Attending A Regionally Accredited School

The issue of accreditation is important to understand. When talking with prospective students about the Professional School of Psychology, we always bring up the issue, even if the prospective student does not.

Is there a difference between ‘accredited’ and ‘approved’?

Yes. It is important to distinguish these terms. PSP has been approved by the State of California for more than thirty years to offer graduate degree programs in clinical and organizational psychology. Our continuing decision to NOT SEEK regional accreditation is based on our firm and enduring commitment (as identified in our Mission Statement) to accessibility and affordability as well as quality. Those of our students (mostly clinical) who are working toward a graduate degree in order to become licensed are allowed to sit for the State of California licensing examinations.

We have had and continue to have a good relationship with the two State licensing boards. In addition, our students pass the State of California licensing examinations with good scores relative to students from other schools – this data is available at each State licensing board’s web site. The licensing board for Marriage and Family Therapists is the Board of Behavioral Sciences (www.bbs.ca.gov). The licensing board for doctoral-level psychologists is the Board of Psychology (www.psychboard.ca.gov), although a person with a doctorate in psychology can also license as an MFT, and some Psychologists dual license as MFT’s. In addition to approval, some institutions of higher learning are accredited.The organization that handles accreditation in the western half of the United States is the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC). PSP is not accredited by WASC.

Why is PSP not accredited?

Regional accreditation agencies were established in the United States in part to separate out fly-by-night and mail order “diploma-mill” schools from schools with serious intent and well-trained faculty. The key was to provide a standard so that if a student attended a school and transferred to another school, the receiving institution could trust that the transferred individual had received the standard education. PSP agrees with these definitions and has always had the highest level of academic and educational standards, and quality that matches or exceeds any graduate school of psychology in the United States of America.

The problem is that we do not fit into the mold defined by the regional accrediting agency. We continue to focus on delivering accessible, affordable and high quality education for the mature and accomplished learner. We do not believe that an expensive and staff-intensive administrative structure is needed when serving mature and accomplished students. In most cases, students who attend regional accredited graduate schools must pay up to $40,000 per year (at least $120,000 for the total program) and often must attend school full-time (thus losing their own income for at least two or three years). After years of ongoing and careful analysis, it remains our position that the operating expenses required of accredited private educational institutions must inevitably be passed to the students through tuitions, while not necessarily providing any increase in the quality of the education being provided nor received — at least with regard to mature and accomplished students. We believe that we provide a high quality graduate psychology education without sending our students into lifelong debt.

What is APA approval?

In addition to approval and accreditation, some graduate schools are recognized by the American Psychological Association. The APA approves some, but not all, accredited schools, and only approves doctoral-level, clinical programs. PSP has never sought and does not intend to seek APA approval for its doctoral clinical program. As in the case of regional accreditation, the reason residing behind this decision concerns the substantial increase in costs (and therefore increased tuition rates) associated with APA approval.

What about California State Licensing?

The Board of Behavioral Sciences (www.bbs.ca.gov) oversees the licensure process for masters-level psychotherapists – the Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT) and the Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW). In addition to the approved course of study, the BBS requires that a person complete 3,000 hours of supervised professional experience before the person is allowed to sit for the State licensing examination process. Prospective students and current students in any degree program leading to licensure with the BBS are encouraged to read carefully (and stay abreast of) the laws and regulations of this agency.

The Board of Psychology (www.psychboard.ca.gov) oversees the licensure process for doctoral-level psychotherapists – the Psychologist. Note that licensure is available to organizational psychologists as well as clinical psychologists, though most doctoral-level organizational psychologists do not pursue licensure. The Board of Psychology requires that a person complete 3,000 hours of supervised professional experience before the person is allowed to sit for the State licensing examination process. Prospective graduate psychology students and current students in any degree program leading to licensure with the Board of Psychology are encouraged to read carefully (and stay abreast of) the laws and regulations of this agency.

As of January 1, 2005, persons who exercise supervision at doctoral level must complete a six-hour course in supervision before supervision commences. Those who exercise supervision at the Masters Degree level must complete the supervision course within six months of the beginning of supervision. In addition, prospective students should note that there are further restrictions with respect to supervision (e.g., a masters-level licensee cannot supervise a psychologist-bound student).

