Who can practice psychology? Psychologists want a narrow definition

Yoga class. (KXAN Photo/Phil Prazan)
Yoga class. (KXAN Photo/Phil Prazan)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — In Texas, certain people can practice psychology without a license and psychologists want to change that. This all stems from a court decision that drastically broadened the definition last year.

“I’m just here to allow them to tap into their own energy,” said Janice Samuelson, a yoga instructor at Studio Mantra. Through yoga, she helps people become centered to better tackle their issues. “Maybe they feel tight because they’re a runner. Maybe they’re stressed out because of life situations. Maybe they have problems with substance abuse.”

In the eyes of the state, she’s practicing psychology.

“Unless we have a constitutional definition for the practice of psychology, we can’t regulate the profession,” said  Dr. Carol Grothues, Dripping Springs psychologist and president of the Texas Psychological Association.

Mary Lou Serafine (KXAN Photo/Phil Prazan)
Mary Lou Serafine (KXAN Photo/Phil Prazan)

She supports a bill filed by State Senator Kirk Watson, D-Austin, defining psychology and psychological services so the state can issue licenses.

“To protect the public from inappropriately trained and scrupulous individuals from pretending to be psychologists or inappropriately trained psychologists to a very vulnerable population,” explained Dr. Grothues.

This issue was brought up when attorney and former life coach Mary Lou Serafine ran against Sen. Watson in 2010. Her campaign said she was a psychologist. The Texas Attorney General told her she could not call herself a psychologist without a license. They went to trial and an appeals court ruled in her favor. Because the law was struck down, people in a variety of professions can call themselves psychologists.

Serafine says psychology, what she calls talk therapy, is speech protected by the First Amendment. “The state has no business regulating speech. Period,” said Serafine.

She says a solution would be issuing certificates but not requiring licenses.

“It reinforces the monopoly so that only a handful of people throughout the entire state—fewer than 5,000—are able to provide psychological services,” said Serafine.

She says a lot of people can help with problems. The state could soon say otherwise if lawmakers pass Senate Bill 2001.

Other regulatory bodies, like the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation, have faced similar obstacles that have resulted in new laws and legal challenges.

In 2014, a KXAN investigation looked into a 1978 law that prevented hairstylists from working outside a salon, specifically on location for events such as weddings. Our investigation revealed the TDLR launched nearly a dozen investigations into hairstylists over a two-year period for the same violation. The law was removed from the books in 2015.

In 2015, the Texas Supreme Court tossed TDLR’s regulations requiring eyebrow threaders to have a cosmetology license.  As the ruling pointed out, getting that license requires 750 hours of training and about half of those hours are not related to eyebrow threading.


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