Vice-President for Education

Future Directions for CFP Education

Last year, the focus of this column was the challenges educators face at various stages of training in couples and family psychology (CFP), ranging from doctoral and internship/post-doctoral training to post-licensure continuing education. As I approach the end of my term as the division’s VP for education, I’d like to take this opportunity to discuss future directions for the division’s training and education activities.
By Shelley A. Riggs, PhD

Shelley Riggs, PhD When I first became involved in our division in the early 2000s, there was a strong push from leaders to expand and improve doctoral level CFP education. After the APA decision to limit accreditation to three specialties, the future direction of CFP education seemed less certain. Yet leaders continued to encourage graduate CFP training through specialty tracks within accredited programs, which can provide basic training in the core competencies of family psychology (Stanton & Welsh, 2011). More recently, some division members have suggested that our specialty’s educational focus and energy should be directed primarily toward post-graduate training and post-licensure continuing education, citing legitimate practical barriers for CFP training in many academic settings.

A focus on post-graduate and post-licensure training would ensure that psychologists who lacked the opportunity or initial interest to obtain CFP training in graduate school are able to develop CFP competencies. Wise and Gomez (2018) aptly commented in the previous edition of TFP that there are many “accidental family” psychologists out there who “fall in” to their work with families and couples only after graduating and becoming licensed. In addition, many of the essential skills comprising CFP competencies are more advanced than what is typically taught in a professional psychology graduate program (Celano, 2012). The division is making excellent progress in this area by bolstering its online continuing education offerings, thanks to the efforts of our CE Coordinator Christina Wise and current President Susan Regas. Additionally, the Education and Training Committee is updating the CFP Education and Training Guidelines for model training programs at doctoral and internship/post-graduate levels and has added guidelines for post-licensure CFP education.  Most recently, the division is actively considering the development of a CFP certification program to offer via online CE courses.

On the other hand, a focus on graduate level training encourages the early development of systemic thinking and the professional identity as a couple and family psychologist. Morehouse (2012) observed that graduate students appear to have an easier time making the paradigm shift from individual psychology to a family systems framework. In my own experience, students consistently tell me that once they learned systems theory, it was difficult for them to think any other way. Most graduates of clinical, counseling or school psychology programs continue to identify with their training program’s specialty, but my students, who graduate with a major in counseling psychology and an experience/emphasis in family psychology, are already systemic thinkers and will likely be long-term members of our division. Whether post-graduate or post-licensure CFP training will foster a CFP identity and bring more members into our division is unclear, but the experience of graduate educators seems to support the likelihood that graduate students who receive earlier training in CFP will identify with both CFP and their doctoral specialty. To promote this identity in students, the division has supported graduate students through research awards, travel grants and free membership. The Education and Training Committee also recently updated the division’s education and training webpage by adding resources for graduate educators (e.g., syllabi, resource list) and students (e.g., list of doctoral, internship, and post-doctoral training sites).

For our division to grow and prosper, we must recognize that all stages of education are equally important to our specialty for different reasons. While post-graduate education is an important ongoing task for the division, I hope that future division leaders preserve our predecessors’ long-term goal of expanding CFP doctoral education. The most recent petition for renewal of the CFP specialty (approved 2018) identified approximately 30 doctoral programs that offer an emphasis in training in couple and family psychology. In my own experience, the specialized training opportunities offered by specialty clusters/tracks continue to be one of the key factors students identify for choosing our doctoral program despite the additional hours required for the degree. These findings indicate that CFP graduate training is very feasible and may serve as a unique feature of graduate programs that contributes to effective recruitment of high quality graduate students and likely new members for our division.