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A Clarification on the Division of Consulting Psychology's Activities in Developing Practice Guidelines

Andy Garman
APA Division 13 Education and Training Committee Member

Ann O'Roark
APA 13 President

Rodney Lowman
APA Division 13 Education and Training Committee Chair

In a recent issue of TIP (volume 37, number 3), we were delighted to read of Angelo DeNisi's concerns about the perils of psychologists assuming organizational consulting roles for which they were improperly trained or undertrained. However, this same article described Division 13 of APA (the Division of Consulting Psychology) in a manner that concerned us greatly. As members of both SIOP and Division 13, we are writing this article to more accurately describe the activities of Division 13 related to practice guidelines; in the process, we hope to clear up some of these misunderstandings, and also to facilitate on-going dialogues between these two divisions regarding professional practice in the area of organizational consultation.

About the Division of Consulting Psychologists (Division 13)

For SIOP members who may not be familiar with Division 13 of APA (the Division of Consulting Psychology, or D13), a brief introduction may be helpful. D13 was originally established within the American Psychological Association to address the concern that there were no explicit qualifications or guidelines established for psychologists working as examiners and/or psychological experts. This need to clarify standards, formally identified in the mid-1910s, resurfaced several times throughout the 20th century in response to changes in psychologists' roles in assessment, consultation, and intervention, always with the same goals: to protect the public as well as to maintain the highest professional standards for psychologists.

Currently, D13 has a membership of approximately 1,200 psychologists. Although its membership includes many psychologists with clinical and counseling backgrounds, approximately 22% of its members graduated from I-O or organizational programs, according to a survey reported in 1997. The typical D13 member is 43 years of age, and has practiced applied psychological roles in organizational settings for over a decade. Approximately 80% of D13's members belong to more than one division; of those, the greatest number (23%) also belong to SIOP. D13 publishes a newsletter (The Update) and a peer-reviewed journal (Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research) (CPJ) in conjunction with the Educational Publishing Foundation of APA.

Professional Roles of Division 13 Members

In general, D13 members practice most frequently in areas in which interpersonal processes and psychological development are the focal concerns. A survey of D13 members found individual psychological assessment to be the most frequently cited organizational consulting role, followed by individual process consultation, general problem solving, and organizational development (Robinson Kurpius et al., 1995). Roles most closely associated with specialized I-O training (e.g. test construction and validation) were infrequently endorsed by D13 members as part of their professional roles. This profile of D13 members and their practices reveals three important points: first, D13 members, including those who are not I-O psychologists, have a long history of practicing in organizational consulting roles; second, that most D13 members have many years' postdoctoral experience; third, except for occasional special applications of individual assessment, most of the work of D13 members falls outside of the jurisdiction of required professional licensure.

Division 13's Concern about Organizational Consulting

In his column, Dr. DeNisi stated that D13 is developing guidelines for executive coaching. He was quoting from a source which (unbeknownst to him) contained inaccurate information. Although D13 is involved in drafting practice guidelines, these guidelines are neither specific to executive coaching, nor do they advocate for clinical or counseling degrees (or against I-O degrees) as preparation for organizational consulting.

The motivations behind D13's decision to pursue the development of practice guidelines is perhaps most clearly illustrated by several articles recently published in CPJ. Two articles, one by Garman and Hellkamp (1998) and the other by Lowman (1998), describe the application of psychological principles to working with organizations as a domain larger than any one doctoral program currently being offered. I-O psychologists, for all their training in organizational psychology and assessment, do not always receive the level of course work necessary to be optimally effective in individual change roles such as process consultation or executive coaching. Similarly, clinical and counseling psychologists, for all their training in individual assessment and facilitating individual change, do not typically receive adequate preparation to work effectively on many of the human resource issues I-O psychologists are well prepared for, including job analysis, test validation, compensation design, and performance assessment.

In short, graduates of any doctoral degree will likely need additional training before practicing effectively in some areas of psychological consultation. Currently, there are no universally accepted guidelines for pursuing such training. This leaves training decisions entirely up to the individual practitioner, which works well in some ways but falls short in others. In particular, consumers of our services have no way of distinguishing psychologists who have been adequately prepared for these roles from those who are not fully prepared.

Division 13's Current Position on Licensure

The issue of licensure, also mentioned in Dr. DeNisi's column, is a complicated one, for several reasons. Perhaps most importantly, consumers of our services often cannot and do not differentiate between various types of psychologists; what one psychologist does well or poorly affects our entire profession. Clinical psychology is currently a licensable profession, and while D13 does not view clinical licensure as in any way proof of competency to practice organizational consultation, we share Dr. DeNisi's concern about the public's potential confusion regarding licensure.

In summary, D13's concerns regarding psychological consultation to organizations is in the interest of protecting the public as well as the reputation of our profession. Our experiences with both divisions lead us to believe that D13's interests parallel those of SIOP in many ways.

How Division 13 and SIOP Can (And Should) Work Together

Rather than attempting to exclude SIOP from these discussions, we share Dr. DeNisi's desire to have SIOP members involved. Although there are aspects of D13's and SIOP's interests and professional practices that are distinct, the two divisions share at least two goals in common: helping organizations achieve the fullest potential of their investments in people, and establishing ourselves as highly competent providers within our areas of practice. We believe it will serve the interests of both divisions better to join in establishing any practice guidelines that would affect psychologists working in organizational settings.

In Conclusion

Division 13 shares SIOP's concerns about the dangers of psychologists practicing outside their expertise, dangers both for the individual practitioner and for the profession consumers inevitably associate them with. What the field needs are better means for judging whether any given professional, regardless of whether they possess I-O, clinical, business, or other backgrounds, is fit to practice in a given area of expertise. It is our hope that both divisions can work together in this regard.


DeNisi, A. (2000). A message from your president. The Industrial-Organizational Psychologist, 37(3), 7-10.

Garman, A. N., & Hellkamp, D. T. (1998). Graduate training and consulting psychology: A content analysis of doctoral-level programs. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 50, 207-217.

Lowman, R. L. (1998). New directions for graduate training in consulting psychology. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 50, 263-270.

O'Roark, A. M. (1999). A history of Division 13 initiatives on education and training in consulting psychology. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 51, 218-225.

Robinson Kurpius, S. E., Fuqua, D. R., Gibson, G., Kurpius, D. J., & Froehle, T. C. (1995). An occupational analysis of consulting psychology: Results of a national survey. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 47, 75-88.


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