APA Clinical Psychology Programs Ira H. Bernstein Professor of Psychology UT-Arlington [email_address] 272-3183
Although I served as a site visitor for APA (American Psychological Association) clinical psychology programs in the past, I have not done so for many years. Most of what I say will not have changed, but you should visit the APA web site at www.apa.org for more information. Warning
APA-Accredited Programs My talk is limited to APA-accredited programs in professional psychology (clinical psychology, counseling psychology, and school psychology). These are all doctoral programs. These programs are all quite similar. All require about 5 years plus and internship and lead to eventual licensure, usually with additional training.
My Role In Accreditation I am not a professional psychologist; at the time I did my site visits, one member of the site team had to be an academic. I evaluated the non-clinical courses, such as statistics.
Paraphrase Of Old Joke <ul><li>Q. What do they call someone who has been rejected by 20 of 21 graduate schools he/she applied to? </li></ul><ul><li>A. A graduate student. </li></ul>
Differences Among Program Types Differences among the three types of professional programs are small and may reflect local politics rather than differences in training. Clinical psychology programs tend to be found in psychology departments or in medical schools; the other two are more likely found in education departments. A counseling psychologist who takes proper training can do everything a clinical psychologist can and vice versa. Perhaps the main difference now is between academic and professional programs.
Research Vs. Practioner Programs Although accredited programs have a certain similarity to one another because of the accreditation process, there are still a lot of differences among them. You should carefully investigate one that best suits your talents. Some are highly research-oriented; others are practioner-oriented.
Types of Degrees The two most commonly awarded degrees are the Ph. D. (Doctor of Philosophy) and the Psy. D. (Doctor of Psychology). Both work about equally well for applied positions; perhaps (and only perhaps) the Ph. D. works better for academic positions. However, differences among schools are far greater than the average difference between the two degrees. At the same time, schools that offer both try to maintain their distinctness.
Where To Learn About Accredited Programs <ul><li>Consult either the December issue of the American Psychologist or, for a more up-to-date listing, www.apa.org/ed/doctoral.html . Once you have decided where you are applying, learn as much as you can about their faculty and specific programs, starting, but not limiting yourself, to their Website. </li></ul>
Application Rule #1 Apply to several schools. It is not easy getting into an APA-accredited program. I could probably fill up the classes of the area schools (UNT and UTSWMS) from any abnormal psychology class I teach. If you are tied to the area, admission is rather difficult. This is no reflection on you. Acceptance has a lot of the aura of a crapshoot.
Application Rule #2 Apply to at least one professional school . Most are stand-alone programs, which tend to admit relatively large classes. They are more lenient regarding GPA and GRE. The California School of Professional Psychology , with several campuses, is well known. In particular, try the Fresno campus—it is in a relatively unattractive location. You probably will not spend your life there. Because of their size, professional schools tend to have good alumni networks.
Professional School Plusses And Minuses Professional schools, which are usually at private institutions, are more expensive than state universities. They used to be looked down upon somewhat, but they now have enough students out in the world to have developed their own networks. They vary considerably in quality, but most train students rather well.
Application Rule #3 Apply to a school that looks for students with your strong points. Some schools (typically, academic universities) weight grades and GPA very heavily; others weight practical experience (including life experience = older students), and still others look for research experience. This is why your changes of acceptance can be quite different at different schools.
Application Rule #4 <ul><li>Diversify your experience. </li></ul><ul><li>Work in a professor’s lab. A professor for whom you work is in a much better position to give you a strong recommendation than one whom you simply took a course from. </li></ul><ul><li>Get Outside Experience . Suicide prevention centers are a good choice for outside experience. </li></ul><ul><li>Obviously grades are important, but what you take is considered . </li></ul><ul><li>The GRE is usually relevant. However, the evidence regarding retaking it is mixed. </li></ul><ul><li>Many students lay out a year or go to an MA program and are then accepted. </li></ul>
Application Rule #4 Research is a very important, though it obviously plays a greater role in Ph. D. programs. Schools are under pressure from APA to graduate students in a timely fashion and an ABD (all but dissertation) makes everyone unhappy. Guard against becoming an ABD by developing research skills before you go to graduate school. That is one reason why we run our department as we do. Graduate programs love students with a good research and statistics background.
Application Rule #5 Many graduate schools don’t care if you have extensive course work in clinical courses. They feel that if you do, you may need to unlearn things. Clinical programs can teach clinical things; they have less time to teach basic research skills, even though the better programs have extensive ongoing research.
Application Rule #6 You will probably be asked to write a biographical sketch outlining your intended career paths. One of the best things you can do (as long as you are honest about it) is to say you have an interest in topic X and you wish to study with Professor A at the school who works in that area. That shows you have researched the program, and it may help get an assistantship.
First Corollary To Rule #6 If the program does not say that it has a program in autism, don’t stress your interest in the topic because they may say (at least to themselves) “too bad, we can’t help him/her”.
Second Corollary To Rule #6 It is probably not a good idea to say something like “I want to study battered spouses (or alcoholics, etc.) because I am a battered spouse (or my mother/father was battered, alcoholic, etc.)” as they see dozens of them. Not every battered spouse’s experience is like yours. Don’t appear to be an advocate or a victim. Do appear to be intelligent, motivated, and to have good interpersonal skills.
Final Points About Your Sketch <ul><li>The sketch should reflect both your maturity and your humility at not being able to predict the future (don’t get tremendously specific). </li></ul><ul><li>In particular, it should relate what you have done with what you want to do. </li></ul><ul><li>Get someone to look it over for both content and technical points. </li></ul>
Ethnicity And Admissions APA stresses ethnic diversity. You get a plus for being a member of a protected group (Hispanic, African-American, Asian, Native American, etc.). Many of us have mixed ancestry, and I am not sure what to tell you to say if you do. My father was born in Argentina, so I meet the legal test for being Hispanic. However, I don’t claim it since it did not affect my upbringing and because I don’t know much Spanish that is not on a restaurant menu.
Gender And Admissions <ul><li>Most programs are and have been majority female. Being one doesn’t help. In fact, there is probably a subtle bias in favor of males. </li></ul><ul><li>Nearly all schools are neutral as regards life style of both male and female students. </li></ul>
Conclusion <ul><li>Learn as much as you can about schools you are applying to. </li></ul><ul><li>Show them how you fit their mold. </li></ul><ul><li>In the words of an old song: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Accentuate the positive. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Eliminate the negative </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Don’t mess with Mr. In-between. </li></ul></ul>