Specialty Definition

The specialty of Behavioral and Cognitive Psychology emphasizes an experimental-clinical approach to the application of behavioral and cognitive sciences to understand human behavior and develop interventions that enhance the human condition. Behavioral and Cognitive Psychologists engage in research, education, training, and clinical practice regarding a wide range of problems and populations.

The distinct focus of Behavioral and Cognitive Psychology is twofold: (a) its heavy reliance on an empirical approach; and (b) its theoretical grounding in learning and behavioral analysis theories,broadly defined, including respondent conditioning, operant learning, social learning, cognitive sciences, and information processing models of behavior. Currently, there are four sub-areas of Behavioral and Cognitive Psychology that share theoretical foundations in learning theory and a common approach to case conceptualization. These are applied behavior analysis, behavior therapy, behavior-cognitive therapy, and cognitive therapy. Empiricism is a hallmark of all Behavioral and Cognitive Psychology, and of each of these sub-areas. Consequently, good practice in Behavioral and Cognitive Psychology relies heavily on those assessment and intervention procedures that have been found to be empirically supported.



The ABBCP follows the ABPP specialty examination model. The demonstration component of the examination involves a practice sample review and an oral examination process by certified specialists. Competencies are organized into two categories: functional competencies and foundational competencies.


Functional competencies are those day-to-day practice activities provided at the specialty specific level of practice. In the ABBCP examination, all candidates are evaluated in the following four functional competencies: assessment, intervention, consultation, and the application of the science underlying behavioral and cognitive practice. Depending upon the nature of your practice, you also may be examined for two additional functional competencies: supervision/management and teaching. In other words, the first four competencies are essential for anyone applying for Board Certification in Behavioral and Cognitive Psychology, however, candidates may choose to emphasize the remaining two competencies if they are more representative of their daily activities, but these are not required.


The foundational competencies are core foundations that cut-across the functional competencies and include ethics and legal foundations, individual and cultural diversity, effective interpersonal interactions, and professional identification. The functional and foundational competencies of the ABCBP are defined below. You will be examined on these competencies consistent with the definition of the specialty in Behavioral and Cognitive Psychology as defined above.






• Assessment. Defining, diagnosing, and conceptualizing problems and issues associated with individuals, groups, and/or organizations. An example is conducting a functional analysis, or using measures of cognitive styles to contribute to the understanding of the client/patient’s presentation.


• Intervention. Developing, implementing, and evaluating interventions designed to produce positive change. An example is, based on one’s assessment, using a case formulation to select treatment goals and intervention strategies.


• Consultation. Providing expert guidance or professional assistance to a client’s needs or goals. Examples include providing cognitive and behavioral consultation on a hospital medical unit, or teaching behavioral-cognitive strategies for weight loss to a primary care physician.


• Application of the Science Underlying Behavioral and Cognitive Psychology. Producing, consuming, or communicating scientific theory and knowledge relevant to behavioral and cognitive practice. An example is citing relevant research that informs your particular treatment interventions.




• Supervision and Management. The guidance, direction, and monitoring of trainees, residents, staff, or programs. An example is supervision of a psychology intern using a behavioral and cognitive approach.


• Teaching. Formal teaching (including workshops, coursework, and presentations) related to Behavioral and Cognitive Psychology.




• Ethics and Legal Foundations. Awareness and application of appropriate ethical and legal practice requirements.


• Individual and Cultural Diversity. Awareness and sensitivity in working with diverse individuals, groups, and communities that represent various cultural and personal background and characteristics.


• Interpersonal Interactions. Skills to relate effectively and meaningfully to individuals, groups, and/or communities, and to function effectively in interdisciplinary systems.


• Professional Identification. Practice conducted within the boundaries of competencies, including involvement in the profession and the specialty in particular. Continuing development as a behavioral and cognitive psychologist. Advocacy for the behavioral and cognitive specialty and the profession.

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