Article Review: Competency Benchmarks

Article Review:  “Competency Benchmarks:  A Model for Understanding and Measuring Competence in Professional Psychology Across Training Levels.”

Nadya A. Fouad, Catherine L. Grus, Robert L. Hatcher, Nadine J. Kaslow, Philinda Smith Hutchings, Michael B. Madson, Frank L. Collins, Jur., Raymond E. Crossman.

Training and Education in Professional Psychology, 2009, Vol. 3 No. 4 (Suppl.), S5 – S26.

Review by Nina Hattiangadi Thomas, Ph.D., ABPP-CN

In the article “Competency Benchmarks:  A Model for Understanding and Measuring Competence in Professional Psychology Across Training Levels” published in the journal Training and Education in Professional Psychology, the authors describe the Benchmarks Document, which outlines core foundational and functional competencies in professional psychology across three levels of professional development:  readiness for practicum, readiness for internship, and readiness for entry to practice.

Meant to serve as a resource for supervisors but also likely to be of great interest to trainees, the Competency Benchmarks Document lists core competencies and behavioral indicators in an effort to provide operational descriptions of the essential components for each level of training.

The workgroup used as a starting point the “Competency Cube” model proposed by Rodolfa, et al. (2005), in which three dimensions of competency intersect:

1.       Functional Competency Domains (e.g., Assessment / Diagnosis / Conceptualization, Intervention, Consultation…)
2.       Foundational Competency Domains (e.g. Professional Practice / Self-Assessment, Scientific Knowledge and Methods, Relationships…)
3.       Stages of Professional Development (e.g. Doctoral Education, Doctoral Internship / Residency, Post Doctoral Supervision…)

The Benchmarks Document Workgroup chose not to address the interweaving of functional and foundation competencies, and additionally focused more directly on preparing for health service practice.  The focus of the Workgroup was on operationally defining each competency.  Each competency was first defined, and then broken into its essential components, with behavioral anchors defined for each essential component that demonstrates the threshold for competent performance at that level of training.

As a result, the Workgroup defined 15 core competencies, with essential components and behavioral anchors for each essential component at the three levels of professional development (readiness for practicum, readiness for internship, and readiness for entry to practice).  They are as follows:

Core Foundational Competencies:
1.       Professionalism
2.       Reflective Practice
3.       Scientific Knowledge and Methods
4.       Relationships
5.       Individual and Cultural Diversity
6.       Ethical and Legal Standards and Policy
7.       Interdisciplinary Systems

Core Functional Competencies:
1.       Assessment
2.       Intervention
3.       Consultation
4.       Research and Evaluation
5.       Supervision
6.       Teaching
7.       Administration
8.       Advocacy

For example, for the Competency of Professionalism, the Workgroup subdivided this competency into the following essential components:

a.      Integrity – Honesty, personal responsibility, and adherence to professional values
b.      Deportment
c.      Accountability
d.      Concern for the Welfare of Others
e.      Professional Identity

The essential component is further defined at each level of training, with behavioral anchors for each level of training.  For example, let’s examine the competency of Professionalism, and within that competency the essential component of Accountability.  Here are the essential components and behavioral anchors for each level of training within this essential component.

Professionalism:  Accountability

Readiness for Practicum:
Essential Component:  Accountable and reliable
Behavioral Anchors:
·         Turns in assignments in accordance with established deadlines
·         Demonstrates personal organization skills
·         Plans and organizes own workload
·         Aware of and follows policies and procedures of institution

Readiness for Internship:
Essential Component:  Consistently reliable; consistently accepts responsibility for own actions
Behavioral Anchors:
·         Completes required case documentation promptly and accurately
·         Accepts responsibility for meeting deadlines
·         Available when “on-call”
·         Acknowledges errors
·         Utilizes supervision to strengthen effectiveness of practice

Readiness for Entry to Practice:
Essential Component:  Independently accepts personal responsibility across settings and contexts
Behavioral Anchors:
·         Works to fulfill client-provider contract
·         Enhances productivity
·         Holds self accountable for and submits to external review of quality service provision

In sum, the Benchmarks Document helps to clarify the competencies trainees must have as they gain increasing levels of independence.  Operational definitions will be useful for both supervisors and trainees, in determining areas of strength and weakness and focusing training to ensure achievement of competencies appropriate to the level of training.

The full Competency Benchmarks Document is available as a pdf at the following link:

Related articles of interest:

Rodolfa, E.R., Ben, R.J., Eisman, E., Nelson, P.D., Rehm, L., & Ritchie, P. (2005).  A Cube model for competency development:  Implications for psychology educators and regulators.  Professional Psychology:  Research and Practice, 36, 347 – 354.

Madan-Swain, A., Hankins, S.L., Gilliam, M.B., Ross, K., Reynolds, N., Milby, J., Schwebel, D.C.  (2012).  Applying the cube model to pediatric psychology:  development of research competency skills at the doctoral level.  Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 37 (2), 136 – 148.

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