APA Should Defend All Psychologists

By Todd Finnerty, Psy.D.
September 15, 2013

A large number of psychologists are barred from employment with the largest employer of psychologists in the United States — and the American Psychological Association (APA) remains silent about it.

A petition and an online networking group at www.allpsychologists.org were recently created to encourage the APA to defend all psychologists, not just those with APA-accredited internships. Psychologists without APA-accredited internships are treated as “second class” psychologists, inconsistent with APA’s policy related to equivalent internships.

APA’s 2010 Model Act for State Licensure of Psychologists recognizes internships that are “equivalent” to APA-accredited internships. These internships lead to equivalent psychologists who should be treated as “equal” to psychologists with APA-accredited internships. APA should remind employers and other organizations about its policy related to  “equivalent” internships.

Employers should consider the individual qualifications of all psychologists and accept applications from psychologists who completed equivalent internships. When applicable, state licensing boards and APA-accredited doctoral programs already engage in the process of evaluating internship experiences to determine whether they are quality experiences equivalent to APA internships. This is done to determine whether or not to issue a degree and whether to issue a license as a psychologist.

Some of our largest employers refuse to consider the individual qualifications of any psychologist who didn’t have an APA-accredited internship. For example, psychologists who didn’t have APA-accredited internships would be deemed unfit to work for the Department of Veterans Affairs even if they served in the military as psychologists, are competent and have ample experience working with service members. Some psychologists currently in the military couldn’t work at the VA because the VA does not accept applications from psychologists who did not have APA-accredited internships. Requiring all applicants to have an APA-accredited internship is not an empirically validated criterion for employment. In addition, no organization has collected sufficient data to determine whether it has a negative impact on workplace diversity (including older adults). The law does not require the VA to hire only those with APA-accredited internships. Public Law 96-151 codified in Title 38; U.S.C. 7402 simply asks for an internship which is “satisfactory to the Secretary.”

Those involved in creating the VA Psychologist Qualification Standard require an APA-accredited internship based on tradition. Interestingly, according to Jeffrey Burk, Ph.D., chair of the National Psychology Professional Standards Board, these standards are currently being revised to allow for students of doctoral programs accredited by the Psychological Clinical Science Accreditation System (PCSAS) to work at the VA. If this is approved then at least one tradition will end. APA will no longer be the only VA-recognized accreditor of doctoral programs for psychologists.

In addition, Burk noted that if the revisions are approved they would also allow individuals who did not have APA-accredited internships to apply to the VA if they were board certified by ABPP. This is despite the fact that there is no evidence of a difference in competence between psychologists who had an APA-accredited internship and psychologists who had equivalent internships.

This solution adds even more insult to psychologists without accredited internships since it suggests they should be assumed to be of poor quality until proven otherwise by ABPP. It also does not actually address the issue of internship accreditation since ABPP does not verify whether an internship was equivalent to an APA internship; ABPP uses other organizations, such as the National Register. It is an ill-conceived solution to an unproven concern about quality.

The VA’s qualification standard should be amended to allow psychologists who had internships equivalent to APA-accredited internships to apply for employment. Psychologists who had equivalent internships can be equally competent and are equally deserving of consideration for employment. Employers, including the VA, should consider the individual qualifications of all psychologists.

The petition and networking group at www.allpsychologists.org is aimed at encouraging the APA and APA Practice Organization (APAPO) to take action on issues like this. The APAPO has already set precedent that they’ll work on similar concerns. For example, the APAPO has advocated for multiple years to include psychologists in the Medicare physician definition and has even sent psychologists to Capitol Hill during recent State Leadership Conferences to talk about it. Part of the reasoning the APAPO gives for this is to allow psychologists to provide services to Medicare beneficiaries “to the full extent of their licensure.”

However, employers who require an APA-accredited internship are limiting the scope of practice of state-licensed psychologists and preventing us from practicing to the full extent of our licensure. We want APA and APAPO to advocate for our scope of practice too just like they’ve been doing with the Medicare physician definition. It’s not a trivial matter when talking about a large number of psychologists being barred from employment from the nation’s largest employer of psychologists.

It’s time for APA and APAPO to take a stand on this issue so that psychologists without APA-accredited internships who are still APA members can see that APA also stands for their interests. They deserve to know whether or not APA will defend them against non-evidenced based employment practices as well as attempts to reduce their licensure mobility by requiring APA-accredited internships for state licensure. They deserve to know whether APA views them as equal and deserving of respect and advocacy efforts.

We want APA to defend all psychologists, not just those who had APA-accredited internships. An entire generation of psychologists has survived the internship crisis and a large percentage of them did so by accepting internships that weren’t APA-accredited. It’s time for us to change the tone of the conversation about these internships.

Psychologists who didn’t have APA-accredited internships don’t have to feel ashamed when talking about their internships. They don’t have to be embarrassed that a computer didn’t match them to an APA-accredited internship program. It’s completely acceptable for them to defend themselves from misguided organizations that try to stigmatize their experience. It is an unsupported assumption that APA-accredited internships are better and required to be competent as a psychologist.

I invite critics to look me in the eye and tell me that I’m not competent because my internship wasn’t “blessed” by APA. We don’t have to accept the current, unsupported practice of some employers who require an APA-accredited internship. I don’t accept it. I also don’t think that APA and APAPO should continue to accept it if they want to be perceived as defending all psychologists.

Todd Finnerty, Psy.D., is a psychologist in Columbus, Ohio with a free podcast at www.mentalhealthday.org. His website is www.toddfinnerty.com. His email is: toddfinnerty at toddfinnerty.com or on Twitter as @DrFinnerty. Networking is available by joining the “allpsychologists” mailing list and LinkedIn group. You may sign the petition at www.allpsychologists.org.

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