate it in our organization as well as in our profession."

In conjunction with its 30th anniversary, NCSPP officials also unveiled findings from a major self-study, the group's first in 10 years and its most comprehensive to date. Intended as the first in an ongoing series, the study gathered data on female and minority representation among students and faculty, internship placement rates, faculty scholarship activities and other program criteria.

According to APA's 2004-05 Faculty Salaries in Graduate Departments of Psychology survey, which includes data on 47 of 60 responding NCSPP-member schools, 13.9 percent of NCSPP school faculty are ethnic minorities. Findings from the 2005 NCSPP Self Study show that 15 percent of NCSPP programs are in independent professional schools and 85 percent are in college or university-based settings; and that 80 percent of programs are nonprofit while 20 percent are for-profit (see "NCSPP: Some stats"). The data give the organization an updated picture of itself for future planning and help NCSPP members gauge where their own programs stand in relation to colleagues', says the study's coordinator, NCSPP Secretary-Treasurer Wendy Paszkiewicz, PsyD, of the Adler School of Professional Psychology. More generally, the results call attention to practice preparation, says Cynthia Belar, PhD, APA's executive director for education.

"NCSPP has made major contributions in focusing national attention on the curriculum needs of future practitioners, as well as on the value of preparing students for careers in practice," notes Belar.

The making of a practitioner

NCSPP programs train psychologists to become well-rounded professionals, notes NCSPP President Michael Horowitz, PhD, president of the Chicago School of Professional Psychology.

"There's something distinctive about training professionals, whether they're psychologists, doctors, journalists or teachers," he says. "Our model thinks about how to do that-not just about having students master a subject area or research process."

That philosophy begins with the application process, Paszkiewicz says. "We look for many qualities in applicants besides just GPAs and GREs," she says, including public service, work experience and ethnic-minority and socioeconomic status. "We're really looking for folks who can contribute to the community." Some intangible qualities apply as well, says Horowitz, including "a passion for understanding the complexity of people, a respect for diversity and strong intellectual and relationship skills."

Because professional schools are inclusive and accept relatively large student bodies, they can capture promising students who might otherwise fall under the radar, adds Miguel Gallardo, PsyD, an assistant professor at Pepperdine University's PsyD program.

"I know some extremely talented and well-rounded students who just don't test well," he says. "But their potential to succeed, to be contributing members of the professional community, is just as strong as anyone else's."

NCSPP programs train and assess students in a particular manner too. Indeed, the idea of core competencies-helping students gain knowledge and skills in the seven areas of relationship, assessment, intervention, research and evaluation, consultation and education, management and supervision, and diversity was introduced at an NCSPP meeting in 1990 by Roger Peterson, PhD, chair of Antioch New England Graduate School's psychology department, to measure clinical versus simply academic accomplishment. This concept helped to more clearly articulate competencies in professional training, and today competency-based assessment is used in many psychology training programs, Belar says.

Clinical work is integrated throughout training, with many NCSPP programs immersing students in practice from the get-go. Research is a means to help students become better clinicians rather than an end to itself, adds Horowitz: When students do conduct research, it's likely to be applied. Chicago School of Professional Psychology students, for instance, are helping associate professor Jaleel Abdul-Adil, PhD, apply an evidence-based practice model that encourages inner-city youth to develop critical-thinking and prosocial skills by using rap and hip-hop media. "Their involvement helps them value research, but in the real world, with a real population," Horowitz explains.

In keeping with the group's pioneering spirit, NCSPP also is the first psychology training council to cite advocacy as a core professional value for its graduates. The standard entails developing active "citizen psychologists" who promote the interests of clients, health-care systems, public health and welfare issues, and professional psychology.

A value on diversity

Another NCSPP hallmark is attention to diversity, says Argosy University/Washington, D.C., psychology professor George Stricker, PhD, a former distinguished research professor and dean at Adelphi University.

"More than any other group in psychology-and probably more than any other professional group-NCSPP has been committed to diversity," says Stricker, first editor on the book "Toward Ethnic Diversification in Psychology Education and Training" (APA, 1990), the result of a major and controversial NCSPP meeting on the topic held in Puerto Rico in 1989. "It did so before it was fashionable, and in a way that reflects a strong sense of values that added to psychology education in a very positive way."

NCSPP's own organizational structure demonstrates this commitment. Besides the standard positions of president, past-president, president-elect and secretary-treasurer, its seven-member executive committee includes the chairs of its three standing diversity committees. In addition, the group requires minority representation from NCSPP member school and programs at its midwinter meeting.

The group's inclusive stance extends to younger professional programs seeking accreditation; these programs hold the same delegate status as full-member programs, Hutchings notes.

"We took the stand early on that we're going to try to help developing programs come along in the organization and achieve membership, which requires APA accreditation," says Hutchings. "We want to give them opportunities to look at what the world of professional psychology is doing so they can use that inspiration and take it home with them."

Looking to the future

NCSPP is still a relatively young organization and, as such, still experiences growing pains. Some of its programs have come under fire for what could be viewed as the downside to the model's positive traits: large class sizes that may undermine certain aspects of program quality, for example, and high student debt loads, the result of being mainly tuition-dependent and of not being connected to academic enterprises that generate research grants.

Stricker, for instance, says that although professional schools arose because of a dearth of practicing psychologists, "We've reached a point where so many students are being accepted into professional schools that we have to ask if they're capable of providing quality training to that many students." One way individual programs can gauge this, he suggests, is to ask if students are getting enough practica, internships and jobs. "If the answer is no," says Stricker, "a program is probably too large."

Likewise, Shamin Jaffer, PsyD, who graduated last year from Nova Southeastern University, says PsyD programs need to help students find more funding opportunities.

"I like what I'm doing, and I value the education I got," says Jaffer, a postdoctoral fellow in end-of-life care at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Milwaukee. "But I might have done it differently if I'd known beforehand how much debt I'd be facing."

A few NCSPP programs are starting to address this gap, the self-study found. Most notable is one initiative at the Forest Institute of Professional Psychology that secured a U.S. Department of Labor grant to train rural psychologists. Another effort through the "school-as-lender" program at Forest and the Chicago, Massachusetts, Pacific Graduate and Adler Schools of Professional Psychology enables schools to redirect a portion of student loan profits from banks to student financial aid. In its first two years, the program has created millions of dollars in new scholarships at the five schools.

PsyD graduates also face a tougher time in some segments of the job market than their more research-oriented colleagues, particularly in traditional academic research positions, early-career PsyDs say. Jaffer, for instance, was interested in a variety of internship positions in Chicago, but found that many carried a "for-PhDs-only" requirement. Likewise, while Gallardo explicitly chose his graduate school for its strong practice focus, he realized later that he was also interested in academe.

Luckily, he was able to fill in the blanks. Today, Gallardo is the first PsyD in a tenure-track position at Pepperdine's PsyD program. He is also a good role model for NCSPP's professional value of advocacy: He is president of the California Latino Psychological Association and was recently nominated to run for president-elect of the California Psychological Association, the country's largest state psychological organization.

Ultimately, Gallardo believes that PsyD students can get the education they need-not just to become strong clinicians, but to do everything they want as professional psychologists.

Visit NCSPP's Web site at www.ncspp.info and click on "About NCSPP" to find articles by Peterson, Stricker and others on NCSPP's history, model and competencies.

Tori DeAngelis is a writer in Syracuse, N.Y.