Overview of Research Competencies in Psychology

The APU PsyD program recognizes that a comprehensive practitioner-scholar clinical psychology training program involves training clinicians to be critical consumers of psychological research, and proficient with relevant clinical research and analysis methodologies, grounded in delivering services that are evidence-based and empirically defensible. The program gives students the essential research skills that every competent clinical psychologist needs to operate in a diverse marketplace.

Emphasizing the acquisition of a solid foundation in clinically relevant research principles and skills, the APU PsyD research pedagogy integrates an academic model of classroom instruction and a mentoring model of individual and group research supervision. The research curriculum provides a foundational education in research methodologies and analytical procedures that enable the student to engage in more advanced, individually focused research experiences consistent with the practitioner-scholar model. Faculty value the development of research skills as a significant component of clinical training and, therefore, have developed a research program that includes: a) academic courses, b) individual research mentoring by faculty, c) voluntary research groups facilitated by faculty mentors, d) faculty research programs and institutional research support, e) possible collaboration with extramural research facilities, and f) integration of solid scientific support for clinical theory, intervention, and assessment courses.

The research and evaluation competencies necessary for the practice of clinical psychology are gained through a sequence of research courses and supervision that ultimately culminates in the creation and defense of a clinical dissertation. Students are required to take three research courses during their first year of the PsyD that provide the foundations for critical evaluation of qualitative and quantitative research, research problem formulation, the scientific method, literature review, research design, hypothesis formulation and testing, presentation and discussion of research results, and research ethics. The PsyD student formulates a research problem, reviews relevant literature, designs the appropriate research methodology, and submits a proposal for the clinical dissertation.

The research and dissertation sequence is designed to produce practitioner-scholars who have the requisite knowledge to function effectively in a variety of clinical settings. Upon completion of the PsyD program, the student will be able to demonstrate competency in the following areas of research and practice:

  1. Employ critical thinking skills pertaining to psychological phenomena
  2. Evaluate existing clinical research and practice
  3. Formulate clinical problems
  4. Design research methodology
  5. Assess relevancy of qualitative and quantitative data
  6. Analyze and present research findings
  7. Discuss relevant implications of their findings
  8. Demonstrate skill in written communication
  9. Function independently as a practitioner-scholar

Research Mentoring

Upon completion of the research sequence, students enter into research mentoring with their dissertation chair. Each subsequent semester, students enroll in dissertation units and consensually set specific research milestone requirements to achieve the objectives of completing the clinical dissertation and functioning independently as a practitioner-scholar. From the time the student chooses a dissertation chair in the first semester of the program to the completion of the clinical dissertation, the student is involved in individual supervision and/or voluntary research groups facilitated by the dissertation chair. Both settings are designed to solidify the principles and skills learned in the academic research and dissertation sequence. The dissertation proposal defense must be completed by June 30 of the fall semester prior to application for the predoctoral internship. Students must register for continuation units beginning in the internship year until the dissertation is complete.

Clinical Dissertation

Definition of the Dissertation

To obtain a doctorate in clinical psychology it is necessary to complete a clinical dissertation. The clinical dissertation is a written document relevant to professional issues and practice in clinical psychology. It involves: a) identification of a clinical problem or gap in the field, b) a plan to solve the problem or contribute to the existing knowledge base; c) critical review and synthesis of the available research; d) contribution of the student’s research; and e) analysis of the findings and articulation of the relevancy to the science of clinical psychology.

The nature and scope of the PsyD clinical dissertation is distinct from the type of dissertation required in a PhD It is intended to demonstrate satisfaction of the research and evaluation competency in professional psychology. The PsyD research curriculum and clinical dissertation teach students to follow “a systematic mode of inquiry involving problem identification and the acquisition, organization, and interpretation of information pertaining to psychological phenomena” (NCSPP, 1992). Completion of the research and dissertation courses will demonstrate the competency “to engage in rigorous, careful, and disciplined scientific inquiry.” The Clinical Dissertation may fall within one of six broad categories:

  • Clinical Application: This is a product or program relevant to the application of professional psychology. The dissertation involves a relevant literature review, development of a product or program (including support documentation), and implementation or evaluation of at least a portion of the application or product.
  • Quantitative Research: This dissertation involves a literature review, hypothesis formation and testing, research design, statistical analysis, and the description and discussion of the research findings. The research project may analyze original data (involving data collection and subject recruitment), perform a secondary data analysis (involving access to an existing data set), or conduct a meta-analytic research synthesis.
  • Qualitative Research: Using qualitative research methodology, students conduct a literature review and collect and analyze qualitative data (e.g., interviews) to contribute to an area of clinical psychology that does not easily or conveniently lend itself to empirical data analysis. The findings from qualitative data analyses often illuminate new avenues of empirical research.
  • Critical Literature Analysis: Students may seek to synthesize and critique a body of research that is relevant to the practice of clinical psychology. This dissertation involves a comprehensive review, critique, and synthesis of the research literature in an area of clinical psychology noting implications for further research and clinical application.
  • Theoretical Development: Dissertation students comprehensively review existing literature in a specific area of professional psychology and seek to significantly modify, reformulate, or advance a new conceptual or theoretical area or model relevant to the practice of psychology.

