Cummings creates independent institute for doctorate of behavioral health

National Psychologist, May/June 2015, Vol 24, No. 3 page 1.

Cummings creates independent institute for doctorate of behavioral health

By Paula E. Hartman-Stein, Ph.D.

San Antonio – Former APA President, Nicholas Cummings, Ph.D., dubbed “Psychology’s Provocateur” in a recent biography by Carol Austad, has founded an independent institute in Arizona for training professionals as Doctors of Behavioral Health (DBH).
The Arizona Board of Higher Education granted a conditional license Feb. 26 to the new graduate institute for its online doctoral program located in the Phoenix area but open to English speaking students around the world.
“The culmination of my 51-year dream that practitioners would determine their own doctorate has become a reality,” Cummings said at a meeting here on March 27 sponsored by the National Alliance of Professional Psychology Providers (NAPPP) and the Academy of Medical Psychologists (AMP).
He added, “It is with pride and enthusiasm that I announce the opening of the Cummings Graduate Institute for Behavioral Health Studies with applications taken in April and classes beginning in June 2015.”
Cummings said creating a professional doctorate in psychology has been elusive. “I tried when I founded the California School of Professional Psychology in 1970, but it was swallowed up by the APA and became another me-too Ph.D. program.”
The 91-year-old Cummings, who had been chief psychologist at Kaiser Permanente in the 1950s, has been critical of the training available for psychologists who want to work in healthcare settings.
“I am proud that this program is totally free of not only traditional academic strictures but also from the APA accreditation regulations. The APA has been polluting the doctorate of psychology for years with extraneous courses and requirements and downgrading hands-on teaching by hands-on practitioners,” he said.
Split from Arizona State University
Cummings began the first DBH program at Arizona State University in 2009, but withdrew his support in September 2014 to pursue creating an independent institute. According to Janet Cummings, Psy.D., president of the new graduate institute and daughter of Nicholas and Dorothy Cummings, “We are out of ASU due to philosophical differences about the program and differences in the vision, primarily centering around ASU’s decision to remove the Biodyne model.”
She said her father developed the model of psychotherapy during his long career based on an amalgam of most of the theoretical frameworks such as psychodynamic, humanistic, strategic and cognitive- behavioral. “Through research, the model has honed which techniques and strategies are best for which patients and we choose accordingly; not one-size-fits-all. The Biodyne therapist cannot have one theoretical framework.”
The split between ASU and the Cummings Foundation has triggered speculation and confusion with students currently in the DBH program at ASU, she said.
“There is a rumor circulating that we took our Biodyne model proprietarily and are refusing anyone else use it. That is not true. ASU has decided to remove the Biodyne model from the curriculum and while we had other differences of opinion, that was the item that led to our decision to go our separate ways, with ASU doing the kind of program they want and we are doing the kind of program we want.”
More than 100 individuals have obtained the DBH thus far through the ASU program. Nick Cummings said most have obtained leadership positions in hospitals, clinics or insurance health plans. Three graduates became CEOs of large healthcare systems.
Psychology licensure issues
John Caccavale, Ph.D., member of the board of directors of the Cummings Graduate Institute, said that the practice-oriented DBH will help to resolve that the doctoral degree is the entry level degree in behavioral healthcare.
Caccavale advocates for DBH grads to apply for psychology licensure if they desire. “The degree program, although novel, could peter out if the DBH graduates cannot bill under Medicare or other federal programs.”
“In 2014 two DBH graduates obtained the state psychology license with others making applications,” Caccavale said. “If any state refuses the DBH a license, we will go to court and challenge it. If you can show me that APA accreditation produces a better psychologist, I’m fine with that. But that must be proven when you are keeping people out of work and veterans are not getting enough mental health care,” he said.
Caccavale believes state boards of psychology will not be able to prevent DBH grads from obtaining psychology licensure because of antitrust laws. He cited a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, North Carolina Board of Dental Examiners v. the Federal Trade Commission.
In a six-to-three opinion written by Justice Anthony Kennedy on Feb. 25, the Supreme Court held that the dental board is not immune from the antitrust laws.
“The Supreme Court decision is a strike against the anti-competitive policies that boards have enacted that give special privileges to their favored organizations,” Cacccavale said.
Market place needs call
for different training models
According to Cara English, DBH, associate director of the DBH program, changes in healthcare delivery systems require new skill sets in order to survive. “All providers must learn how to deliver patient-centered care as members of an interdisciplinary team emphasizing evidence-based practice, quality improvement and informatics. The DBH has 3 pillars: medical literacy, behavioral and lifestyle interventions and entrepreneurship,” she said.
According to the director of the DBH program, Sue Taylor, DBH, only students who have a master’s degree in a related area are viable applicants for the new program. “Depending on whether students are full or part-time, length of time to complete the program is somewhere between two and four years,” she said.
Katalin Toth, a new DBH from Florida, entered the ASU DBH program as a licensed occupational therapist. “Online learning is optimal for those students who are self-motivated, disciplined, organized and have previous higher education learning experiences,” she said.
Her culminating project was the assessment of barriers to diabetes self-management among minority adults. Prior to graduating she received job offers in a community health center and health education setting.
Future plans
According to Janet Cummings, “We are thinking of a certificate program for people who want a certain amount of the training without getting the doctorate and provide continuing education opportunities. Our immediate goal was to form the institute as a home for the DBH program where we would not have university politics and academia diluting the vision of the program, but why stop there?”

Paula Hartman-Stein, Ph.D. has been in private practice for more than 20 years in geriatric behavioral health care and works as a consultant, educator, and trainer with expertise in PQRS. She can be reached through her website, www.centerforhealthyaging.com.