Everything You Need To Know About APA vs. NASW Accreditation

Posted by Sophia Duplin

Understanding Accreditation in Mental Health Professions

Accreditation plays a pivotal role in ensuring the quality and credibility of educational programs and services. In this article, we'll explore the nuances of two major accrediting bodies: the American Psychological Association (APA) and the National Association of Social Workers (NASW). 


While both aim to uphold high standards, they cater to different facets of the mental health field. Understanding these distinctions is crucial for students, professionals, and institutions alike. 


Let’s take a look at each type of accreditation so you can understand which one is the right choice for you.


Here is an infographic that you can use as a quick reference:

NASW vs APA Accreditation Infographic

APA Accreditation

What Is APA Accreditation? 

APA accreditation is a hallmark of excellence in the field of psychology, symbolizing a program's commitment to providing an education that meets the highest standards. This voluntary process in the U.S. involves a comprehensive review that includes a self-study by the program and an on-site evaluation by experienced professionals. 


Through this meticulous examination, APA ensures that programs in psychology — whether they're doctoral graduate programs, internships, or postdoctoral residencies — equip students with the essential scientific and professional skills. 


This not only safeguards public welfare but also prepares graduates for successful careers in psychology


Achieving APA accreditation signifies to students, colleagues, and the public that a program is dedicated to fostering outstanding, evidence-based clinical services and promoting educational best practices, thus preparing its graduates for significant contributions to the field and the well-being of the community.


The Accreditation Process For APA

Embarking on the journey to APA accreditation is a structured and rigorous process, ensuring that a psychology program meets the esteemed Standards of Accreditation (SoA). Here's a step-by-step overview of how programs can initiate and navigate through the accreditation procedure:


  1. Registration in CoA Portal: The first step involves registering your program in the Commission on Accreditation (CoA) Portal. Post-registration, the Office of Program Consultation and Accreditation (OPCA) reviews and approves the registration, granting access to the Self-Study section of the portal.

  2. Self-Study Submission: Programs commence the accreditation journey by submitting a self-study document through the CoA Portal. This critical document is then reviewed to decide if the program qualifies for a site visit.

  3. Site Visit: Upon approval, a team of seasoned professionals conducts an on-site evaluation, assessing the program's adherence to APA standards. They prepare a report, which the program gets to review and comment on before it is presented to the CoA.

  4. Program Review by CoA: Following the site visit, the CoA meticulously reviews the program against the SoA. Accreditation is awarded to those programs that demonstrate compliance with these standards, ensuring they provide education that meets the professional and scientific needs of their students. 


Programs that fall short of the SoA might face denial of accreditation, emphasizing the rigorous and thorough nature of this accreditation process.


NASW Accreditation

What Is NASW Accreditation? 

The NASW Specialty Certification program, established in 2000, serves as a beacon for social workers striving for advanced specialization and recognition in their field. 


This initiative addresses evolving workforce dynamics and societal demands, facilitating NASW members to stand out as specialized practitioners. It's not just a certification; it's a pathway to heightened professional identity and public acknowledgment in the realm of social work.


Open to all qualified and licensed social workers, NASW Specialty Credentials offer a platform for professionals to elevate their visibility and align with a distinguished group nationally recognized for their specialization. 


Exclusive credentials like ACSW (Academy of Certified Social Workers) and DCSW (Diplomate in Clinical Social Work) are specifically reserved for NASW members, with DCSW additionally mandating licensure. 


The ACSW is a versatile credential, catering to leaders across various practice areas, emphasizing continuous learning and skill enhancement with renewal periods set for maintaining the credential's validity and relevance in the ever-evolving field of social work.


The Accreditation Process For NASW

The application process for NASW accreditation is comprehensive, ensuring that programs meet the association's high standards for continuing education (CE). Here's a breakdown of the key steps involved:


  1. CE Payment and Application Forms: Applicants must submit a CE Application Form along with the initial $125 provider fee for new applicants. A $300 late fee applies for applications submitted within 30 days of the event start date.

