Board Certification through the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP) provides peer and public recognition of demonstrated competence in one of its fourteen affiliated specialty areas. Additionally, Board Certification through ABPP provides the professional with increased opportunities for career growth, including employability, mobility, and financial compensation.
Randy K. Otto, PhD, ABPP
Message from the President
On Tipping Points
In his 2000 publication, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, Malcolm Gladwell defined a tipping point as "the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point." Many of us have seen this phenomenon operate in a variety of contexts as a monumental ground shift occurs. I am happy to say, we are getting closer to reaching this point with respect to psychologists’ thinking about board certification and ABPP.
I recently returned from ABPP’s mid-year meeting, which was held in Chicago at the Conrad Hotel on Michigan Avenue. My take on this meeting is that ABPP is moving forward at great speed. A record number of board-certified and non-board certified psychologists attended the workshops offered during the four-day continuing education program, a variety of sponsors offered booths and exhibits, four different boards and academies held meetings or conducted examinations, and the ABPP trustees worked hard during their two days together. This was the fifth year ABPP has held a mid-year meeting, we are already looking forward to the 2015 meeting in San Diego next May, and ABPP Central Office staff have begun reconnaissance to locate an appropriate venue for 2016.
At the Chicago trustees’ meeting, I was particularly encouraged by the report of ABPP Executive Officer David Cox, PhD, ABPP, who announced that ABPP was on track for a record year in terms of applications for board certification. Almost half of the over 1200 applications received since January were submitted by graduate students through the “Early Entry Option,” a program instituted a number of years ago that has begun to produce dividends. As our brothers and sisters associated with the American Board and Academy of Clinical Neuropsychology have made clear, it is important to get psychologists thinking about board certification while in training.
Of course, those of you who visit ABPP’s Facebook page already know about some of what occurred at the mid-year meeting as a result of the hard work of recently-appointed ABPP Social Media Editor Julie Hook, PhD, ABPP. If you have yet to visit, please stop by ABPP’s rejuvenated Facebook page. Also, please consider keeping the rest of us up to date about what you have been doing (e.g., promotions, employment, publications, consulting) by submitting news for inclusion in the ABPP newsletter and Facebook page (mail all contributions to firstname.lastname@example.org).
With the mid-year meeting under our belts, the trustees and ABPP Central Office staff now turn their attention to Convocation, which will be held Saturday, August 9th from 8:00 a.m. – 9:50 a.m. at the Renaissance Washington DC Hotel, 999 North Street NW, Washington, DC 20001, Renaissance Ballroom, during the APA convention in Washington, DC this August. As has been the case during recent years, ABPP will sponsor a morning program. We will start with a hearty breakfast that will allow you to energize for the rest of the day, meet and congratulate newly-board certified psychologists, and catch up with old ones. Details about the meeting will be forthcoming on the ABPP Facebook page and in e-mail blasts from ABPP Central Office. I encourage you to come, have breakfast, and celebrate with us. Family members are welcome-we just ask that you RSVP so we make sure that there is plenty of food to go around. And, after Convocation concludes, we will have a business meeting for ABPP specialty board presidents, academy presidents and ABPP Board of Trustees representatives.
I hope to see you in Washington. Please come up, introduce yourself, and let me know what ABPP can do better and what you might want to do in order to get more involved. If I do not see you in Washington, I hope to see you next May in San Diego at our mid-year conference and program. ABPP will be meeting at the Omni Hotel, which is in the middle of the Gaslamp District-a revived and bustling core with a baseball park, multiple restaurants, and many bars--all within a short walk to the city’s beautiful waterfront. San Diego is a premier city for professional meetings, and May is the perfect time of year to be there. As we come closer to the tipping point, I suspect that the San Diego meeting will be our most successful. Finally, as is always the case, please consider writing or calling to discuss any ABPP matters (email@example.com; 813-974-9296).
Staffing - Please join all of us in Central Office in welcoming Kathy Holland to our staff! Kathy joins us after several years in the local school district and has fit right in with the rest of us here in CO. She will be holding down the fort in Chapel Hill while we run the Conference and Workshops in Chicago, but we look forward to all of you getting a chance to know her, through email, telephone and at the APA Convention in August.
Applications - We are on a record pace this year in many ways! ABPP has received applications at a rate that will put us at or over the 1000 mark for the year. This will be the first time in history that ABPP has broken that barrier for applications. The 2014 figure is currenlty to exceed 1200 applications.
Conference - The ABPP Conference and Workshops set a record as well. We exceeded the “hoped-for” revenue earlier than ever, and ended up about 50% above that figure! See Dr. Otto's President's Message above for more details....
Specialties – We are closing in on the end of the monitoring phase for the American Board of Geropsychology; they intend on completing the requisite 30 exams beyond their board members by year end. Sleep Psychology has provided a formal application for affiliation. Pediatric Neuropsychology, the first ABPP subspecialty, is preparing to conduct its first round of examinations soon.
