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January 21, 2019

UNC Board of Governors grants approval for WCU’s new doctorate in psychology

The University of North Carolina Board of Governors has approved the establishment of a doctoral program in psychology at Western Carolina University that will focus on enhancing the level of psychological services available to residents of Western North Carolina.

The board’s approval came during its meeting Friday, Jan. 26, in Chapel Hill. The psychology doctorate will be WCU’s fourth doctoral-level academic program. The university already offers doctorates in educational leadership, physical therapy and nursing practice.

The concept of offering a doctorate in psychology has been discussed at WCU for almost a decade, and faculty in the Department of Psychology and university administrators have had to consider a fundamental question – to go with the “Ph.D.” in psychology, which has a primary focus of preparing students to conduct scientific research and teach in higher education, or instead to offer the “Psy.D.” with its emphasis on providing psychological services. The decision ultimately was made to offer the latter type of program with the new Doctor of Psychology in Health Services Psychology Program, said Alvin Malesky, professor and head of WCU’s Psychology Department.

“We ultimately felt that the Psy.D. was more mission centric for WCU and congruent with the existing doctoral programs at the institution,” he said. “Plus, the advanced doctoral students in the Psy.D. program would allow us to provide a greater depth and scope of psychology services to the region via our existing psychological services clinic.

“Planning for WCU’s Psy.D. program has been a long-term collaborative effort within the Psychology Department and across the College of Education and Allied Professions, other university departments and the Graduate School. There always has been tremendous support across the entire university for this program, and we are thrilled that it is finally coming to fruition.”

WNC is an underserved region in the area of mental health services, and the shortage is particularly evident when it comes to the needs of children and adolescents. Plus, the demand for psychological services is expected to increase for the foreseeable future, he said.

“WCU is well-positioned to address this need,” Malesky said. “The WCU Psy.D. will be a high-quality, high-impact program that will prepare a cadre of professionals who will apply best practices and decrease the gulf between what is promoted and what is practiced in the field.”

The first cohort of students is expected to start the program in fall 2019. Their commitment will include four years on the Cullowhee campus engaged in course work, followed by a yearlong internship. A thesis and dissertation will be required, and students must hold a bachelor’s degree in psychology to be accepted into the program.

WCU already offers a master’s degree in clinical psychology and a specialist degree in school psychology. The specialist degree will continue in its current form because of its importance in preparing professionals to work in school systems across the region and state, but the master’s program will be rolled into the new doctoral program, with doctoral candidates also earning their master’s degrees as they progress toward receiving their doctorates, Malesky said.

Almost all of the program’s courses will be taught face-to-face in Cullowhee. A new doctoral program in psychology was approved for Appalachian State University on the same day the Board of Governors approved WCU’s program, and although the two programs will have distinct differences, discussions are ongoing about sharing resources, including joint courses for students from both institutions, Malesky said.

In conjunction with approval of the new doctoral program, a new director of clinical training position is currently being reviewed by the University of North Carolina System Office and will be posted as soon as the review is finalized and position approved, he said.

For more information about WCU’s new doctorate in psychology, contact Malesky at malesky@wcu.edu or 828-227-3357.

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