Becoming a Diplomate
Marc I. Oster, PsyD, ABPH
Those not very familiar with advanced competency board certification most want to know how the pursuit and achievement of such a credential will benefit their practice. Our response often includes a listing of a number of tangible benefits of board certification. These typically include recognition by one's profession of your advanced competency status, recognition by hospitals of your status and thus easier admission to the hospital staff, recognition by insurance carriers of your special skills and acceptance of your services, the publics' recognition of your advanced skill level, and sometimes thrown in is your ability to charge more than your competitors because of your advanced standing in your field.
While the above list of benefits are true, I find them to be an inadequate explanation or inadequate reasons for pursuit of board certification in hypnosis. This is because the public, and often our own profession, do not understand what those letters after our name mean and thus are not impressed. Many practitioners do not practice in a hospital so recognition by a hospital is of little value given the enormity of the task in becoming board certified. We've come to learn that third party payers are more interested in paying less rather than paying more, even if the higher cost is for a certified expert in an area. Besides, as of this writing, only Medicare pays for the hypnosis procedure code and only for a limited list of diagnoses. Many of us were able to collect from Medicare regardless of having our diplomate credential.
So, what's the benefit of all that hard work? The diplomate indicates the practitioner has attained an advanced level of competency in a given area. However, what does that mean? It means that through an oral, and sometimes written, examination the candidate was able to satisfactorily articulate the how and why of their work with the examination case, to demonstrate an in-depth understanding of the clinical and theoretical issues based on the known science of hypnosis and of their discipline.
So, how does one do this? This is the first point the candidate needs to understand. That is the successful achievement of the diplomate is not an exam like one had in school, although there are some similarities. Achieving the diplomate is the result of the candidate's developmental progress from novice clinician to skilled clinician to mature clinician. This takes time. This might be why, in psychology, the minimum post-doctoral time required to be a diplomate is five years, but most people passing the exam do so after more like eight years. Maturity and skill take time to evolve. Thus, this is not a test one can cram for in their preparation.
The above paragraph hints at the real benefits of pursuing board certification. From my own experience, and that of many others, becoming a diplomate is a journey, a personal journey. It is not a task to enable you to charge a higher fee or to prove to an insurance company they should pay for your services. It is a journey in personal growth and development.
What I found on my journey toward being a diplomate is that it completely changed the way in which I practice psychology in general and hypnosis in particular. Prior to embarking on this path, I felt I was a pretty capable psychologist who got pretty good results. Since becoming a diplomate, I have found that my confidence in what I do is significantly higher; the results of my work are much more consistent and more satisfying to both my patients and me. I have a far greater understanding of what I'm doing and why I choose a given path of intervention. In addition, nowadays this has become very important, I can explain to my patients in language they can understand what I'm recommending, why I'm recommending it, and the likely outcome based on the scientific literature. I can do this, in part, because now my results mirror those reported in the literature far more so than in the past.
The pursuit of the diplomate provided me with a formal structure to study my craft in a comprehensive manner. Herein lies the benefit of board certification - I have become a far better therapist and teacher. I get more satisfying results in a more efficient manner. In addition, I understand what I do and why I do it.