Sunday, February 18, 2018

On Tuesday, the Alabama House of Representatives passed HB 166, which would allow marriage and family therapists to diagnose and treat mental disorders.  Current law allows marriage and family therapists to “assess, understand and treat emotional and mental problems” but not diagnose.  HB 166 would also remove current prohibitions on prescribing drugs and electroshock therapy.  Before passing the House, an amendment to HB 166 was added to allow marriage and family therapist to treat children in school systems.  The bill is on the agenda for the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs next Tuesday.

Psychiatrists and clinical psychologists will attest that most cases of mental illness are not as straightforward as they may seem and oftentimes both mental and physical health are interdependent.  For example, a person presenting with something that seems like depression could have one of a number of different psychiatric conditions including bipolar disorder or dementia.  At the same time, what seems like depression could also be caused by an underlying physical problem such as underactive thyroid or even a medication side-effect, or the “depression” could also be due to alcohol or drug abuse.

For a physician, knowing what to look for and what to rule out with each patient comes not only from years of training but also via the critical application of that training that takes place in years-long residency and fellowship programs supervised by licensed specialty physicians.  Marriage and family therapists are not required to participate in such residency or fellowship programs.

While marriage and family therapists are valuable members of the mental health team, passage of HB 166 could result in more misdiagnoses, possibly delaying appropriate treatment or subjecting a patient to unnecessary treatments and expense.  At worst, misdiagnoses could be life-threatening for the patient or those around him or her.  While access to mental health services in Alabama is a problem, HB 166 is not the answer.

View HB 166.

Contact the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs now!

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