New Guidelines for Training in Cognitive and Behavioral Psychology

The Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapy (ABCT) recently sponsored an Inter-organizational Task Force on Cognitive and Behavioral Psychology Doctoral Education to develop guidelines and statements of best practices for integrated education and training in cognitive and behavioral psychology at the doctoral level. The task force was co-chaired by APS Fellow Robert K. Klepac, Immediate Past-President of ABCT, and George F. Ronan, Professor of Psychology and Director of the Violence Reduction Clinic at Central Michigan University. Fifteen delegates representing sixteen different professional organizations initially convened in March of 2011, held monthly phone conferences throughout the remainder of that year, and finalized and approved the guidelines and recommendations in January of 2012. The goal of the task force was to develop guidelines that reflect the state-of-the-art for cognitive and behavioral psychology doctoral training. When disagreements arose, taskforce members sought resolution by relying first on the available published research evidence. When data were scarce or nonexistent, task force members relied on well-reasoned extrapolations. Since its publication, all of the participating organizations have endorsed the document. The complete document was published as: Klepac, R. K., et al. (2012). Guidelines for cognitive behavioral training within doctoral psychology programs in the United States: Report of the Inter-Organizational Task Force on Cognitive and Behavioral Psychology Doctoral Education. Behavior Therapy, 43, 687-697.

Cognitive and behavioral psychology (CBP) represents a specialty recognized by the American Psychological Association, the Council of Specialties in Professional Psychology, and the American Board of Professional Psychology. CBT is one of the few areas of emphasis in clinical psychology with an unwavering historical and current foundation in the research tradition of academic psychology, and the new guidelines sought to highlight that foundation in its recommendations for doctoral training. The Behavioral and Cognitive Psychology Specialty Council provides a useful definition of CBP: “Behavioral and Cognitive Psychology emphasizes an experimental-clinical approach to the application and behavioral and cognitive sciences to understanding human behavior and developing interventions to enhance the human condition. The distinct focus of behavioral psychology is twofold: (a) its heavy reliance on an empirical approach; and (b) its theoretical grounding in learning and behavioral analysis theories broadly defined, including respondent conditioning, operant learning, social learning, cognitive sciences, and information processing models.” (Council of Specialties in Professional Psychology)

The general position of task force was that the field of cognitive and behavioral psychology has progressed past an historical focus on models of education and training to a focus on knowledge, skills, and attitudes that ultimately result in high-level competencies. In line with this position, the task force endorsed broad and general training in the science of psychology consistent with the Commission on Accreditation of the American Psychological Association, a faculty-to-student ratio that permits faculty-mentored research and clinical activities, and experiences to ensure the integration of research and clinical skills across both basic and applied domains. The task force also explicitly identified three critical areas for advanced academic training in cognitive and behavioral psychology: science and ethics, research design and analysis, and applied skills in a wide range of evidence-based strategies consistent with a cognitive and behavioral orientation. The task force members represented a broad range of scientific and professional constituencies but quickly developed a unanimity of purpose that resulted in a smooth and productive series of meetings. As co-chair George Ronan noted, “With regard to process, I was surprised by the collegiality and focus of this diverse group of key players in the education and training of doctoral students in the application of psychology. With regard to content, it was heartening to witness the unanimous agreement on the primary importance of embedding science and research throughout all aspects of training. I left each meeting thinking that our discipline might actually have a future in decreasing human problems and the enhancement of well being.”

The document itself provides an historical, philosophical, and scientific rationale for doctoral training in CBP, and offers guidelines and recommendations both as operational definitions of the essential ingredients of CBP training and as best practices by which individual programs can evaluate their curricula and training. For example, the document stipulates that doctoral programs that offer education and training in cognitive and behavioral psychology engage in the following critical training activities: (1) exposing students to the philosophy of psychology and articulating ways in which scientific and ethical attitudes are integrated across all aspects of doctoral training; (2) mentoring research activities that involve data collection, analysis, write up and presentation of results; (3) ensuring faculty-to-student ratios that allow for training in hands-on research contexts; and (4) educating and supervising students in state-of-the-art evidence-based practices that prioritize the current scientific literature. The published article is intended to detail the task force’s conclusions regarding the background, assumptions, and resulting recommendations specific to doctoral education and training in CBP, including competencies expected in the areas of ethics, research, and practice.

Representatives from the following professional associations participated: Frank Andrasik, Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies; Kevin Arnold, Behavioral and Cognitive Psychology Specialty Council; Cynthia Belar, Education Directorate of the American Psychological Association; Sharon Berry, Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Centers; Karen Christoff, Academic Training Committee of the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies; Linda W. Craighead, Council of University Directors of Clinical Psychology; Michael J. Dougher, Association for Behavior Analysis International; E. Thomas Dowd, American Board of Cognitive and Behavioral Psychology; James Herbert, Association for Contextual Behavioral Science; Robert K. Klepac, Task Force Chair, Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies; Lynn McFarr, Academy for Cognitive Therapy; Shireen Rizvi, International Society for the Improvement and Teaching of Dialectical Behavior Therapy; George F. Ronan, American Board of Professional Psychology & Committee on Affiliation & Specialization of Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies; Eric M. Sauer, Association of Psychology Training Clinics; and Timothy J. Strauman, Academy of Psychological Clinical Science.


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