Continuing Education

Continuing Education Unit Approval Process »

Article on Continuing Education from John Thorn, Ph.D of the CEU Committee

When I first moved to Wyoming from Connecticut in the late 70’s, along with other little tricks about survival on the “Frontier” (candles and water in the car, for example), I discovered taking an odd enjoyment from reading my professional junk mail.

Reading a well-written program description closely; paying attention to the details of the program, reading the providers’ profiles, immersing myself in the images of the meeting space and environs felt like…well, almost like… an educational / travel experience. Wyoming winters are long.

A trip to the Post Office provided a window into the Continuing Education universe. Beautiful, costly, four-color brochures, program listings and bios of famous presenters drew me to far-off, wonderful places from Woods Hole to New Zealand, from Mexico City to Zurich, Moscow to Barcelona.

Others – mostly single page ‘xerox’ copies black on white (or green, or mustard or blue), hand-stapled, stamped and addressed flyers, asked me to travel by highway across endless high desert to gather in more modest and user/consumer friendly, motel meeting rooms in Cheyenne, Rock Springs, Sheridan, Casper, Laramie, et al.

So, what does one do to get the required 30 hours of CE required every 24 months?

The 30 hours mandated by the State for license renewal provides substantial moment for us to The 30 hours mandated by the State for license renewal provides substantial moment for us to overcome the restrictions and expense of travel and time away from office and family to get the needed credits.

In truth, for all my visits to the post office and Winter daydreams of a Summer on Cape Cod, or Winter on Maui, the selection of which program I will attend is as often dictated by travel convenience, cost and calendar as by the perhaps more respectable motives of a deep and abiding academic interest or professional quest. From time to time, budget, locale and timing coincide with a topic of true interest. This seems happily and predictably true for WPA’s annual and mid-winter meetings. (Camaraderie perhaps contaminates this judgment some).

I have often thought, “It would be nice, if Ray, or Bob, or Mick, or Someone, would go to (insert: a program I was interested in but could not attend) and later we could get together to discuss the material covered. My treat could be lunch and theirs the topic for conversation.”

While obviously not qualifying for CEUs, such an arrangement could slake, if not quench, the “frontier shrink’s” thirst for intellectual or professional stimulation: a basic trick of frontier survival is -and will likely always be- learning to maximize means of harmoniously sharing sparse resources. This is probably equally true at the global level.

All this comes to mind with my growing awareness of an additional role junk mail has assumed of late.

I have served in many positions with WPA since attending my first annual meeting in the late 70’s. For the last couple of years I have enjoyed working with Rod Haug and Bruce Leininger and Mary Jo Atherton on the Continuing Education Committee. As always in my experience, service proves a mixed bag of blessings and challenges. The blessings of service are obvious to those who feel them. The challenges typically seem related to keeping those whom you hope to serve content with your service.

This is where junk mail’s new role comes in.

From recent list serve chitchat, it is clear that we are not all informed of the guidelines for CEUs established by the Board and mandated by statute. Not good.

We are each required to document 30 hours of continuing education during the 24 months between license renewals. Extensions may be made “for good cause,” but in no case may hours be accumulated or carried over to subsequent periods.

Credits may be earned in three ways:

  1. All 30 hours may be from sponsors approved by APA or NASP.
  2. Up to 20 contact hours may be earned by completing “designated activities” reviewed and approved by either WPA or WSPA. These credits are typically for workshops, retreats and trainings, although it is clear that there are other types of activities that the committee might designate as appropriate for continuing education credits. Research projects, lobbying efforts, community service programs and presenting one’s own continuing education paper or program for mental health providers for which professional preparation (hence growth) is a natural part, are examples of alternatives that might be considered
  3. Up to 10 hours may be earned from APA or NASP home study.

The CE Committee provides the means by which WPA exercises the authority granted by the Board to offer and approve up to 20 contact hours credit by completing activities reviewed and approved by WPA.

The committee is charged to operate within guidelines established by WPA to guarantee. ,”…that the educational quality of the offering meets WPA standards, and that the instructors meet training and full qualifications of their respective professions and have demonstrated expertise in the area of instruction.” This by way of fulfilling the Board’s delegated responsibility for “the protection of the public and the profession.”

