Wednesday, December 13, 2017
APA Continuing Education Courses: When Approved Providers Make Mistakes
In most states of the U.S., clinical psychologists have to be licensed to practice on their own, and often hospitals or other agencies prefer to hire licensees, even though sometimes a practitioner could be covered by supervision from a licensed psychologist. In order to maintain this valuable licensure, clinical psychologists must do a certain amount of continuing professional education. Although a state psychology board can approve continuing education (CE) courses for their state’s licensees, the CE courses are most often identified by approval of the American Psychological Association (APA). If the CE courses are approved by APA, all states will accept them as evidence of licensees’ compliance with continuing education requirements—and other professional organizations, like those for licensed professional counselors, usually accept APA-approved courses for their own licensing requirements. The standards for APA-approved courses are on paper more stringent than those of organizations like, say, the National Association of Social Workers.
Of course, there are thousands of licensed psychologists, and more thousands of clinical social workers, counselors, licensed mental health professionals, etc., etc. Providing and approving CE courses for all those people is a monumental task, and a big business, as fees are charged for CE credits. Although APA provides some CE courses at major conferences, most of the APA-approved CE courses are provided by organizations known as APA “approved providers”. These groups, which may be hospitals, universities, or free-standing businesses, acquire information about proposed presenters and presentations, vet it for compliance with APA standards, permit conference organizers to state CE awards in their brochures, and provide certification of attendance at CE courses to be used by licensees. Some approved providers also supply on-line courses with brief examinations on the presented material, but conference presentations do not include examinations. Conference brochures generally state that the conference organizers do not guarantee content accuracy; to the extent that this guarantee is possible, it’s the task of the approved provider.
Well, so far, so bureaucratic. Why am I getting into this at all? Here’s the problem: not all approved providers are doing their jobs properly. As a result, APA CE credits have been given for material that in no way meets APA’s stated standards, which include the existence of publications on the topic in peer-reviewed professional journals. This results in a potentially harmful situation, in which licensed psychologists may believe that content is accurate when it is not, and may base their continuing professional education on inaccurate content and miss out on other, more accurate material.
Fortunately, APA provides recourse to such problems through its Office of CE Sponsor Approval, and it’s my experience that complaints to that office are thoroughly dealt with. The complainant is fully informed, and additional information is requested if needed.
My first experience with complaining about a CE course took place several years ago when I received a brochure in the mail from the Lorman organization, an APA approved provider, advertising CE-carrying presentations by Nancy Thomas, the self-designated foster parenting and attachment expert. Thomas and her presentations fail on a number of points to meet the requirements for APA CE credits. Thomas is not a psychologist, nor does she have any other professional training, and no material supporting her methods has ever been published in a peer-reviewed professional journal. On the contrary, a joint task force of APA Division 37 and the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children specifically condemned Thomas’s methods (Chaffin et al, 2006). Following my complaint, the Office of CE Sponsor Approval directed Lorman to remove CE credits from courses given by Thomas. (Lorman continues, however, to sponsor and advertise Thomas’s courses, without CE credit; in my opinion, this practice raises questions about Lorman’s approved provider status as a whole.)
In Spring 2017 I brought a complaint about CE credits advertised by ATTACh, the Association for Training on Trauma and Attachment in Children, for a number of presentations to be given at their annual conference in October. The R. Cassidy organization was the approved provider in this case.The conference brochure offered APA CE credits across the board, for all presentations, although many of the presentations did not meet APA guidelines. I received a message from the Office of CE Sponsor Approval the day before the conference was to begin, stating that after investigation CEs had been refused for some of the presentations but allowed for others. A colleague who visited the conference reported that this did not seem to have been announced to attendees.
In September 2017 I filed a complaint about a presentation by Craig Childress and Dorcy Pruter at the conference of the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC) earlier in 2017. AFCC had given APA CE credits across the board for presentations at this conference, and had included this presentation although one presenter, Pruter, has no professional training, and the material presented has never been supported by peer-reviewed publications. This complaint remains under investigation.
Within the last few weeks, I have filed two other complaints with the Office of CE Sponsor Approval. One of these concerned CE awards for presentations arranged by the Association for Comprehensive Energy Psychology (ACEP), which is for reasons that are not clear to me an APA approved provider. The CE material included claims for the effectiveness of “tapping” therapies, which are unsupported by any well-designed empirical study, as well as being contrary to any established view of the universe. In addition, I filed an objection to CE credits offered by the organization PESI, Inc., for presentations by the psychologist Terry Levy. The brochure for the Levy presentations claimed that Levy’s methods were effective, despite the absence of any peer-reviewed publications of empirical work or even of theoretical considerations. The PESI brochure’s biographical material on Levy referenced two of his books that include material making unsupported claims about the nature of attachment disorders and material written by Nancy Thomas that advocates limiting children’s diets as a therapeutic tactic. These complaints are also under investigation.
If you come across material offering APA CE credits for inappropriate material, I hope you will join me in complaining to the APA Office of CE Sponsor Approval. If you are not sure what the standards are, you can find them at www.apa.org.
Or, if you are not sure how to go about this, send your concerns to me and I will file a complaint if I agree with you.