Dissertation Committee

The Dissertation Committee consists of no fewer than three members. Additional external readers with expertise in the area of study are encouraged as agreed upon by the committee chair. It is expected that the students make initial contact with the person they would like to chair their committee during the semester in which they take Research Design I. Selection and approval of the entire committee is a requirement for completion of the Research Design II course.

All Dissertation Committee members must hold an earned doctorate from an accredited institution or have clinical expertise in the subject matter. The chair must be a core faculty member in the Department of Clinical Psychology. The remaining members may be full-time faculty members from the Department of Clinical Psychology or another department at APU, an adjunct faculty in the department, or a person from outside the APU community. If the student chooses a person from outside the APU community, then it is necessary to secure the approval of the committee chair. Students should choose committee members in conjunction with the chair whose research interests and content expertise are closely related to the area of their dissertation.

Dissertation Proposal Review

During Research Methods II and Dissertation Development, students conduct their initial literature review, develop their methodology section, and begin work on their proposal. Students continue to develop their dissertation proposal with consultation from the dissertation chair, committee members, and the director of research during Dissertation I-VI (one course each semester). The proposal must be approved by the chair and committee members at a Proposal Defense as a final requirement in order to gain approval to submit applications for placement in predoctoral internship. Failure to complete the dissertation proposal defense by the deadline results in a minimum of a one-year delay in applying for an internship. It is the student’s responsibility to schedule the Proposal Defense with the dissertation chair and committee. The proposal deadline is the last working day in June of the student’s third PsyD year. The draft proposal must be provided to the committee at least two weeks prior to the meeting. Students review the proposal with the committee, indicate how the dissertation study will enhance development of the core competencies in psychology, present an understanding of the relevant literature, provide a rationale for the proposed dissertation, describe the scope of work and choice of methods, and answer questions regarding the proposal. Formal approval of the dissertation proposal by the entire committee is necessary to proceed with the dissertation study.

Dissertation Process and Oral Defense

After the approval of the dissertation proposal, students proceed with the development of their dissertation. Dissertation Committee chair and members are available to students to guide the work. Institutional Review Board approval must be secured before any research activity with participants commences. The Dissertation I-VI courses and interaction with the committee facilitates completion of the dissertation, since students must fulfill certain milestone requirements in order to proceed in the program.

All students are responsible for the timely completion of their dissertation. Students should note that there is an additional dissertation fee for each semester beyond the final semester of coursework in which the dissertation is not complete. This fee allows students to access university resources, including faculty advisement. The maximum length of time for completion of the dissertation is eight years from the date of matriculation.

The written dissertation must follow current APA style and university guidelines in the dissertation manual. Once the dissertation is complete and meets the requirements of the Dissertation Committee chair and members, students must then successfully defend the dissertation in front of the entire committee. At the Oral Dissertation Defense, students formally present the dissertation to the committee, demonstrating that the dissertation is their work and that they are able to explain and defend it. If the defense is deemed acceptable by the committee, then the committee signifies its approval using appropriate forms. The committee must have unanimous agreement to approve the dissertation defense. It is likely that changes and additions will be required to complete the dissertation following an acceptable defense. If their dissertation defense is rejected, the students must demonstrate substantive improvement in their ability to defend their dissertation, consistent with the response of the committee, prior to a second oral defense.

Following approval of the defense, students make necessary corrections in their written dissertation as requested by the committee within 30 days of the defense. These corrections must be approved by the dissertation chair and any other member(s) of the committee who wishes to review them.

The final corrected copy is then submitted to a technical reader who reviews the dissertation to determine compliance with APA style and university guidelines. These corrections are returned to students and must be completed within a month.

Students are allotted 10 hours per dissertation for editing. Should the dissertation require more time than the allotted 10 hours, the student will be billed at the hourly rate charged by the dissertation editor until the dissertation is approved for binding. Following approval of these corrections, students submit one copy of the corrected dissertation to the library representative to ensure technical compliance. Final submission includes copies duplicated according to specifications to the Department of Clinical Psychology for binding and distribution to University Microfilms Incorporated for inclusion in Dissertation Abstracts. A final approval, signifying completion of all the required filings, must be filed with the department to satisfy the degree dissertation requirement. Failure to complete all of the above within six months of the oral defense may result in a requirement that the student repeat the oral defense.

Students are required to consult the APU Doctoral Programs Handbook for style and format requirements for the year of their dissertation defense, to determine specific deadlines for May graduation.

Note: This information is current for the 2022-23 academic year; however, all stated academic information is subject to change. Please refer to the current Academic Catalog for more information.

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