Principles for the Recognition of Proficiencies in Professional Psychology

Approved by C/R (February 1995)

Joint Interim Committee for the
Identification and Recognition of Specialties and Proficiencies

Through a review of documents and discussions about proficiencies in psychology, it has become apparent that psychologists view proficiencies from a variety of perspectives. Thus, the "universe" of proficiencies could extend from a potentially unmanageable series of individual "micro" skills to considerably more organized and complex "near specialties" depending on how a specific array of knowledge and skills is defined. Any set of principles governing the recognition of proficiencies must be clear in its definition.

For purposes of this endeavor, the following definition of a proficiency is adopted:

A proficiency is a circumscribed activity in the general practice of professional psychology or one or more of its specialties. The relationship between a body of knowledge and a set of skills related to the parameters of practice specified in Criterion III below represents the most critical aspect of the definition of a proficiency.

Proficiencies can only be acquired through appropriate education and training focused quite specifically and intensively on defined content. Specialties may include several such proficiencies. While some proficiencies may be unique to only one specialty, others may be shared across specialties or practiced generally. In order to be responsive to public need, the profession has the responsibility to exercise authority over the process of proficiency recognition. At its extreme, the process cannot be abdicated solely to market forces or to pressures brought by external bodies. Professional psychologists seeking recognition for a proficiency must demonstrate the way in which the proficiency serves the public interest.

The American Psychological Association and its Commission for the Recognition of Specialties and Proficiencies in Professional Psychology (CRSPPP) will consider petitions for formal recognition of a proficiency. Petitions that are approved by CRSPPP will be reviewed and acted upon by the APA Council of Representatives. CRSPPP will review the status of each recognized proficiency within seven years and recommend whether the proficiency should continue to be recognized.

Recognition Principles

Formal recognition of proficiencies in psychology begins with the submission of a petition to the American Psychological Association seeking recognition of the proposed proficiency.

The following principles are used to evaluate any petition for recognition of a proficiency in professional psychology:

Criterion I. Distinctiveness

A proficiency differs from other proficiencies or similar psychological procedures in its body of knowledge and professional application relevant to one or more parameters of practice and provides evidence of these distinctions with respect to the parameters of practice as specified in Criterion III below.

Commentary. While it is recognized that there may be some overlap between the knowledge and skill bases of various psychological applications, the proficiency is distinguishable from other psychological applications. The proficiency must add utility in meeting a public need to the matrix of psychological skills and techniques of practice.

Criterion II. Acquisition of Knowledge and Skills

A proficiency is defined by a core of psychological knowledge and skills, and includes specific methods for how psychologists who practice in this proficiency typically acquire its knowledge and skills.

Commentary. A proficiency may be organized as a component of a doctoral or postdoctoral professional education and training program. Proficiency training may also be attained as an extensive continuing education (CE) sequence, and such CE credits may be submitted toward satisfying CE requirements for licensure renewal. The petition includes such materials as psychology prerequisites for the training program, course descriptions, learning objectives, teaching methods, syllabi, bibliographies of books and articles, and descriptions of supervised practice experiences for the acquisition of the knowledge and skills of the proficiency. Particular attention is devoted to how psychology's scientific substrate provides a foundation for the proposed proficiency.

Criterion III. Parameters of Practice

A proficiency identifies the substantial, specific and distinctive psychological knowledge and skills that provide the bases for service with respect to at least one of the essential parameters of practice. The parameters to be considered include: a) specific population(s), b) psychological, biological and/or social problem, c) procedure and techniques. These parameters should be described in the context of the range of setting(s) or the organizational arrangement(s) in which practice occurs.


  1. Populations. This parameter focuses on the populations served by the proficiency encompassing both individuals and groups. Examples include children, youth and families, employees, men and women, ethnic minorities, gays and lesbians, and those with physical and/or mental disabilities.

  2. Psychological, biological and/or social problems. This parameter focuses on symptoms, problem behaviors, rehabilitation, prevention, health promotion and enhancement of psychological well-being addressed by the proficiency. It also includes attention to physical and mental health, organizational, educational, vocational and developmental problems.

  3. Procedures and techniques. This parameter consists of the procedures and techniques utilized in the proficiency. This includes assessment techniques, intervention strategies, consultative methods, diagnostic procedures, ecological strategies and applications from the psychological laboratory to serve a public need for psychological assistance.

Criterion IV. Public Need for Proficiency Practice

A proficiency shall be clearly responsive to public need.

Commentary. A principal justification for psychology's recognition of a proficiency is that there exists a compelling public need for such focused services. Such need may be for improving the applications of psychology within the extant structures of service settings, for increasing the accessibility of service providers, for implementing a new application that addresses a problem more effectively, and/or for attending to underserved populations. Public need may be identified from a number of sources including those codified by governmental regulations which establish guidelines or requirements for services or reimbursement, creation of job titles or descriptions, or other regulations which have impact on the practice of psychology.

Criterion V. Administrative Organizations

The proposed proficiency is represented by one or more organizations of psychologists that provide systems and structures which make a significant contribution to the organized development of the proficiency.

Commentary. In order to ensure the management of the proficiency, having the resources of national organization(s) willing to assume responsibility is important, so that psychology's scientific and professional integrity can be preserved.

Criterion VI. Effectiveness

A proficiency is characterized by a body of evidence which demonstrates its effectiveness.

Commentary: A body of evidence documents the effectiveness of the proficiency's services.

Criterion VII. Quality Improvement

A proficiency promotes ongoing investigations and procedures to develop further the quality and utility of its knowledge, skills and services.

Commentary: The public interest requires the best services possible for consumers. A proficiency, therefore, continues to seek ways to improve the quality and usefulness of its practitioners' services. Investigations to improve the quality and usefulness of services may take many forms. Petitions describe how the research and practice literatures are regularly reviewed for developments which are relevant to the proficiency's skills and services, and how this information is publicly disseminated.

Criterion VIII. Guideline for Proficiency Service Delivery

Proficiency practitioners conform their professional activities, not only to the profession's general practice guidelines and ethical principles but also to appropriate proficiency guidelines.

Commentary: Such guidelines are readily available to proficiency practitioners and to members of the public and describe the characteristic ways in which proficiency practitioners make decisions about proficiency services and about how such services are delivered to the public.

Criterion IX. Provider Identification and Evaluation

A proficiency recognizes the public benefits of developing sound methods for permitting individual practitioners to secure an evaluation of their knowledge and skill and to be identified as meeting the qualifications for competent practice in the proficiency.

Commentary: Identifying psychologists who are competent to practice the proficiency provides a significant service to the public. Assessing the knowledge and skill levels of these professionals helps increase the ability to improve the quality of services provided.

Criterion X. Continuing Professional Development and Education

A proficiency provides its practitioners a broad range of regularly offered opportunities for continuing professional development in the proficiency practice and mechanisms to assess the acquisition of knowledge and skills.

Commentary. With rapidly developing knowledge and professional applications in psychology, it is increasingly difficult for professionals to meet the proficiency's evolving guidelines unless they update themselves regularly through continuing education. A variety of mechanisms may be used to achieve these goals.