The information on this page applies to students from programs in the U.S. and Canada. Throughout this page, and unless otherwise specified, the term "accredited" shall include only those programs that are accredited by an eligible accrediting organization (as defined here), which currently includes only the American Psychological Association (APA) and the Canadian Psychological Association (CPA).
It is very important for students to understand that there have been a number of recent changes that will likely have a dramatic impact on the accreditation landscape. Specifically, in August of 2013, the APA Council of Representatives passed the "Resolution on Accreditation for Programs that Prepare Psychologists to Provide Health Services" (see the FAQs on the resolution here), which states that doctoral programs that train Health Service Psychologists should be accredited by approximately 2018, while internship programs that train HSPs shall be accredited by approximately 2020. APPIC has made policy changes that, beginning with the 2018 Match (representing the 2017-18 application cycle), students who participate in the APPIC Match must either attend accredited doctoral programs or those that have been granted an accreditation site visit. Furthermore, the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB) told us that, as of July, 2017, about a dozen licensing boards have issued rules that require an accredited doctoral program in order to be licensed in those jurisdictions. While we cannot predict the future, it is safe to say that there is a very strong effort under way within psychology to establish doctoral program accreditation as a requirement for all recognized internships and licensing as a health service provider, which could mean that individuals who come from non-accredited doctoral programs will find their internship, licensing and employment options to be increasingly limited.
Before further addressing this question, here is some information about the differences between accreditation and APPIC membership:
ACCREDITATION: An internship program that has been accredited by APA or CPA has undergone external review by an accrediting body composed of peers with expertise in professional psychology education. The review process includes an on-site visit to verify compliance with accreditation criteria. As such, it is the highest standard of review that a program can undergo. The accreditation process involves considerable time and effort, and requires the program to submit a lengthy self-study and to host an on-site visit by representatives of the accrediting body. As of June, 2017, a total of 580 internship programs were APA-accredited, while approximately 37 internship programs were CPA-accredited.
More information about accreditation can be found at the APA Accreditation page (see also the Understanding APA Accreditation page) and the CPA accreditation page. An overview of the different statuses of APA accreditation may be found on the "About Accreditation" page (click on "What are the different statuses of accreditation and what do they mean?").
APPIC MEMBERSHIP: APPIC is not an accrediting organization -- it is a membership organization. As such, the term "APPIC accredited" should NEVER be used and does NOT denote that a program is accredited; the proper term is "APPIC Member." As noted above, only the American Psychological Association (APA) and the Canadian Psychological Association (CPA) currently qualify as eligible accrediting organizations.
In order for an internship program to be a member of APPIC, it must submit an application that describes how the program meets APPIC's membership criteria. No site visit is required, and programs that are accredited by APA or CPA automatically qualify for APPIC membership. As of June, 2017, there were approximately 790 APPIC-member internship programs, with 607 accredited by APA or CPA and 183 not accredited.
It is important to state up front that there are excellent internship programs that are accredited or APPIC members, as well as excellent programs that are not accredited nor APPIC members. Many non-accredited or non-APPIC member programs have not sought accreditation and/or APPIC membership because they report lacking the necessary resources; others have not done so because they do not yet meet all of the criteria set out by APA and/or APPIC.
Many students attend non-accredited or non-APPIC member internship programs each year and experience no difficulty with their future employment or licensure. However, some students who attend such programs do experience difficulties. It is important to understand that there are potential risks associated with attending a non-accredited or non-APPIC member program. You should carefully consider the requirements of three different entities:
YOUR DOCTORAL PROGRAM: Most graduate programs have minimum requirements regarding what constitutes an acceptable internship. Many require that you attend an accredited internship, while others permit either accredited or APPIC-member internships. So, be sure that you clearly understand the requirements of your doctoral program in this regard, as it is a waste of time to apply to a program that won't meet your doctoral program's requirements.
LICENSING BOARDS: Each state and provincial licensing board has its own rules for determining the types of internships that are acceptable. Just because an internship is acceptable to your doctoral program doesn't mean that it will be acceptable to a particular licensing board.
