Texas looks to redefine what it means to be a psychologist

Mary Louise Serafine called herself a psychologist during her campaign for the Texas Senate, even though she did not have a degree in psychology and was not licensed to practice in Texas (Nexstar Photo)
Mary Louise Serafine called herself a psychologist during her campaign for the Texas Senate, even though she was not licensed to practice in Texas (Nexstar Photo)

AUSTIN (NEXSTAR) — Dr. Carol Grothues has been been practicing psychology in Austin for almost a decade. Grothues received her doctoral degree from the University of Southern Mississippi and obtained her Ph.D. in 1993. However, despite her years of study and office filled with decorated degrees, in the state of Texas, Grothues is grouped under the same title as “yoga instructors and golf coaches”.

“Psychology is so universal and ubiquitous because it affects all human behavior, everyone does a little bit of psychology in their practices,” Grothues said. “We need to have a more specific definition of what the practice is versus what other people do isn’t psychology based.”

The issue stemmed from a 2010 Texas Senate race between Mary Louise Serafine and Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin. According to her campaign website, Serafine referred to herself as an “Austin Attorney and Psychologist”.

David White, Executive Director of Texas Psychological Association said he was excited to hear that a psychologist was running to be in the state legislature. However, after looking into it further, White found that Serafine was not licensed in the state of Texas as a “psychologist”.

“Therefore we contacted the state board and notified them that since we do have a Title Act in the state, that in order to be called a psychologist you have to be licensed by the state board,” White said. “And since [Serafine] was not, they sent her a cease and desist letter indicating that she needed to take that verbiage off of her website.”

White said the issue was then brought to court where Serafine argued according to the Texas Tribune that she was “a psychologist in the truest sense, which means one who studies the mind or behavior.”

The case, Serafine v. Branaman, was presented before the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in January, where Serafine won. However, the issue lingered on the state’s definition of “psychologist” and whether or not it was too broad. The court left it open for the Texas Legislature to redefine the definition during the next legislative session.

“So what this court basically did said you need to narrow the definition a little bit,” White said, “narrow the definition so it only encompasses those individuals that have the training, have the doctoral degree in psychology, and are licensed by the state of Texas.”

White said changing the definition would eliminate individuals, like a golf coach or a yoga instructor, who currently fall under the state’s definition of psychology, even though they were not titled and licensed as a psychologist.

“That’s ultimately going to be protecting the public,” White said. “It’s important for the safety of the citizens of the state, that protects people who are licensed that go out or might practice unethically. If they do that there is an oversight.”

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