Psychologists Impact Public Policy - Michael T. Morris, PsyD

As DPA sharpens our organizational focus on advocacy and Legislative concerns, we must remember the important role individual providers of psychological services have on the process as well. While organizations help to shape opinions, grassroots advocacy from those of us “on the ground” represents the most influential way to affect change. In terms of the current Board and Legislative issues related to psychology, I am compelled to be involved, and I was honored by a request from the Executive Director of TPA to speak on behalf of their membership in providing public comment at the recent TSBEP Board meeting. I will take this opportunity to share an overview of my comments to the Board while discussing my personal process of arriving at a stance on the issues under consideration by the Board and Legislature. I also hope to encourage member involvement in the political process through a discussion of grassroots advocacy, concluding my thoughts with simple suggestions for ways in which providers of psychological services can impact public policy, regardless of their stance on the issues.
My comments to the Board focused on protecting the doctoral standard as a requirement for independent, unsupervised practice of psychology and to protecting the title “psychologist” for use only by those licensed at the doctoral level. I stressed my belief that allowing non-doctoral providers to use the term “psychologist” in connection with a specialty area or certification could mislead or confuse the public. I also described potential consequences for doctoral psychologists working in the healthcare system, which have fought for years to educate healthcare providers and the public of the doctoral training and rigorous standards which must be met for licensure as a psychologist. These efforts have established the role of psychologists as health service providers skilled in the diagnosis and treatment of psychological conditions, and we have become valuable members of the healthcare system because of these skills. It’s my personal belief that protecting the doctoral standard and the public understanding of the term “psychologist” are important goals for maintaining inroads made in establishing psychologists as important members of the healthcare system.  
As Board and Legislative changes are considered, stakeholders on all sides express compelling concerns, most often with respect for varying opinions. Although debates remain cordial, the discussions clearly demonstrate evidence of the emotional connection to positions. All of us play a valuable role in the delivery of psychological services in Texas, in schools, private practice, nonprofit organizations, exempt agencies, and institutions of higher learning. Regardless of our comfort level in terms of advocacy, we cannot avoid the fact that we are all stakeholders with a vested interest in the outcomes of Legislative and Board decisions.
Personally, I developed my stance on current issues after considering professional concerns and personal experiences. My ultimate position aligns with the interests of the group with which I am a member, licensed psychologists, representing my consideration of professional concerns. In developing my advocacy stance, I expended more energy considering my personal experiences. In contrast to many psychologists, I did not progress directly through my education, with the goal of becoming a licensed psychologist. Prior to becoming a psychologist, I was a social worker at the bachelor and then master level. In this work, I developed respect for the psychologists with whom I worked and for the impact that their advanced diagnostic skills had in my work with clients. These experiences prompted my return to graduate school to pursue a doctorate in clinical psychology, where I realized how much more there was to learn in terms of human behavior, psychiatric conditions, assessment, neuropsychology, pharmacology and other important areas which are important to effectively addressing the concerns of our patients.
After completing my master’s degree in clinical psychology, I reluctantly admit that I considered discontinuing my studies due to the sacrifices required for completion of doctoral training. Although my wife and young daughter expressed an enormous amount of support, they were clearly affected by the workload of my educational pursuits and by my consistent absence. Ultimately, I credit my amazing wife, who demonstrated strength and clarity in reminding me that “we” as a family agreed to work toward my goal of becoming a psychologist in independent practice. Her encouragement propelled me to complete the research, study, teaching experiences, and supervised training required for licensure as a psychologist. Although I have clear professional reasons for developing a stance on the current issues related to the practice of psychology, it is my personal experiences which are most related to my drive for involvement in the advocacy process.  
Regardless of our personal positions, each of us must clarify our opinions and determine what roles we should play in the change process. In order for us to become effective change agents, we must consider not only our professional motivations, but also our personal convictions and experiences. Considering both domains adds meaning and power to our advocacy pursuits. Historically, we have seen the power of grassroots advocacy in movements related to workers’ rights, political concerns, civil rights, and other important areas. One factor ever present in these movements is that organizers have a personal connection to the issues at stake. Grassroots advocacy is clearly evident globally and locally, as evidenced by stakeholders courageously voicing their opinions, with their voices often resulting in dramatic change. Recent events in the news should be nothing short of inspiring in terms of encouraging the advocacy pursuits of providers of psychological services.
Regardless of our views on important issues related to psychology, NOW is the time for action! The current Legislative session is brief, and important decisions are being considered which would impact the practice of psychology positively or negatively depending on our positions. Although professional associations play a role in advocacy, the most significant impact comes from providers actively participating in the process. Legislators and Board members hear the talking points espoused by professional groups, but they truly “listen” to the voices of those directly affected by proposed changes. In this light, I encourage our membership to choose at least one suggestion below, following through on the action before the end of the current Legislative session.
  • Write a letter to your representative(s) with information on your experience working in the field of psychology, an indication of how pending legislation or rule changes would directly affect you, and a clear statement of whether you support or oppose the issue under consideration.
  • Speak to your friends and colleagues! Grass roots advocacy really does work (just watch the news to see how Facebook can lead to changing the face of various governments). Even though you might not be inclined to speak to the Board or to a legislator, discussing issues with others could ignite their desire to become vocal advocates. This is one of the main reasons DPA developed a listserv for our members to discuss issues under consideration by the Board and the Legislature.
  • Serve on committees for your professional associations. Most organizations have legislative committees where you can directly impact the legislative agendas for the organizations. Membership committees indirectly benefit advocacy as well, given that increased membership leads to a larger group of potential advocates.
  • Attend TSBEP board meetings. Public comment is welcome at every Board meeting, and there are often issues of great importance under consideration. Lack of representation by one group at a meeting has a significant impact on the final decision, especially if a group with an opinion different from yours makes a strong showing at the meeting.
  • Call or visit with your leaders in Austin and Washington, and remember that these people are elected to represent you! Let them know your opinions on issues, but most importantly, let them know how you expect for them to vote on issues. We all have a wonderful opportunity to participate in this way with the upcoming TPA legislative day!

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