  2. Social Worker Involvement: The application must detail a social worker with a relevant degree (BSW, MSW, DSW/PhD) who is involved in planning and evaluating the program but is not a speaker/presenter.

  3. Program Details and Agenda: The CE Program Information Form requires detailed program and agenda information, including the total CE hours, which should align with the requested hours and be presented in whole or half-hour increments.

  4. Learning Objectives and Promotional Materials: Programs must list a minimum of three learning objectives. All promotional materials should adhere to NASW guidelines and must not imply pending approval.

  5. Presenter Information: Resumes for presenters are necessary, with specific submission guidelines based on the number of presenters.

  6. Evaluation and Certification: Applications must include a participant evaluation form and a sample CE certificate conforming to NASW's template.

  7. Additional Requirements for Distance Learning: Distance-learning applications should include program content, a post-test with specific question requirements, and an organizational chart.


This meticulous process ensures that accredited programs uphold the NASW's standards, providing valuable and recognized continuing education opportunities for social workers.


The Differences Between APA & NASW Accreditation

The APA and NASW accreditation systems serve different sectors within the mental health field

APA accreditation primarily focuses on psychology programs, emphasizing rigorous educational standards for doctoral programs, internships, and postdoctoral residencies in psychology. 


It ensures that these programs provide comprehensive training, equipping graduates with the necessary skills for their psychological practice. Conversely, NASW accreditation caters to the social work domain, offering specialty certifications to practitioners. 


APA Accreditation

NASW Accreditation


APA Accreditation ensures psychology programs meet stringent educational standards, emphasizing comprehensive training for doctoral and postdoctoral levels in psychology.

NASW Accreditation provides specialty certifications for social workers, recognizing advanced specialization and promoting professional growth and recognition.

Target Professionals

Psychologists and psychology students, particularly those in doctoral and postdoctoral programs.

Social workers seeking to highlight their expertise and advanced specialization in their field.

Criteria and Standards

Focuses on the educational quality of doctoral programs, internships, and residencies in psychology, ensuring they equip students with the necessary professional skills.

Targets the enhancement of professional recognition and specialization in social work, offering various certifications based on practice area and expertise.

Career Impact

Crucial for psychology professionals enhancing job prospects, credibility, and meeting licensure requirements in certain jurisdictions.

Significant for social workers, boosting professional recognition, demonstrating expertise in specializations, and potentially influencing career advancement.


While both accreditation processes are meticulous, each aligns with the specific professional ethos and educational requisites of its respective fields.


Elevate Your Career With The Right Accreditation

While APA and NASW accreditations both aim to uphold high standards within the mental health field, they cater to distinct professional communities with unique needs. 


APA Accreditation is pivotal for those in the field of psychology and mental health professionals, ensuring rigorous educational training, while NASW Accreditation recognizes and promotes specialized expertise in social work. 


Understanding the differences between these accreditations can guide professionals in their pursuit of excellence, enhancing their credibility and impact in their respective fields.


How BeaconLive Can Help

Beaconlive works with an accreditation partner to help you achieve both NASW and APA accreditations. Our partner will answer all your questions about accreditation and make the process a seamless experience.


Once you are accredited, BeaconLive can help you host CE courses online, deliver webinars and events, and automate the certificate delivery process. Connect with us here to get started. 


Topics: Accreditation, Continuing Education, Psychology & Mental Health

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What are the main differences between APA and NASW accreditation?

APA accreditation focuses on psychology programs, emphasizing clinical and counseling skills, whereas NASW accredits social work programs with a broader societal focus.

How do the accreditation standards of APA and NASW impact the respective training programs?

APA standards are stringent on clinical competencies and research methodologies, whereas NASW emphasizes ethical practice, advocacy, and diversity in social work settings.

What are the professional implications for graduates from APA-accredited vs. NASW-accredited programs?

Graduates from APA-accredited programs are primarily prepared for psychology-specific careers, while NASW accreditation supports broader opportunities in social services and policy advocacy.