The APA Still Doesn't Accredit Online Doctorates, Even Now
Time's up, don't you think?
Posted Aug 19, 2020
As a graduate student in a professional counseling program, it has occurred to me on more than one occasion—both in relation to the strong “professional identity” position taken by organizations which oversee counselor education programs and in relation to the other peer mental health provider disciplines about which I’ve become familiar—that mental health practices are changing. So are the programs training these practitioners. In response to a global pandemic, COVID-19 has forced us to reconsider how we design, deliver, consume, distinguish, and even accredit programs and practices of education.
Early this year, before our jobs, schools, and lives were impacted by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, I wrote a post titled “Are Universities Ignoring Obvious Mental Health Solutions?” The answer to the question I rhetorically proposed in that piece was, of course, “yes.” Universities were not then, and are not yet now, providing across-the-board telemental health services to students. But moreover, counseling, social work, psychiatry, and clinical and counseling psychology programs have still yet to begin to adapt to the demands of a new world fraught with all of the mental health challenges born by the newness, and inadequacies, of this new world. My essay was prophetic only accidentally, but here we are.
As I move through graduate school, I’ve wondered several times if I might pursue doctoral work. However, as many of us with one income and no acquired taste for “living” on a stipend (at best) or federal loans (at worst—yikes!) are acutely aware, finding a doctoral program at a well-regarded college or university that will admit you on a part-time basis is challenging. Even more challenging is navigating the promises of online doctoral programs. I’ve considered counseling psychology. Yet, at the time of writing this essay, the American Psychological Association does not yet accredit online doctoral degrees, which would qualify you to pursue state licensure, whatsoever.
Wait—but what about schools that have been closed to in-person instruction since March, you might ask? Well, the degrees offered by those schools are not, it might be argued, online degrees; merely, the coursework, during this time, is being delivered in an online modality. Huh? I know. It’s confusing. Especially to students who aren’t at the table in accreditation discussions or program and institutional curriculum design meetings.
I’m not arguing about the quality of online vs. in-person degrees here. I don’t have a case to make, and besides, other students have been making their own cases. Instead, I’d like to point out a little bit of confusing hypocrisy: If the APA believes that online degree programs in the fields of counseling and clinical psychology are inappropriate for the disciplines and practice, then how should entire programs be permitted to be delivered in this modality in the interim, including this fall, as schools continue to plan for different instructional modalities than presented to accreditors? And, moreover, what about all of the people who are struggling now, at home, during a pandemic, and require telemental health services as a safe, viable option for care, support, and treatment? Surely, the profession doesn’t expect that plastic room dividers and face masks are the cost of service provision, and both the APA and I know this to be the case.
When I set out to write this piece, I wasn’t sure if I was writing a polemic, an admissions essay, or a request that change happen now, and quickly. It would seem that I’m potentially charging all three tasks. Course delivery online is, of course, different than in-person course delivery. But there are effective models (I’m an instructional technologist by day, and I spend most of my workweek helping people accomplish this these days). Psychology, especially in a new world in which so much of clinical and counseling psychology will be and must be administered online, doesn’t it make sense for academic programs and the accrediting body, the APA, to resolve this mighty glaring instance of cognitive dissonance, a theory I learned from the discipline itself?
I’m not a psychologist, but I hope to be one someday, perhaps. I’m also not a mental health clinician, but I am currently training to be one. Presently, I’m a potential consumer of doctoral education, and I’m looking for programs that reflect my needs, as a single adult, working full-time, who is spending his free time trying to give back a little bit of himself to the world through his work. I can’t quit working to enroll in an in-person APA-accredited doctoral program if I want to keep my home. And I can’t, consequently, keep my home if I want to become a psychologist. Not wanting to be a homeless psychologist, I hope that the APA catches up soon. I’ll apply to one of your first online programs.
American Psychological Association. (2015). Online education: Graduate programs. https://www.apa.org/education/grad/online-programs
Martinez, A. (2020, May 3). Northeastern faces $50M class action suit over sudden coronavirus shutdown. Boston Herald. https://www.bostonherald.com/2020/05/03/northeastern-faces-50m-class-action-suit-over-sudden-coronavirus-shutdown/
Stoviak, B. (2020, December 27). Are Universities Ignoring Obvious Mental Health Solutions? Psychology Today. www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-gay-agenda/201912/are-universities-ignoring-obvious-mental-health-solutions
Chronicle Staff. (2020, July 29). Here’s Our New List of Colleges’ Reopening Plans. The Chronicle of Higher Education. www.chronicle.com/article/heres-a-list-of-colleges-plans-for-reopening-in-the-fall/
Waldroff, K. (2020, May 11). As the U.S. stays home, psychology moves online. American Psychological Association. www.apa.org/monitor/2020/06/covid-psychology-online