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House passes bill to allow family therapists to diagnose mental illness

Psychologist in brown cardigan sitting on armchair and making diagnosis to her depressed patient, close-up shot

By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

Tuesday, the Alabama House of Representatives passed House Bill 166 allowing trained marriage and family therapists to diagnose mental illnesses. HB166 was sponsored by state Representative Randy Davis, R-Daphne.

Rep. Davis said that the bill allows marriage therapists to diagnose and treat mental illness. It does not allow them to prescribe drugs. “38 states already have this. Alabama is the worst state in the country for access to mental health treatment. Research shows that this Marriage and Family therapists are among the most effective methods of treating and diagnosing schizophrenia, adult alcoholism, and other conditions.”

State Rep. Paul Beckman, R-Prattville, said, “The Alabama Hospital Association opposes this bill.”

Beckman expressed concerns that it would make family and marriage therapists compete against the hospitals and the outpatient treatment facilities. Beckman also expressed concerns that some of the therapists could, “Get their degrees off the internet.”

Beckman said that while he opposes the bill, he will abstain because his wife is a psychiatric nurse.

This bill passed the House last year but could not get out of the Senate.

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State Rep. Patricia Todd, D-Birmingham, asked, “What is the educational level of people in this field?”

Davis answered, “A master’s degree or above.”

Todd said that she was concerned with the bill because, “Only a psychiatrist should be allowed to diagnose mental illnesses, especially depression. I have fought mental depression my whole life.”

Davis said that therapists take many of the same classes side by side with psychiatrists in college. “They can easily recognize someone with schizophrenia. There are times that they have to refer to a general practitioner or a psychiatrist.”

Todd said, “You and I know about turf wars.”

Davis said, “We are in one. It is discomforting that the medical profession is taking such an extreme position.”

Todd said, “I have had two gay male friends who have committed suicide in the last six months. Professional upper income – they would not go to a professional. There are a lot of LGBTQ children who are committing suicide.”

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Davis said, “They can not and will not prescribe medication. If they think that medication is needed, they will refer the patient to a psychiatrist or a general practitioner. My church has this program. A psychiatrist would charge four or five times higher. This is why the insurance companies are not opposed.”

Rep. Howard Sanderford, R-Huntsville, said, “The medical association also opposed nurse practitioners, and now they are making doctors more money than ever off of them. When 36 states pass a bill, then Alabama will jump on it.  We have surpassed that 38 states have already passed this.”

State Rep. Rolanda Hollis, D-Birmingham, said, “I had a cousin my age. In his 20s. He was going through something – if somebody had recognized that and provided therapy, maybe he would in a sound mind today. I had another cousin who was a firefighter who was going through PTSB. If there has been some therapy he could go through, maybe he would be alive today. He committed suicide. This is a start.”

Davis said, “Psychotherapists treat people by talking with people.”

Rep. Beckman said, “This is an accident waiting to happen.”

Davis said, “There are not enough psychiatrists to go around, and they do not work cheap. This is like the medic in the field. He has seen everything, and he knows what to do.”

State Representative John Knight, D-Montgomery, said that there is a shortage of mental health services in Alabama. “This will help. This is not the solution, but it will help.”

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The bill passed the House by a vote of 68 to 14. It now moves on to the Alabama Senate.

Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.



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