Psychology Graduate Student Training in Developmental Disability: A Canadian Survey

By Weiss, Jonathan A.; Lunsky, Yona et al. | Canadian Psychology, August 2010 | Go to article overview

Psychology Graduate Student Training in Developmental Disability: A Canadian Survey


Weiss, Jonathan A., Lunsky, Yona, Morin, Diane, Canadian Psychology


Psychology graduate student training in developmental disability has received very little attention in North America, and no study has examined the state of training for clinical and counselling psychologists in Canada, despite their involvement in the controlled act of diagnosis and their use of standardised instruments used regularly with this population. This study sought to examine psychology graduate student training in the area of developmental disability across Canada. We invited students from every Canadian Psychological Association accredited Clinical Psychology, Clinical Neuropsychology, and Counselling Psychology program to participate in an online survey, distributed through university email lists. Three hundred and three students reported on the developmental disability content within their training and coursework, their perception of the adequacy of that content, and their ideas for program improvement. Results indicated that the majority of students believed it important to have training in developmental disability, yet struggled to obtain adequate didactic and experiential opportunities. The lack of sufficient training was most pronounced for students whose training was adult-focused, but was also high for students with a life span or child focus. We discuss different possibilities for increasing developmental disability training opportunities, including integrating its content within courses on assessment and diagnosis, psychotherapy, and ethics, and providing students with supervision from psychologists who work with this population.

Keywords: graduate training, clinical psychology, developmental disability, intellectual disability

Much attention has been paid to diversity training in clinical and counselling psychology programs, which includes training psychologists to work with "people with handicapping conditions; of differing ages, genders, ethnic and racial backgrounds, religions, and lifestyles; and from differing social and individual backgrounds (American Psychiatric Association [APA], 1979, pp. 4, as cited in Harris-Bluestone, Stokes, & Kuba, 1996)." Authors have discussed the need for diversity training in psychology with regard to sexual orientation, urban versus rural settings, age, and cultural background (Alderson, 2004; Brooks, Mintz, & Dobson, 2004; Dana, Aguilar-Kitibutr, Diaz- Vivar, & Vetter, 2002; Fouad, 2006; Harowski, Turner, Le Vine, Schank, & Leichter, 2006; Hertzsprung & Dobson, 2000; Zweig, Siegel, & Sunder, 2006). The importance of diversity training is underscored by its required presence in the Canadian Psychological Association Accreditation Standards (Standard IHVIV, CPA, 2002) and American Psychological Association Accreditation Domains (Domain D, APA, 2009). However, these standards do not explicitly indicate that training in developmental disability (DD) is required. This is in sharp contrast to training in the U.K., where each doctoral student in clinical psychology completes a 6-month placement in a DD community team (British Psychological Society, 2005). To our knowledge, only one article exists with regard to graduate student training in DD, which was from the perspective of professional paediatric psychologists (La Greca, Stone, Drotar, & Maddux, 1988).

The global definition of developmental disability that we adopted for this project is that put forth by a Canadian national coalition of service providers, advocates, and researchers, which notes that:

"Children, youth and adults who have significantly greater difficulty than most people with intellectual and adaptive functioning and have had such difficulties from a very early age (or the developmental period prior to age 10). Adaptive functioning means carrying out everyday activities such as communication and interacting with others, managing money, doing household activities and attending to personal care. This definition of developmental disability also includes children, youth and adults with developmental disorders such as Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders or Autism Spectrum Disorders. …

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