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Pa. Representatives discuss bill legalizing prescribing psychologists


Pennsylvanians lacking psychiatric access may be able to get their medications from a psychologist, depending on changes to the Professional Psychologists Practice Act.

The bill, HB 1000, enables licensed psychologists to become certified as a prescribing psychologist – a psychologist who both acts as therapist and psychiatrist to patients. If passed, prescribing psychologists will be required to hold a valid PhD and license in psychology and a master’s degree in clinical psychopharmacology, along with maintaining close contact with patients' primary care physicians.

Last week, the Professional Licensure Committee of the PA House Representatives discussed HB 1000 with practicing psychologists, professors, and various mental health experts.

Dan Warner, representing the PA Psychological Association (PPA), which supervises over 3,000 licensed psychologists and psychology students in PA, said the bill may be the easiest, most effective way of alleviating the state’s mental healthcare shortage.

“The math we do when we run our scenarios [for new prescribers] says that in about five years, you’re looking at about 100 [new] prescribers. Well, there’s 1,200 psychiatrists in the state. So, that’s a jump of like eight percent in five years. And I don’t know how to make eight percent more psychiatrists in five years,” said Warner.

While most psychologists at the meeting were optimistic, Denise Lucas, Clinical Associate Professor and Chair of Advanced Practice at Duquesne University’s School of Nursing, warned against loosening requirements for prescribers.

“Prescribing is a privilege. And it comes with both a professional and a personal obligation in order to complete that task,” Lucas said.

Lucas called on lawmakers to include additional courses in certification studies from psychiatrists’ coursework and to strengthen regulations on what kinds of medications prescribing psychologists can give to their patients.

The PA General Assembly will reconvene in September, where lawmakers will deliberate on whether to write changes to the Professional Psychologists Practice Act into law.

Isabela Weiss is a storyteller turned reporter from Athens, GA. She is WVIA News's Rural Government Reporter and a Report for America corps member. Weiss lives in Wilkes-Barre with her fabulous cats, Boo and Lorelai.