- APA & Other Psychology Organizations
- Regional Accreditation
- State Accreditation
- APA Accreditation
- Differences Between Accreditation, Licensing and Certification
- Is APA Accreditation a Must?
Many students, prospective students and others not familiar with all aspects of higher education and psychology are confused as to just what accreditation means, the varieties of accreditation which exist and to what kinds of educational institutions and programs any of these types of accreditation apply. Other questions relate to distinctions made between accreditation, certification, licensing and professional organizations. This statement is written to help clarify these matters, particularly as they relate to psychology students and graduates of the University of West Georgia.
APA is the American Psychological Association. It is the national organization which represents all branches of psychology and related areas, including academic and professional psychology. Its membership consists of psychologists at all levels of membership and from all areas of the field. Only one part of APA is devoted to educational and accrediting functions. APA's traditional and central function is to provide support for all psychologists, e.g., those engaged in research, practice, teaching, etc.
Regional and state psychology organizations also exist, such as the Southeastern Psychological Association (SEPA) and the Georgia Psychological Association (GPA). These represent psychologists and others in related areas at local levels.
Another association is the American Psychological Society, a recent break-off organization from the APA. One of the main reasons forits creation was a consensus among certain professionals that the APA had grown to represent only the professional practice side of the field.
All these are professional organizations where psychologists meet, exchange views and papers, and discuss common issues. Most professional organizations have special student rates available for membership.
Every region in the United States has an accrediting agency to which colleges, universities, and schools, both public and private, apply when they feel they have met that agency's standards. In the South, this accrediting agency is called the Southern Association for Colleges and Schools (SACS); in the West, it is called Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC).
The University of West Georgia is and has been fully accredited by SACS, as are most of West Georgia's sister institutions, e.g., University of Georgia, Georgia State, Georgia Tech, Emory, North Georgia, etc. Accreditation by such an agency means that all programs in that institution, such as English, History, Psychology, etc. are fully accredited. Since West Georgia is fully accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, its psychology programs are fully accredited at the regional level.
Some, although not many, states also have accrediting agencies. Newer schools or colleges will often first apply for state approval to grant degrees before they are ready to apply for regional accreditation. Sometimes in reading a directory of schools, it will state: "Approved by the State (of California), or State Accredited."
“The American Psychological Association is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States. APA is the world's largest association of psychologists, with more than 154,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students as its members” (http://www.apa.org/about/index.aspx). The APA accredits doctoral level clinical, counseling, and school psychology programs, as well as doctoral internship programs and postdoctoral residency programs. APA accreditation is voluntary and is a “nongovernmental process of self-study and external review intended to evaluate, enhance and publicly recognize quality programs.”(http://www.apa.org/education/grad/program-accreditation.aspx) Therefore, some doctoral programs are not APA accredited because they do not seek accreditation by the APA. This does not mean that these programs are not accredited at all, as most graduate programs have regional accreditation through their respective school, just like most undergraduate programs do.
The American Psychological Association accredits only doctoral level programs and, even among these, only those which are professional in design. General, experimental, or other types of liberal arts doctoral programs are not accredited by the APA. Clinical, Clinical-Counseling, and other such professional training programs which offer a doctorate, (e.g., a Ph.D. or a Psy.D. degree), in these special areas may apply for APA accreditation. No Master's programs in psychology of any sort are accredited by the APA. Thus there is no APA accreditation possibility for the University of West Georgia psychology program or any other Master's level psychology program anywhere at another educational institution.
The APA has guidelines for accreditation of programs (see http://www.apa.org/education/grad/programaccreditation.aspx) and has a Commission on Accreditation (CoA) that evaluates programs for initial accreditation and to keep it. Many clinical employers require a person to have gone to an APA accredited program and/or internship site to be hired (ie. Veterans Affairs). Some states require a person to have graduated from an APA accredited program to receive licensure.
Whereas accreditation is something any appropriate educational program or institution may apply for from an agency which usually is not of the state or municipality, licensing is done by a state or local agency publicly legislated and sanctioned. Many professionals are approved and regulated by state licensing boards, e.g., plumbers, counselors, carpenters, nurses, etc. These boards set their own criteria for individuals applying and often this will include specification of some sort of professional training and educational background. These agencies establish tests for individuals applying to practice in their particular state or locale. They often have ethics boards to take up complaints in addition to the Professional Ethics Boards that are established by the professions themselves, e.g., the American Psychological Association or The Georgia Psychological Association. Certification is another means by which a state controls practice, by establishing levels of educational accomplishment. Typically a candidate seeking a certain level of certification must meet designated educational and other specific criteria.
The trend in the psychological community seems to be moving in favor of APA accreditation, but it is still not a must. Many students choose to attend programs that are not APA-accredited. One reason for attending a non-APA-accredited program is that , the existing APA-accredited programs may not be a good fit for you based on subject areas, research methodology or career goals. Most clinical programs with a humanistic and/or transpersonal emphasis are not APA-accredited. Whether or not to go to an APA accredited program is a personal decision. Consider what and how you would like to study as a doctoral student, in what state you would like to be licensed, what your career goals are, and how selecting an APA accredited program would impact those goals. Become familiar with the state and federal regulations regarding the APA and licensure to better understand this important decision. Also consider talking with established professionals who can give you opinions and insight.