Psychology Schools and Program Accreditation

Many individuals considering a career in psychology are unfamiliar with the accreditation process within the field of psychology. In fact, many don't know (1) what accreditation means, (2) that there are different types of accreditation and (3) to which institutions accreditation applies. In addition, there appears to be some confusion surrounding accreditation, certification and licensing, and the differences between each as they relate to psychology. The information below is designed to help you better understand matters, particularly as they relate to prospective psychology students.

Regional Accreditation

For purposes of accreditation, the United States is broken down into several distinct regions. Each region has an accrediting agency to which psychology schools and colleges, both private and public, apply once they've met certain educational standards set by the agency. For example, in the West, the agency that's responsible for accrediting psychology schools is called the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC); in the South, the agency is the Southern Association for Colleges and Schools (SACS). When a school is accredited by one of these accrediting agencies it means that all the programs offered by that institution, such as Psychology, Math, English, etc. are fully accredited (i.e. they meet specific standards). When a psychology school is fully accredited, it indicates that its psychology programs are also fully accredited in that region.

State Accreditation

While not as common, some individual states also have accrediting agencies. New schools or colleges just getting started frequently get accredited through their state first so that they can provided degrees. Once they've established a foothold, they'll then apply for regional accreditation. While both accreditations are valid, it's preferable to attend a psychology program that is regionally accredited.

Accreditation for Specialty Programs

There are several accrediting agencies that provide special types of accreditation for schools that offer students specialized or uniquely formatted programs. For example, a school offering "home study" programs, i.e., programs where students are permitted to complete coursework via TV, correspondence, or Internet often apply for special accreditation status. Specialized areas of study such as Education, Nursing, Business and Psychology often seek special accreditation for the various degree programs they offer, including Bachelor's, Master's, and Doctoral degree programs. Specialized accreditations are developed and set by the accrediting agency, with particular attention given to the specific discipline or profession being accredited. For example, a school may be fully accredited by the Western Assocation of Schools and Colleges (WASC) while its psychology program is also fully accredited by the Consortium for Diversified Psychology Programs (CDPP).

APA Accreditation

The American Psychological Association (APA) is responsible for accrediting doctoral level psychology programs, specifically, programs which are professional in nature. General, research, experimental and other types of doctoral programs focused on the liberal arts are not accredited by this organization. Clinical psychology, Counseling Psychology, and other related programs that are professional in design and offer doctoral degrees (e.g. Ph.D. degree, Psy.D., etc.) are candidates for accreditation by the American Psychological Association. Psychology master's degree programs are also accredited by the APA.

What is the Difference Between, Licensing, Accreditation and Certification?

Licensing is a state or local government sponsored, sanctioned, and mandated program. To legally work as a psychologist in your area you must first become licensed by your local or state municipality. In addition to psychology, many other professions, including plumbing, carpentry, counseling, construction, nursing, etc., are also regulated by state licensing boards. These governmental boards establish their own application criteria, which usually includes attaining specific educational requirements and passing standardized exams to test competency. Most municipalities also have Professional Ethics Boards that work hand in hand with the local Licensing Board. In addition to licensing, certification is another method that states and local governments use to regulate and control the practice of psychology. Professional certifications focus almost exclusively on establishing and monitoring education and training levels for working professionals. More often than not, a candidate seeking professional certification must meet designated educational and other specific professional criteria.

Unlike licensing and certification, accreditation typically is not run or sponsored by state or local government municipalities. In addition, accreditation focuses on evaluating the quality of psychology programs, where licensing and certification focus on the regulation of the practive of psychology.

What is the American Psychological Association?

The American Psychological Association, more commonly refered to as the "APA", is an organization that represents a variety of areas of psychology, including both professional and academic psychology. Its members include psychologists from every field of psychology including Clinical Psychology, Counseling Psychology, Research Psychology, Developmental Psychology, etc., etc. While the APA performs a variety of educational and accrediting functions, its central role is to provide support to all psychologists, engaged in every aspect of psychology (e.g. teaching, research, etc).

In addition to the APA, there are several other regional and state psychology organizations and associations (i.e., the Southeastern Psychological Association SEPA). These purpose of these organizations is to represent psychology professionals working in other areas of psychology.

Another popular psychology association is the American Psychological Society (APS). The APS, once part of the American Psychology Association, is now its own organized body. In contrast to the APA that represents all areas of psychology, the APS was established to represent only the non-professional side of the psychology industry.

The members of these different psychology associations, as well as other associations not mentioned here, meet regularly to discuss relevant issues and exchange views and research.

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