“Psychology”, what’s in a word

The regulatory authority over “psychology” and careers “psychological” was given a jolt when a 5th Circuit court case opinion regarding the Texas State Board of Examiners of Psychologists questioned a basic legal foundation of the regulation of the practice of psychology. This questioning had to be answered so that the Texas regulatory agencies with power in the mental health care sphere could do their regulatin’.

A pillar of modern mental health therapy is the “talking cure.”  Your family, friends and neighbors, unsolicited and generally unpaid, talk you into and out of thinking positively about yourself almost daily.  Your high school wrestling coach, the cheerleader squad sponsor and your boss pull down a paycheck for talking to you in a raised voice about your “attitude.”  They seem to know exactly what will cure you.

Compare such talking to professional mental health therapy with the significant addition of testing and drugs.  There is often someone taking some responsibility for “progress”, talking you up instead of down, but rarely will this kind of talker guarantee a cure.  The main point here is how do we distinguish between mere helpful talking and professional helpful talking?  Are these people all “practicing psychology?”

Maybe so, according to our new law, as of September 1, 2017.  It is easy to read the new law as saying, “The “practice of psychology” means the observation, description …. of and intervention in human behavior by applying education, training, methods and procedures for the purpose of:  preventing,….remediating, or eliminating:….undesired behavior.”  That covers just about everybody who doles out advice.  “Psychological services” carries the circular definition of being within the “practice of psychology.”  Not quite enough grist for the mill.

If you offer or provide psychological services in a professional relationship, you are practicing psychology.  If you are a psychologist or a psychological associate offering or providing psychological services, other than lecturing, for money outside your regular salaried “non-psychology” duties, you are practicing psychology.  However, you will not be engaged in the practice of psychology based solely on offering guidance effecting mental health if you do not represent that you are either licensed to practice psychology or that you are professionally “practicing psychology” as long as you are: (1) not engaging in such conduct in the context of a professional relationship; (2) offering guidance in the context of professional relationship that is not focused on mental health care; or (3) the guidance is some structured program that supports the guided with self-identified mental health care goals.

“Self-identified goals” seems to fit right into advice from the “framily” and careers, such as my own attorneyhood, that incorporate a lot of guidance for our clients.  We are still dealing with mental health here, but there is some distance from the elements of assessment, evaluation, analysis, diagnosis and treatment that characterize “professional” mental health care providers.  Crucial distinction.

And I see that our time is up.  Ironically, the question originally approached will have to be resolved through rulemaking by the very state agency that drove into that litigation ditch in the first place.

Author: doctortroubles.com

I am a lawyer in Austin, Texas. After retiring from my work as a staff attorney for the Texas Medical Board, I am committed to bringing 30 years of lawyering experience to the Health Care Responders, the providers who hurdle obstacles and meet challenges everyday in order to transform good science, good sense and good heart into good health for the 1 percenters and the 99 percenters. If you are a health care provider, and you've got trouble on your mind about your place in the medical/health care community, I have this space and my time.

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