Expect more – While serving as the ABPP liaison to the recent Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB) meeting in San Antonio, I sat back and let others do the “ABPP marketing”. Katherine Nordal, Executive Director of the American Psychological Association Practice Organization (APAPO) and several others in attendance at the ASPPB Open Board Meeting spoke strongly about the way that the profession is moving – toward a competency based profession with a need for specialization. Throughout the multi-day conference, the notion of competency, maintenance of competency (and certification, re: ABPP), as well as recognition of specialty and specialists was mainstream. I believe we are at, or at least quite near, the proverbial tipping point.
I continue that part of my role that is as liaison to other organizations. As indicated above, I have been to the ASPPB board meeting, and have also attend the APA Committee for the Advancement of Professional Practice (CAPP) meeting as well as the APA Consolidated Meetings (where most of my time is typically spent with the Board of Professional Affairs). In early May, present a workshop on board certification for the training directors and others in attendance at the Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Centers (APPIC). This will be the second consecutive APPIC meeting to which ABPP has been asked to conduct this workshop, and conversations with Dr. Jeff Baker, APPIC Executive Director, suggests this may become a staple.
Sharepoint Technology Rollout
ABPP Central Office and the American Board of Clinical Psychology have successfully be using Sharepoint now for the process of credential review for several months, and that included a (planned) change in credential reviewer for ABCP. Vicki Ingram had worked with us for the initial phase-in of this project and Throstur Bjorgvinsson learned readily to use the system. We have since extended invitations to the following specialty boards to begin use of Sharepoint: Clinical Health Psychology, Clinical Neuropsychology, Counseling Psychology, Organizational and Business Consulting Psychology, Police and Public Safety Psychology, Rehabilitation Psychology, and the Pediatric Neuropsychology subspecialty.
So far, the reception has been quite positive. After CO gets done with the Generic Review, the application moves over to the specialty board credential reviewer seamlessly by placing that person’s name in the Review Leader data field. The application then appears on the “Sharepoint Desktop” the reviewer sees upon log in to Sharepoint. That reviewer then conducts a review of the credentials by clicking on a file to see the material and subsequently making the necessary updates to the data fields posted (e.g., Pass, Not Pass, Needs More Information). Finally, the Review Leader field is changed back to a CO staff person (in this case, Nancy McDonald) who process the next step.
The Sharepoint system is becoming the focus of work for Diane Butcher of CO; she will help us get each specialty board using this system by year end, and we will then begin work on establishing a very robust and holds great potential for our use. In addition, Diane, Michael Tansy and I have begun work on the establishment of a system for using Sharepoint for the MOC filings that will begin sometime in 2015. The process will work essentially as does the Credential Review process, with the MOC file taking the place of the application in a fashion similar to that described above.
Myth 1. ABPP is a Largely Academic and Elitist Organization.
Myth-busting facts. The mission of ABPP is to board certify individuals in various psychology specialties. As such, board-certified specialists are first and foremost, competent professionals who are responsible for the delivery of best practices of their specialty. It is true that, In addition to their commitment to providing competent services to the public, some psychologists who hold leadership positions on the various ABPP boards and academies also hold leadership positions in various clinical training or academic institutions. However, this is not elitist, rather, simply attests to their active participation in the growth and improvement of the field. Board-certified specialists are individuals who are interested in promoting competent practice, at all levels of experience, from the full range of professional service settings, and from all theoretic orientations. Since when did the aspiration of competent practice cease signifying responsibility and start signifying elitism?
Myth 2. If one is Licensed, There is No Need for Further Evaluation of His or Her Abilities.
Myth-busting facts. Technically, in order to legally and ethically engage in independent general practice, this is correct. However, if one considers him- or herself a specialist regarding assessment, treatment, or consultation in any of the recognized specialty areas within professional psychology, there is a growing interest among jurisdictional regulators and third- party payers to look toward board certification, similar to medicine, as a way to credential competent specialty practice. Moreover, our own ethical standards require us to provide services within the boundaries of our competencies. Board certification goes beyond what knowledge we have obtained and extends to how we competently apply what we know in day-to-day specialty practice.
Myth #3. I am a Quality Provider and Very Successful. I Don’t Need ABPP to Attract Patients.
Myth-busting facts. ABPP was never intended to be a marketing vehicle by which individuals could attract patients or increase the entrepreneurship of their practice (although it is a reported additional benefit for some). Rather, when high quality providers (e.g., the very people who subscribe to this myth and accurately self-identify in this way) are recognized through board certification, the process uplifts the entire profession because their practice provides the specialty benchmarks for competent work. One psychologist (who previously subscribed to this myth) recently told me that it was his concern about uplifting the profession during our discussions that sold him on the importance of board certification through ABPP.
