A new option through the American Board of Police and Public Safety Psychology

Author: Carrie H. Kennedy, PhD, ABPP

Board certification has become increasingly important for clinical psychologists in recent years and military psychologists in particular are coming to see board certification as a routine stage of professional development. Board certification is the highest recognized professional qualification in the field and provides military psychologists with a credential that is transferable to post-military work, enables easier licensure mobility, and results in a regular monetary bonus (Kennedy, 2012). Most importantly however, it serves to objectively demonstrate professional competence.  

The American Psychological Association's (APA) Ethical Principles and Code of Conduct (2010) outlines boundaries of competence in Standard 2.01 as well as maintaining competence in Standard 2.03. The prerequisites and board certification processes offered to established psychology specialties ensure competence at a high level and the new Maintenance of Certification requirements are geared to ensure adequate maintenance of competence. Thus, board certification demonstrates both competence and adherence to the Ethics Code.

Until very recently, military, national security and operational psychologists have not had a board which emphasizes the unique constructs and populations with which we work. While other boards establish high levels of professional competence in such areas as forensic, clinical or neuropsychology, there has been no professional equivalent for the specialty skills required by military-specific and national security aspects of practice.  Fortunately, recent developments have changed this. In December 2010, the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP) provisionally approved the American Board of Police and Public Safety Psychology (ABPPSP) as a specialty board, and in October 2011 ABPPSP officially became the 14th specialty board of ABPP. In 2013 the APA Commission for the Recognition of Specialties and Proficiencies in Psychology (CRSPPP) recognized police and public safety psychology as a specialty.

Does police and public safety include military psychology in general and operational psychology in particular?

Yes. Police and public safety, military and operational psychology overlap in their societal concern with law enforcement and public safety and ABPPSP (2016) identifies as their "four primary domains of practice: assessment, clinical intervention, operational support, and organizational consultation," all of which are standard applications of military and operational psychology.

Do military and national security agencies fall under the province of police and public safety (particularly public safety) for the purposes of the board? 

Yes. In August of 2014 a military psychologist applied for candidacy to ABPPSP. That same month, a reply was received that the application had been tabled until the next ABPPSP board meeting, so that the board could determine if military psychologists in general fell under the auspices of ABPPSP. In October 2014 the board met and voted to open the doors for military psychologists to apply. In February 2016 a military psychologist became the 71st board-certified police and public safety psychologist.

What is required to become board certified through ABPPSP?

ABPPSP, like all ABPP boards, requires a doctoral degree from an accredited graduate program, an accredited internship, at least one year of formal postdoctoral training, and licensure. Once these generic requirements have been confirmed, application for candidacy requires verification of formal education, supervision and experience. These requirements are demonstrated through documentation of at least 100 hours of formal education and supervision in police and public safety psychology through a combination of graduate coursework, continuing education, formal supervision, peer consultation, peer-reviewed publications/dissertation, and/or board certification in another ABPP specialty board or by the Society for Police and Criminal Psychology. The experiential requirement is at least 3,000 hours in the specialty post-licensure (i.e., two years).

Once an individual has been accepted into candidacy, the second step is the practice sample, consisting of a curriculum vitae, professional self-study statement and work samples. Upon approval of the practice sample, the final step is the oral board, which focuses on the professional self-study statement, ethical reasoning and work samples. It is expected that military and operational candidates will be able to compare and contrast the work between police and military/operational populations and provide legal, ethical and scientific bases for decisions. A broad understanding of ethical and governmental/legal dilemmas of police psychology is highly relevant to both civil and military environments and can be applied daily in both military and operational practice.

Operational psychology is an emerging area of practice that could be propelled forward through this new means of demonstration of competence and for traditional military psychologists it provides an unprecedented opportunity to attain, demonstrate and maintain critical professional competence. For interested psychologists, the ABPPSP website can provide you information related to qualifications, the application process and a POC for questions.


American Board of Police & Public Safety Psychology. (2016). "Examination Manual for Specialty Board Certification in Police & Public Safety Psychology." Retrieved June 7, 2016, from http://www.abpp.org/files/page-specific/3606%20Police%20&%20Public%20Safety/ABPPSP%20Examination%20Manual.pdf  

American Psychological Association. (2010). "Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct, 2010 Amendments." Retrieved June 7, 2016, from http://www.apa.org/ethics/code/principles.pdf

Kennedy, C. H. (2012). "ABPP certification for military psychologists." The Military Psychologist, 27 (1), 19-20. Retrieved June 7, 2016, from http://www.apadivisions.org/division-19/publications/newsletters/military/2012/04/military-psychologists-certification.aspx

About the Author

Carrie H. Kennedy, PhD, ABPP is a neuropsychologist with specialization in military psychology and aviation psychology. She is double-boarded in clinical psychology and police and public safety psychology. An active-duty captain in the U.S. Navy, she has deployed to Cuba and Afghanistan and is currently serving in Bahrain. She is an assistant professor of psychiatry and neurobehavioral sciences at the University of Virginia, is a past chair of the Conflict of Interest Committee for the National Academy of Neuropsychology, and she has served as member-at-large of Div. 19. She serves on the editorial board of Psychological Services® and has published numerous books including, "Military Psychology: Clinical and Operational Applications" (Guilford), "Military Neuropsychology" (Springer), "Wheels Down: Adjusting to Life After Deployment" (APA), "Ethical Practice in Operational Psychology: Military and National Intelligence Operations" (APA) and "Aeromedical Psychology" (Ashgate).