Prospective clinical students should also consider that it is often difficult to find a paid psychology internship position. Agencies that are able to provide supervised experience understand that the ‘intern’ or ‘psychological assistant’ needs to accumulate 3,000 hours in order to sit for the State licensing examination process, and that the commodity which they can provide (supervision) is, at times, a scarce resource. A prospective clinical student must look beyond the flexible PSP educational plan to the challenges that may be present during the process of accumulating hours of supervised experience.

Eventually, graduate students who seek to be Marriage and Family Therapists or Psychologists must take the current licensing examinations to obtain a State of California license in order to practice. While PSP does not formally endorse their product offerings, most students have reported that the Association for Advanced Training in the Behavioral Sciences (found at http://www.aatbs.com) is extremely helpful in reviewing for the State examinations. Material on the AATBS web site is fee based.

How do these issues affect me?

The key question for the prospective student is how would attending a graduate school in California that is not WASC accredited or APA approved affect my future? Our candid answer is: “it depends.” PSP stands by its well-known, excellent education, and has hundreds of psychology graduates in Northern California and across the country. If you intend to work as a psychologist for the Federal government, however, we urge you to attend an APA-approved graduate school (which, by definition, would also be accredited). Further, if it is your desire to leverage your doctorate into a position in which you will teach or do research at the university level, then we would also urge you to attend an APA-approved school.

What if I intend to be in private practice as a psychotherapist?

If it is your desire to be in private practice or to work at the state, county, or local level of government in California, then the key issue is licensure, and we have long been approved to provide education that allows our students to sit for State of California licensing examinations. If you are interested in licensure in another state, or if you intend to practice your profession in another state, you should contact that state for regulations. Some states have reciprocity with licensure in California. Other states require that the school from which you graduate be accredited by a regional accrediting agency, though in many of these states, correspondence with PSP clarifies our long-standing emphasis on quality combined with high standards.

What is Assembly Bill 400?

The picture was somewhat muddied by the passage of California State Assembly Bill 400 in 2001. You may access a summary of AB 400 at the California Legislative Information website; the Bill itself is reproduced in full on our website — AB 400. The language of the Bill is intentionally intimidating, but the reality is that there are few real restrictions laid upon highly trained psychotherapists, other than the ones we have mentioned. The history of the process that led to AB 400 is fascinating.. The original idea behind accreditation made sense – to separate out those schools that provided quality from those that did not. Yet, these days that differentiation has been undermined (in our view) by the creeping bureaucratization and politicization of the accreditation process.

One of the provisions of the 2001 AB 400 is that no new graduate schools of psychology may be formed in the State of California unless they are accredited. PSP has had an excellent reputation over the years, and was grandfathered in, along with other schools. We are what the Boards would call an ‘approved’ graduate school. If one wanted to begin a new graduate school of psychology in the State of California, one would therefore have to anticipate the accreditation process as sine qua non. A good part of the current requirement for accreditation includes a significant outlay of resources for various support and administrative staff. In order to pay for the bureaucratization, many graduate schools of psychology have entered into a virtual treadmill that has led them to raise significantly the price of their education, without raising quality.

How does a prospective student sort through all of this?

The prospective doctoral student in psychology is urged to compare and contrast graduate programs in psychology. If one hopes to have a career of service with the Federal government as a psychologist, or to teach or do research at a major university, then one would do well to attend an APA-approved school. Yet, most such graduate schools cost three times as much as a doctoral education at the Professional School of Psychology. Note that the APA does not approve masters programs in psychology. If you are unsure whether you intend to stay and practice in California, you may want to pursue your education at a regionally accredited graduate school. We have achieved reciprocity for our graduates in several states — leaders in these state realizing that a graduate school might have good reasons for not participating in regional accreditation, but nonetheless has a high quality educational product.

PSP has maintained its commitment to provide high quality graduate education in psychology for the mature learner. Our students tend to be older – our average student age is 45. Our students find that it is not practical to assume a huge debt on top of other commitments (home, family, college for children, retirement). In addition, PSP has always had a social conscience (evident in our Mission Statement and the components of this statement). We desire that our students — whether they be clinical or organizational — be able to serve traditionally underserved populations who cannot afford the full, normal cost of service. Our goal is that our students graduate from PSP debt-free with the best possible education in graduate psychology.