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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
Many of you know by now that ABPP’s Annual Continuing Education Meeting in Chicago was a success. In addition to turning a small profit, ABPP offered high quality workshops that were attended by a good number of board certified and yet-to-be board certified psychologists. At the end of May, 2015, ABPP’s Annual Continuing Education Meeting will take place at the Omni Hotel, smack in the middle of San Diego’s revitalized Gaslamp District. Once again, we have a great line- up of workshops. In addition, APA will be sponsoring complimentary, day-long workshops for
psychologists interested as serving as accreditation site visitors. Finally, a number of ABPP boards and academies will be meeting in conjunction with the meeting. I hope to see many of you there.
ABPP continues to move forward with adoption of Maintenance of Certification, which will be put into operation this year. This accomplishment would not have been possible without the hard work of Dr. Michael Tansy and his many committee members, as well as Central Office staff.
At their annual meeting in December, the ABPP trustees voted to allocate funds to renovate the organization’s website, making it more valuable to the public, member boards and academies, and board certified psychologists. In addition, the trustees voted to increase operating expenses for member boards. These and other initiatives, of course, are only possible because ABPP is on solid
financial ground, thanks to the hard work and diligence of our treasurer, Dr. Jerry Sweet, and Executive Officer, Dr. David Cox.
Perhaps most importantly, ABPP had a record number of psychologists and psychologists-in-training begin the application process for board certification in 2014 – a total of 999! I look forward to this number continuing to increase.
ABPP has dealt with a number of applications for affiliation recently. At the December 2014 Board of Trustees (BOT) meeting, the BOT voted on three such groups.
An application from Sleep Psychology was received and reviewed. Representatives of that group were in attendance at the December 2014 BOT meeting to present information regarding the proposed specialty board. Following the presentation and discussion, the BOT voted not to approve Sleep Psychology for specialty board affiliation, and voted to encourage that group to seek affiliation as a subspecialty. We are in ongoing dialogue with the group regarding this option.
The American Board of Geropsychology (ABGero) recently completed the requisite number of examinations in the monitoring phase of affiliation so as to be eligible for full affiliation. During the monitoring phase, site visitors observe the examinations and assist in the specialty board “fine-tuning” operations so as to ensure that the process is compliant with ABPP standards. A significant portion of the examinations included a site visitor sitting in on all or part of the examination. The visits occurred over the course of the past 20 or so months. All site visitors have reported that the examination process was deemed to be going well and in line with ABPP standards. It was recommended to the ABPP Affiliations Committee and the ABPP Standards Committee that the ABGero specialty board be considered for full affiliation with ABPP; the BOT voted to approve ABGero for full affiliation with ABPP.
Finally, we welcome Pediatric Neuropsychology to the ABPP home as the first subspecialty. The BOT voted for full affiliation of the subspecialty at the December BOT meeting. Congratulations to all involved!
Inter-organizational issues -
ABPP is being discussed more than ever before at meetings at which I am in attendance as a liaison. These meetings include the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB), Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Centers (APPIC), National Council of Schools and Programs in Professional Psychology (NCSPP), APA Consolidated Meetings including the Board of Educational Affairs (BEA) and Board of Professional Affairs (BPA), APA State Leadership Conference (SLC), APA Education Leadership Conference (ELC), APA Convention, APA Committee for the Advancement of Professional Psychology (CAPP), Council of Specialties in Professional Psychology (CoS) and others. It is an amazing thing to sit back and listen while leaders of these other organizations espouse to the groups the importance of specialization and board certification! What a pleasant change we are going through!
I had the pleasure and honor of presenting earlier this year at APPIC on the board certification process and being a panelist at the ASPPB meeting this past October discussing regulatory issues, ethics and specialization. APA groups continue to look to ABPP in many ways; BPA asked that I provide them with input regarding several issues this past meeting, and CoS routinely looks to ABPP for input and guidance with respect to specialty.
For the first time in many years, a representative of the American Psychological Association Graduate Students (APAGS) attended our BOT meeting. I am excited to have that representative working with us, and am certain that two-way learning will result.
Workshops 2015, 2016 and 2018 -
The 2015 ABPP Conference and Workshops has been finalized and you should be seeing emails and information on our web page. Get Registered! http://www.abpp.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageID=3534
We have a tremendous lineup of speakers, with a range of topics to be presented. We will have some guests from APA – Katherine Nordal, Executive Director of the APA Practice Organization, and Steve Behnke of the APA Ethics Office – presenting as well as numerous other “big names” in various fields.
We have contracted to return to the Chicago Conrad Hotel for workshops in 2016 and 2018. Our hope is that by locking down multi-year conference rates we can save money, as well as, help people plan for attendance in advance.
As always, we encourage boards, academies and committees to participate in the ABPP Annual Conference and Workshops by convening for business and examinations as well as attending the workshops. We have a number of rooms blocked out for board/committee/exam use during the week.
ABPP Applications –
ABPP had 999 applications in 2014; a record year for ABPP applications. It is also exciting that nearly 50% of the applications come from Early Entry applicants. If you recall, as recently as 2007 these Early Entry applicants would not have been able to apply at all. Our current process is getting them into the pipeline early, and the enthusiasm about this program continues to grow across the field of psychology.
SharePoint, Credentials Review and Maintenance of Certification –
The use of SharePoint has been in place for credentials review since early this year. Its implementation has gone remarkably well and ABPP Central Office has introduced a similar process for the review of the Maintenance of Certification (MOC) documents that specialists will be submitting. As you all know, the MOC process will begin early in 2015. Those specialists opting to voluntarily participate will be able to access the required documents for completion from the web pages of the specialty through which they are board certified. Notification of initiation of the process will be emailed to all specialists on a board by board basis. We anticipate the first several boards will go online in the early months of 2015 with all specialty boards ready to proceed by May or June. Also, the BOT voted to move forward with some website revisions and the initial process of transitioning data more fully to SharePoint. We will consult with the group that worked with us on the setup of our SharePoint credentials review system to initiate that process.
(reprinted from The Specialist, Summer 2009)
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.