The guidelines the committee is to follow are quite specific:

And the exceptions the committee is asked to make are legion:

In order to be approved for CEUs, a conference must meet the following criteria:

  1. Be offered for psychologists
    This is by far the most common exception granted. Many programs are offered to Social Workers, LMFTs, etc. but do not specifically mention psychologists.
  2. Be psychological in nature and relevant to maintaining or increasing professional competence in psychology.
    Since no one but a psychologist may, under statute, refer to themselves or their services or offerings as “psychological” in nature, this stipulation seems to preclude any program offered by non- psychologists. Obviously the committee frequently overrides this guideline. I am not sure we have the authority to do that.

Psychologists wanting advance approval for a conference must send the required information at least one month before the registration deadline to allow time for the approval process. WPA will attempt to have a turn-around time of two weeks.

“Advanced approval”. What a concept! This simple process could save a lot of angst later on.

Approval after attendance at a conference may also be obtained by following the required process, but there is no guarantee that approval will be given just because a psychologist has already attended a program.

This is what can make it difficult to keep those whom we serve happy with our service. Nobody likes a “No” response.

So what does junk mail have to do with it? My experience on the committee is that, despite all the foregoing “Musts” and parameters for “necessary documentation” we are too frequently asked to evaluate a program based solely upon such “supporting documentation” as a newspaper announcement advertising the program, or a program schedule or outline (apparently handed out at the event). Sometimes we see marketing collateral pieces apparently received by the applicant in the mail. Most frequently there is no mention of the intended audience, no list of learning objectives and seldom an actual certificate of attendance or citation awarding CEUs by the program sponsor.

Bruce has noted his increasingly flexible stance and attributes his drift to port – at least in part – to the inroads in the public mind and the market place made by non-psychologist licensed or certificated mental health. This reminds me of the obstacles our profession faces in terms of Brand identification. I am similarly inclined to accept a wide variety of programs. I am personally invested in holistic, integrative health services and accept the value of many of the alternative schemas, approaches and “treatments.”

I also think it is critical that we psychologists respect our own profession and live up to whatever “level” of knowledge and skill base as may be implied by the fact that ours is the only licensed mental health profession that requires the doctorate as the entry level to be licensed to practice independently (psychiatry excluded).

We ought to be jealous of the standards to which we hold ourselves as psychologists. We ought to expect of ourselves a certain level of quality or perhaps “rigor” is the word, in our education, to reflect the scientific nature of our expertise. Though difficult to define, there is a quality or rigor we should expect or demand of whatever new thoughts, schemas, approaches and treatments we elevate to being educational for us.

We are not sophomores. I mean no snobbery by this. I think of it as more as our maintaining a standard we set for ourselves and our accepting the responsibility of our education and training to cast a properly critical eye at what we are willing to seek or accept as educational in nature.

I do not like assigning CEUs for attending a visiting (”Certified” of course) hypnotist who demonstrates impulse / addiction control techniques and heads on down the pike. Neither do I relish saying “No” to a perfectly sound, working therapeutic technique involving animals, ropes courses or drawing pictures with one’s fingers. I just want to feel comfortable that the program merits our stamp of approval.

Maybe it’s that old wish that Mick, Ray, or someone would come back from a neat training or lecture and share it with me. Or, maybe it is wanting WPA to fulfill well the purpose of a professional association, the sharing of the wealth (and burden), spreading of the news and providing the venue for developing and maintaining professional relationships.

In any case, my need for cheap thrills and the plight of the CEU committee as I see it, could both be well-addressed were each of us willing to take a few minutes and draft a comment or two and an evaluation of the programs we attend. Submitting such a piece with each application would assist the committee in its quest to find reasons for approval.

We could also sign a release at our discretion whereby these program reviews might be published in the newsletter to inform and advise one another on ‘what’s good’ and ‘what’s not’ out there in the CEU universe. Wouldn’t that count as a publication on a lean resume?

I invite your comments and suggestions and can be back-lined at john@drthorn.com.