Myth #4. ABPP Does Not Have Value for Me. Indeed, if I Take the Exam, I May be Communicating That I Am Not Competent Until I am Board Certified.
Myth-busting Facts. Ask any ABPP board-certified psychologist if they ever questioned the board-certification process or if they experienced any fears of how patients or colleagues might react if they did not pass (although the pass rate for individuals taking the exam is high, most all of us have experienced these fears). It is important to consider that many of the most valuable personal learning experiences involve some discomfort. After the first question, the board-certified specialist should then be additionally asked why he or she decided that it was still worth the time, effort, and cost to get board certified. I have never spoken to a specialist who regretted their decision. With regard to concerns about performance, there is much one can do to increase the likelihood of a successful exam experience by seeking information, guidance, and mentorship through the specialty board or academy of interest. More important, ABPP’s value far exceeds the individual sense of accomplishment, the increase in practice mobility, the increase in employment or salary opportunities, and increased protection of the public. Its value is important primarily to the professional of psychology as a whole. I have received emails, letters, and phone calls in the past two years from psychologists who are concerned about the unfair recognition of doctoral-level psychologists compared to their counterparts in medicine. Examples include the lack of fairness in media outlets regarding their refusal to use the title “Dr.” for psychologists and attempts by some segments of the American Medical Association (AMA) to do the same. It is reasonable and justifiable to have these concerns and desire to want to fight for equal professional footing. However, the overwhelming majority of physicians are board certified, whereas the current percentage of qualified psychologists who are board certified is approximately 4%. We will never receive the parity and fairness we seek regarding the media, law-making bodies, insurance carriers, our colleagues in other disciplines, or the public, unless we demonstrate an equal commitment to ensuring competence in our specialty practices. What we do is important. The easing of human suffering, the improvement of lives and relationships, and improved mental and physical health outcomes require robust and competently delivered therapies. Board certification is a widely accepted means by which to increase confidence in the competence of those who provide such services.
Myth # 5. ABPP is Only for Expert Practitioners Who Have Been Practicing for Years and Years.
Myth-busting facts. Individuals qualify as candidates for board certification if they have the requisite doctoral training and have an unrestricted license in the jurisdiction in which they practice. Although requisite professional experience varies with specialties, in most cases, this involves approximately three years postdoctoral training (including internship).
Myth #6. I Don’t See Patients in Day-to-Day Practice Much Anymore. More of My Work Involves Program Development, Supervision, or Development of Effective Treatments Through Psychology Research.
Myth-busting facts. I saved this one for last because I hear it so often in academic settings. I usually ask the person perpetuating this set of myths some of the following questions depending upon the particular version of the myth. “Imagine for a moment that you were a student seeking a professional doctoral training program (e.g., psychology, medicine, nursing, etc.), would you seek training from board-certified or non board-certified professionals in the specialty or discipline with which you are interested? If you were seeking treatment for a significant medical or physical problem, would you want to know that your provider was board-certified as competent and prepared to treat the problem for which you seek help?” And finally, “if you were supporting research to investigate a psychotherapy approach that was aimed at decreasing human suffering, would you want to know that the therapists in the study were competent?” Of course the answers to any (and all) of these questions is usually a resounding “yes.” Particularly in academic settings that train the next generation of professional psychologists or investigate the next wave of effective psychotherapy treatments, competence is a critical concept. For example, one clear bridge between research and practice is that those conducting clinical research trials in psychotherapy must necessarily be concerned with ensuring the competency of therapists in their studies as an essential aspect of their scientific integrity.
Why Myths Tend to Periodically Resurface
Recently, I read an article in another professional psychology organization’s newsletter, in which that organization was promoting its own credentialing process. Rather than focusing on the benefits to their members regarding their own activities, the author provided false and misleading information about ABPP, referring to it as an “academic certification” (see myth # 1), stating that only 1% of psychologists are board certified (false and misleading information), and making statements directly dismissing the value of ABPP board certification. It is disappointing when fellow psychologists behave poorly. More importantly, when our colleagues resort to disseminating information that is at best inaccurate and naive, and at worst, irresponsible and unprofessional, their behavior can be damaging to the profession as a whole.
