The History of the National Council of Schools and Programs of Professional Psychology (NCSPP)
George Stricker, Ph.D., Adelphi University
The historical account that follows is a selection from a longer history that was written for the 1995 New Orleans metaconference. This abbreviated version necessarily omits much that is of interest from the brief but exciting history of NCSPP.
The intellectual agenda for professional schools was set in 1973 by the Vail Conference. The Psy.D., the degree that made it possible to expand training beyond the major research universities, had achieved credibility by this time. More importantly for the development of professional schools, Adelphi University had shown that it was possible for a program to develop in a small college setting, and Nicholas Cummings had developed the notion of the free-standing school in California. The stage was now set for the rapid advancement of professional schools into the forefront of training in clinical psychology and for the development of NCSPP. Following the Vail Conference, many professional schools either were founded or were in the process of being founded.
Nicholas Cummings, after his resignation as president of the California School of Professional Psychology, was instrumental in the initial formation of NCSPP. He contacted all of the professional schools that he considered to be serious, and then scheduled an all-day meeting the day before the APA convention in August 1976. Acting as president pro tern, he convened the meeting, established a membership of the 19 professional schools that had been invited and were present, and charged the group with its first task: defining a professional school of psychology. He then conducted a voice election in which Gordon Derner was elected as the acting president of NCSPP. The following year, when the organization met for a second time and formalized its existence, Derner was elected as the first president. An Executive Board was formed with Paul Clement serving as Vice-President, Maurice Zemlick as Secretary-Treasurer, and Donald Peterson as Member-at-large. The task of NCSPP included the gathering and exchange of information, the developing of standards, and attending to matters that influenced professional psychology. The original membership was to be of schools of professional psychology, not simply programs that agreed with the philosophy of the organization. Membership in the organization was by school, not by individual, and each school was entitled to send two representatives to the annual meeting.
Of all of the initial tasks, the only one that was addressed consistently was the exchange of information. The early meetings of NCSPP were attended by the executive officers of each of the programs, usually White men, and they spent much of the time describing developments in their programs, congratulating themselves about their accomplishments, and defying the powers that be at APA. Unfortunately, the nature of the professional schools at the time was such as to lead to a changing membership each year, a situation that made any continuity of development impossible. Although dues were charged to each member school, there was little expenditure and the organization was little more than a debating society.
The two major topics of debate were whether the Ph.D. or the Psy.D. was the preferred degree designation for professional programs and whether free- standing or university-affiliated programs were better. In 1981, Bruce Weiss made a motion that NCSPP adopt a two-year moratorium on discussion of the Psy.D. vs. Ph.D. and free-standing vs. university-affiliation issues. The motion was not adopted, but the sense of it had already been captured by the decision to hold the La Jolla conference, and these topics rarely have surfaced since that time. Instead, particularly under the leadership of Donald Peterson, the second president of NCSPP, the focus of the organization turned inward toward self-study, and the impetus was given to the series of conferences that have served to define NCSPP. The first conference sponsored by NCSPP was in La Jolla in 1981, and marked a turn from rhetoric to action in the history of the group.
A major step in the growth of NCSPP occurred in 1985, under the leadership of Joanne Callan, when the organization formally was incorporated. At this time, membership in NCSPP was reserved for programs that were APA accredited, with associate membership for schools seeking accreditation, and observer status reserved for developing programs.
The Mission Bay conference, in 1986, set the standard for professional education and training, and was followed by a series of conferences that explicated various components of the professional school model. Following the Puerto Rico conference, in 1989, the Executive Committee was expanded to allow for broader ethnic minority participation, and a publishing contract with APA assured that conference proceedings would receive widespread dissemination. A similar expansion of the Executive Committee and of membership representation later recognized the contribution and participation of women. Most recently, although the acronym NCSPP remains, the name of the organization was changed to the National Council of Schools and Programs of Professional Psychology. This reflects the admission of programs, regardless of organizational structure, to NCSPP, as long as they subscribe to the philosophy of professional training for which the NCSPP stands. When APA restructured its Committee on Accreditation, two seats were reserved for representatives from NCSPP. NCSPP now is poised to influence professional development as a respected and important participant in graduate training.