Interview With a Board Certified Specialist

Joseph M. Cervantes, PhD, ABPP

Couple and Family Psychology

Q.  Why board certification in Couple and Family Psychology?
A.  Certification and competency have become an increasing benchmark of clinical practice in professional psychology. ABCFP certification is the highest recognized level of certification which highlights the professional status of a practitioner. The increased need to address various societal conditions such as domestic violence, substance abuse, family and community disruption, for example, indicates the need to obtain more foundational thinking in family systems. This board enhances conceptual, clinical, and professional understanding relative to a deeper integration of couple and family psychology for the practitioner invested in an advanced knowledge base and recognition of higher level competency.

Q.  What are the advantages of board certification in this area in comparison to other ABPP boards?
A.  All boards from ABPP guarantee a specialized knowledge base and certification in a specific area of competency. Each board has its own recognized standards, best practices for advanced competency, and required level of professional awareness in order to qualify for a given board examination. Board certification in couple and family psychology ensures a strong expected foundation in this area that will support advanced practice in a wide variety of clinical and professional settings such as community mental health agencies, hospitals and clinics (i.e., VAs, Children’s Hospital) and the immerging of primary care intervention where couple and families are being addressed as a salient aspect for the well being of individual family members. A primary advantage of this practice arena is that clinical intervention could becomes far more enriching and impactful at the individual and family level.

Q.  How might Board certification enhance one’s ability to practice more competently with multicultural families and couples?
A.  Couples and families are diverse in nature. This call to diversity awareness and education has been long defined by the American Psychological Association, extends beyond ethnic and cultural, but also inclusive of sexual orientation, gender, ableness, age, religion and spirituality, and social economic status. Each of these areas encompass a relevant context to understanding couples and families within our various communities across the country. As such, a declared competency in one of these areas of sub-specialization within the couple and family specialist, contributes toward an advanced practice level and gives a particular community the resources of a practitioner who can address this area in a highly responsive and competent manner (i.e., impact of deportation on undocumented children and families, religious and spiritual crisis in families). The ABCFP underscores the relevance of diversity that this board takes seriously, and is integrated in its preparation of materials and examination process. Consequently, board certification provides additional credibility in a variety of settings where advanced competency is needed relative to the complexity of couple and family dynamics and interventions.

Q.  How will board certification contribute toward our evolving understanding of diversity?
A.  Diversity has become a significant conceptual language that now permeates research, professional training and education, and clinical service, and is taken as a core premise within the couple and family board. Embedded within the ABCFP certification is the expectation of advanced competency that builds a critical mass of advanced practitioners who can help advance our conceptual lens for addressing the arena of diversity in our communities. Our professional culture will need to keep pace with evolving standards of care and addressing best practices as needed. An example of the changing beliefs about diversity is observed in the evolving landscape of sexual diversity which requires a new language and personal and professional awareness.

Q.  What is the board certification process in this area like?
A.  As in all ABPP certification, there is an expectation that the applicant will have already developed an interest, specific education, and professional practice relative to the couple and family area. While this is a user friendly board with the welcoming of new applicants for certification, the process is combined with an expected level of achieved competency, coupled with mentoring to provide reassurance of one’s success of the examination process. It is a standard within this board that examiners are respectful, collaborative and collegial in their examination of board applicants. Following the submission of materials and the approval of moving toward the examination process, the actual exam process is typically a positive experience for the examinee and the examiners relative to the showcasing of one’s areas of specialization which typically also enhances new learning for the board examiners. As such, this cooperative interaction helps to promote learning on both ends and the opportunity for the examinee to demonstrate advanced abilities within a highly supportive process.

Q.  Describe your clinical practice
A.  I have been in clinical practice for many years following the earning of a doctorate in community-clinical psychology from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (1977). Following three years as an Air Force psychologist and four years as director of a child guidance mental health clinic, I undertook the first ABPP specialty in clinical psychology (1985). After adding approximately another twenty years of practice in the area of child and family psychology, I became deeply invested in the area of diversity which I instruct in at the university level (California State University, Fullerton) and also practice within my clinical area, prompting the need to establish more advanced competency. I completed that process in 2005 which proved to be an invaluable and collegial experience both for the camaraderie and the supportive nature of my examiners, and in their revalidation of a knowledge base that I had secured which became a significant stepping stone towards further specialization. As an aspect of completing the specialty in couple and family psychology, this benchmark experience has promoted the advancement of my own conceptual understanding and professional work. Two broad areas that I have specialized in have included evaluations with Latina/o immigrant populations, as well as in the juvenile justice systems helping to heal the fractured problems of children and youth caught up in various legal dilemmas as a result of disruptive behavior and conduct problems. The advantages of the diplomate in couple and family psychology have continued to pay professional dividends in my practice as a family psychologist. Currently, I serve on the ABCFP Board.