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Perspectives: The ABPP and the Specialty Academies

The American Board of Professional Psychology came into being in 1947 with three core specialties. School Psychology was added in 1968 and several more Specialty Boards (SBs) became affiliated in the 1980’s and 1990’s. By the early 1990’s, the BOT as a governance body with a regional structure was becoming unwieldy. A process of restructuring took place which resulted in the establishment of a national in scope SB for each ABPP specialty, eliminating the multiple specialty regional board structure. Each specialty has an elected Trustee which contributes to the Board of Trustees as the overall governance group of the ABPP. The role and function of the SBs and the Central Office were clarified.

Each Specialty Board assumes the responsibility for developing and carrying out the ABPP Specialty examinations. The Central Office continues to function in areas of generic candidacy verification, record keeping, development and maintenance of an ABPP Directory, development and currency of the ABPP Web site, monitoring the organization relative to ethical/legal issues, and general administrative support.

There were, however, a number of activities not believed to be in the purview of the BOT, Central Office, or the Specialty Boards. Some of these include a number of membership services, continuing education, mentoring, candidate recruitment, and advocacy. To meet these needs, the reorganization effort of the early 1990’s called for the establishment of an Academy for each Specialty. Each Academy would serve as a membership organization for the specialty and fulfill a number of the needs which were not appropriate for the BOT, Specialty Boards, or Central Office. Since the reorganization effort began, Academies have been gradually established across the specialty spectrum. At present, almost all specialties have active Academies which vary relative to organization, structure, governance, activities, and fiscal integrity.

In 1994, the Council of Presidents of Psychology Specialty Academies (CPPSA) was formed, as a means of coordinating the efforts of the various Specialty Academies and as a vehicle for the Academies to speak with a unified voice on matters of mutual interest. All specialties have an Academy and representation on the CPPSA.

While the overall reorganization effort has been successfully achieved, there have been some inevitable issues and clarifications in need of resolution, as the four bodies developed in a somewhat autonomous fashion with the BOT, Specialty Boards, and Central Office part of the unitary ABPP corporation, and the Academies and CPPSA independent as organizational bodies independent of the ABPP. In the last several years there has been a deepening awareness that the four groups need to cooperate and collaborate in the best interest of practitioners across all specialties. At a joint meeting of the BOT and CPPSA (reported in 1998), interorganizational roles and relationships were clarified.

The early, initial distant relationship between ABPP and the Academies has been replaced with an evolving close, mutually helpful relationship with the goal of close communication and coordination of roles for the benefit of the public and specialization.

What follows are several tables clarifying the structure and function of the Academies, BOT, SBs, and CO.

A. BOT and CPPSA: The structure and general function of the Academies, BOT, SBs, and CO.

  1. Membership
    • Trustees proposed by each Specialty Board and appointed by the BOT.
    • Officers and Executive Committee
      • President
      • President-Elect
      • Past President
      • Treasurer
    • Liaison Representatives
      • National Register of Health Service Providers in Psychology
      • Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards
      • Council of Presidents of Psychology Specialty Academies
      • Group Psychology
      • Diplomate, Editor
  2. Mission Statement (Purposes)
    • To serve the public and the profession by certifying that psychologists in various specialty areas of psychology have completed the educational, training, and experience requirements of a specialty, including an examination designed to assess the competencies required to provide quality services in the specialty, and who maintain high ethical standards.
    • To function as a unitary organization of affiliated, incorporated specialty boards through a Board of Trustees which includes representation from its Member Boards and the public
    • To establish and monitor standards of specialty board certification in psychology and through its affiliated specialty boards support the development, validation, and administration of qualifications and examinations leading to certification in a specialty area recognized by the Corporation.
    • To maintain a central registry for the public dissemination of information about the board certification status of all those psychologists certified by Member Boards.
    • To establish relationships with the public and the profession, particularly organizations which identify psychologists with board certified credentials as providers of service.
    • To assist in improving the quality of research, education, and training in specialties of professional psychology, including those approving programs for specialty.
    • To conduct information and education programs designed to make information about the specialty certification process and the status of its board certified psychologists available to the public and the profession.
  1. Membership
    • Presidents of each Specialty Academy
    • Executive Committee
      • Chair
      • Chair-Elect
      • Past Chair
      • Secretary/Treasurer
  2. Mission Statement: To act cooperatively on issues that affect different psychology specialties, such as Educational and Health Care Reform. The rationale for CPPSA existence is that ABPP, as an examining and credentialing body cannot be involved in political action. Because of this, Academies independent of ABPP were created. CPPSA gives each Academy the strength in numbers and unity in matters that concern several or all specialties. CPPSA was created because of the urgent need to present a solid, professional front to the public and to the U.S. Congress, since ABPP provides the acceptable indicator of board certification in a psychology specialty.
  3. Bylaws (currently being drafted)
  4. Sample of Activities:
    • Provide technical assistance to Academies at various stages of organizational development.
    • Participate with other interorganizational groups in the process of seamless credentialing for psychologists throughout North America.
    • Meet the needs of various Academies as these arise so long as these are consistent with the mission of the Council.
    • Respond and advocate for both individual Diplomates as well as Academies on matters which are relevant to the organization as a whole, or challenge the viability of any single group.
    • Improve inter-academy communication and provide networking opportunities for executive officers and committee chairs across all academies.

B. Structure and Range of Functions of Specialty Boards and Specialty Academies

Specialty Boards Specialty Academies
  1. Membership (Maintain)
    • Executive Officers
    • Board Directors
  2. Functions
    • Select or appoint SB Directors as agreed by Academy/SB.
    • Plans, organizes, and implements, with support of CO, effective and fair examinations and credential review.
    • Relates to profession, applicant pool, the Academy and its board certified specialists.
    • Demonstrates a commitment to excellence through self-study and its relationship to the ABPP Standards Committee.
  1. Membership (Maintain)
    • Executive Officers
    • Board certified members (Fellows)
  2. Functions
    • Select or appoint SB Directors as agreed by Academy/SB.
    • Functions as a membership body for each specialty area.
    • Provides BOT and SB feedback from a broader board certified specialist base and the public.
    • Provide leadership in the recruitment of candidates and the value of board certification.
    • Present programs of continuing education.
    • Identifies potential, eligible examiners for the SB.
    • Serves as liaison with professional groups.
    • Provide advocacy with professional, service systems, and political/governmental bodies.


Central Office
  1. Organization
    • Chief Executive Officer
    • Staff
    • Consultants (legal, computer, other)
  2. General Functions
    • Day to day support of the ABPP by providing information to the profession, public and the organization.
    • Keeps relevant records of Diplomas issued, official minutes, and financial transactions.
    • Coordinates financial matters with the Treasurer.
    • Keeps minutes, policies, and procedures, and coordinates correspondence.
    • Represents the organization as appropriate.
    • Verify common generic requirements for all applicants and coordinates the examination process.
    • Acts on behalf of the corporation as directed.
    • Most generally, provides Executive Officer and administrative support for the ABPP organization, including a coordinating function with the Academies.