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Determination and Documentation of the Need for Practice Guidelines

American Psychological Association

I n August 2001, the American Psychological Associa- tion (APA) Council of Representatives approved as APA policy the “Criteria for Practice Guideline Devel- opment and Evaluation” (APA, 2002b1), developed by the Board of Professional Affairs Committee on Professional Practice and Standards (COPPS). The present document was developed in response to a request from the APA Board of Directors that the Board of Professional Affairs develop a document expanding on Section 2.2 of the guide- line development and evaluation criteria, which indicates that practice guidelines should be written only when there is a clearly demonstrated and documented need. The Board of Professional Affairs further requested that COPPS con- sider the specific legal, public, and professional needs that may justify the development of guidelines and the related sources of documentation.

Developers of practice guidelines should review the guideline criteria carefully at the beginning of the project and frequently thereafter to help ensure consistency of the guidelines with APA policy. Note that this document is not intended to be a stand-alone document but rather is to be understood and used in the context of the criteria. The intent of this document is to provide developers of guide- lines with additional information related to the demonstra- tion and documentation of the need for practice guidelines in their areas of interest.

and other interested parties regarding desirable professional practices” (APA, 2002b, Section 2.5). APA policy, as stated in the guideline development and evaluation criteria and in previous documents, indicates that guidelines are not to be promulgated as a means of establishing the identity of a group or specialty area of psychology; likewise, they are not to be created with the purpose of excluding any psy- chologist from practicing in a particular area.

Reasons for the Development of Guidelines

COPPS has identified three categories of potential need for practice guidelines: (a) legal and regulatory issues, (b) public benefit, and (c) professional guidance. While these distinctions are conceptually useful, the categories are likely to overlap in relation to the need for any particular guidelines document.

Legal and Regulatory Issues

Legal and regulatory issues in response to which practice guidelines may be written include the following:








laws or statutes may generate the need for practice guide- lines. Guidelines are not written to interpret laws, which are


As it is used in APA policy, the term guidelines refers to statements that suggest or recommend specific professional behavior, endeavor, or conduct for psychologists. Guide- lines differ from standards in that standards are mandatory and may be accompanied by an enforcement mechanism. Thus, guidelines are aspirational in intent. Guidelines are not intended to be mandatory or exhaustive and may not be applicable to every professional and clinical situation. They are not definitive and are not intended to take precedence over the judgment of psychologists.

Practice guidelines consist of recommendations to professionals concerning their conduct and the issues to be considered in particular areas of psychological practice, in contrast to treatment guidelines, which provide specific recommendations about clinical interventions to be deliv- ered to clients.2 The primary purpose of practice guidelines is to assist the practitioner in the provision of high-quality psychological services by providing well-supported practi- cal guidance and education in a particular practice area. Practice guidelines also “inform psychologists, the public,

This document was approved as policy of the American Psychological Association (APA) by the APA Council of Representatives in February 1995. It was developed by the Board of Professional Affairs (BPA) Committee on Professional Practice and Standards (COPPS). Members of COPPS during the development of this document were Cynthia A. Sturm (chair, 2004), Kristin A. Hancock (chair, 2002 and 2003), Armand R. Cerbone, Victor de La Cancela, Mary A. Connell, William E. Foote, Michele M. Galietta, Larry C. James (BPA member of COPPS, 2004), Leigh W. Jerome (BPA member of COPPS, 2002 and 2003), Sara J. Knight, David C. Mohr, Carolyn M. West, and Philip H. Witt. COPPS is grateful for the support and guidance of BPA, particularly BPA chairs Jalie A. Tucker (2004), Lisa R. Grossman (2003), and Sandra L. Shullman (2002). COPPS also acknowledges the significant contributions of APA staff members Geoffrey M. Reed, Christopher J. McLaughlin, Laura Kay-Roth, and Ernestine Penniman.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Laura Kay-Roth, Practice Directorate, American Psychological Association, 750 First Street, NE, Washington, DC 20002-4242. E-mail: lkay-roth@apa .org

1 This document is available online at www.apa.org/practice/guidelines/ Practice_Guidelines_Criteria.pdf

2 Individuals or groups interested in developing or evaluating treat- ment guidelines are referred to the “Criteria for the Evaluation of Treat- ment Guidelines” (APA, 2002a) for relevant APA policy.


December 2005

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    American Psychologist

Copyright 2005 by the American Psychological Association 0003-066X/05/$12.00

Vol. 60, No. 9, 976–978

DOI: 10.1037/0003-066X.60.9.976

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