As of July, 2017, ASPPB tell us that there are currently no jurisdictions that require an accredited internship in order to be licensed. However, many of them require the internship to meet certain criteria (which varies across jurisdictions). Much of the time, a site that is an APPIC member will meet that criteria, but there are no guarantees. Thus, attending a non-accredited internship program can increase the risk of having difficulties with the licensure process (e.g., if your internship is unacceptable to a particular licensing board).
If you plan to stay within a single jurisdiction, you can check with that licensing board to learn about its requirements for internship. If you don't know where you might want to get licensed, or if you might move to a different jurisdiction in the future, it can be difficult or impossible to know in advance whether a non-accredited or non-APPIC member internship will meet the requirements.
An excellent article, "Why accreditation matters", published by APAGS' GradPsych magazine in April, 2004, addressed some of the licensure and employment issues related to attending an accredited internship. Please note that some of the requirements listed in that article for specific jurisdictions may be outdated, as requirements can and do change over time.
It should be noted that the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB) has endorsed the following:
"The Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB) endorses the position that graduation from an APA/CPA accredited program should be a minimum requirement for doctoral level licensure for health service providers."
Information about licensure can be found at the ASPPB web site. In particular, the ASPPB site now has a "handbook" that summarizes the specific licensure requirements for jurisdictions in the United States and Canada.
FUTURE EMPLOYERS: Some psychologist positions require applicants to have completed an accredited internship program. Furthermore, a considerable (and increasing) number of employment and postdoctoral fellowship positions require or prefer applicants to have completed accredited internships, particularly in areas where employers receive a large number of applications. So, attending an accredited internship can help with future employment, while attending a non-accredited internship can be a barrier to some opportunities. On the other hand, some individuals report that completing a non-accredited internship does not hurt them in the job market.
You should also keep in mind that it is quite common for career choices and aspirations to change over one's professional career. In some cases, the accreditation status of one's doctoral program and/or internship can help or hinder such transitions. APPIC frequently hears from practicing psychologists who have decided that they want their careers to go in a different direction (e.g., to work at a VA facility), only to find themselves locked out because their doctoral program or internship lacked accreditation.
Overall, there is not a "right answer" to the question of whether you should consider attending a non-accredited or non-APPIC member internship program. Attending an accredited program is certainly the safest option, as you almost certainly won't have to justify the quality of your internship to anyone in the future. In addition, it provides you with a "seal of approval" with regard to the quality of training that you will receive, and makes it unlikely that your internship program will be a barrier to licensure and/or future employment. Attending an APPIC-member internship that is not accredited does increase the risk to some extent, particularly for licensure boards or employers that require an accredited internship, though most APPIC-member Training Directors will tell you that their students do just fine overall. Attending a non-accredited, non-APPIC member internship is where you assume the most risk, given that there has been no external body that has reviewed the site to ensure that it meets established standards of quality, and given the potential risks to future licensure and employment opportunities.
Some programs may tell you that they are planning to apply (or have already applied) for initial accreditation or APPIC membership, have a site visit scheduled, or are at some other point in the process. While a site may have the best of intentions, you should be aware that the application and/or approval processes for initial accreditation and/or APPIC membership may take far longer (even months or years longer) than a site anticipates. There is no guarantee that a program will ultimately achieve those goals or will achieve them in a timely manner. Thus, while a site in the midst of the initial application process may convey confidence that they will ultimately be successful, you should accept an internship offer from such a site only if you clearly understand the risks in doing so.
The decision as to whether to attend a non-accredited or non-APPIC member internship program can be a difficult one, particularly if the student is geographically restricted. We encourage you to consult with faculty or other knowledgable individuals, to carefully consider your career interests and options, and to familiarize yourself with issues related to licensure and future employment.
Finally, it is important to remember that sites do not have to be accredited or APPIC members in order to participate in the APPIC Match or the APPIC Post-Match Vacancy Service. APPIC Members are listed in the APPIC Directory Online, and their accreditation status is included in their Directory listings (and may be double-checked at the APA or CPA web sites). In addition, the list of programs that participate in the APPIC Match (available at the National Matching Services web site) includes information on the accreditation and APPIC membership status of all participating programs.