Despite our training and experience, none of us are immune to fear, or any of the array of personal strategies human beings employ to reduce fears, including avoidance, denial, distraction, rationalization, or even aggressive acts. Many of the myths that persist can be traced back to colleagues’ fears that their competence might be questioned, avoidance of the burden of a fair and objective exam, denial of its importance, distraction from responsibility, rationalization that peer evaluation of competence is not necessary, and in its extreme, aggressive and attacking remarks toward the board certifying body (ABPP). It does not need to be this way. This issue significantly hits the notion of “practicing what we preach” and working together to support and help each other in the inevitable sequence of steps we all recognize as essential to demonstrating competent practice and placing professional psychology on equal footing with other healing disciplines. By doing so, we can reduce the prevalence of these myths and simultaneously help the profession. In order to accomplish this, we will need to reduce our own desires to promote the idea that there are so many competent psychologists out there that should be recognized and identified as such. We will need to do more to help our colleagues confront examination fears in a more effective manner and walk willingly into their board-certification experience. One reason for publishing our first ABPP book this summer was to reach out and make the board certification process more user-friendly, by sharing our experiences, our knowledge, and our collective helpful guidance with the process. We need to be welcoming and encouraging. The challenge, which I have often heard stated at so many meetings and conferences, is to get psychologists to “stop shooting ourselves in the foot.”
How to Stop Shooting Ourselves in the Foot
Rather than allow fears of the oral exam or face the possibility that some our specialty competencies may require continuing education to result in arguments or competitions with each other, how can we appeal to our colleagues to “cease fire” and stop thinking of ABPP as a “four-letter word?” Continued avoidance, denial, rationalization, and attacks may provide some immediate sense of personal control over fear, but it inevitably reduces the value and importance of what our profession can offer.
Imagine how the field could be strengthened if we helped and supported each other to reach the competency standards for practice to which we can mutually agree. More energy would be spent on mentoring, supervision, continuing education, and cross-specialty conferences. To begin this type of activity, we are planning the first-ever, ABPP-wide, continuing education conference in Portland, Oregon July 6-10, 2010 (please mark your calendars and save the date). This conference will disseminate the work of board-certified psychologists across all specialty areas, and allow for cross-specialty integration. It will provide cutting-edge developments and will be open to both board-certified and non-board certified psychologists. I look forward to seeing you all there.
In recent months, I have spoken to many people and organizations in my role as ABPP President in order to disseminate information about board certification, promote the importance of competence in professional psychology, and to invite dialogue regarding how we can best reach the many licensed psychologists for whom board-certification would acknowledge their work and promote the profession. Although I have witnessed an ever growing enthusiasm for these concepts, I continue to experience the barriers of old myths that are perpetuated by a lack of information or presence of fears.
Why We Need to Change
I recently was speaking with a hospital credentialing administrator and explained the importance of board certification for professional psychology specialists. In doing so, I made a few comparisons to the board-certification process required by physicians. She listened carefully and agreed that peer evaluation of competency in a specialty certainly provides for an important means for the public to have confidence in the psychological services provided by the hospital. Additionally, she indicated that it clarifies for other groups, such as third party payers, the nature and competencies involved in one’s specialty practice. However, she later suggested, “unless we can grandparent the existing practitioners, we may have a revolt on our hands…because no psychologist who has been practicing for many years is going to be willing to take another test. They’re not like other docs…they fight these things.”
Another licensed psychologist recently told a colleague that after years of practice as a qualified psychologist, to have her patients know that she is taking a board-certification would be an embarrassment that may have a negative impact on her practice. As you might expect, I could not disagree more. It’s essential to help our colleagues overcome the barrier of fear in much more constructive ways. However, in order to do so, they should expect our enthusiastic support, mentorship, and helpful guidance. Although undergoing evaluation may be a bit daunting, it’s the very concept of self-study, continuing education, and dedication to competence that contributes to our organization’s integrity.
Why We Need to Address Maintenance of Board-Certification in the Future
During this same week, I read an editorial by a cardiologist who writes a column for our local newspaper that had as its focus, the board-certification requirements of physician specialists and the more recent requirement of maintenance certification to which all of their 24 member boards agreed to participate. The American Board of Medical Specialties indicates that this maintenance of certification is important because it “assures that the physician is committed to lifelong learning and competency in a specialty and/or subspecialty by requiring measurement of core competency areas established by the association.”
Our own board of trustees began an exploration of the topic of maintenance last December and charged the standards committee to consider various models and processes of continuing education and lifelong learning that provide a means by which ABPP as an organization can maintain the value of board certification. As part of their preliminary deliberations, the ABPP Board of Trustees recognized that once an individual is board certified, a full re-examination process would not be efficient; rather it would be and unnecessarily burdensome to our specialists, the examining boards, and the overall organization. As an alternative, the Standards Committee is working on the development of a future process by which board certified specialists can earn “recertification credits” through demonstration of their continued dedication to remain current, active, and proficient in the profession. A model such as this acknowledges that the board certified professional has demonstrated their competence, support of the profession, and personal commitment to excellence in the field at the time of their original certification examination process. This model also presumes that, unless otherwise demonstrated through adverse action, this competence can be maintained by daily professionally relevant work responsibilities and activities. Sample activities that might be included will be solicited from current specialists soon; there is announcement regarding plans for the process in this issue of The Specialist. We are eager to hear from all of you as a way of identifying the daily activities and responsibilities that you view as contributing to the maintenance of competence.