March 1st, 2010

CPA backs mental health-related legislation

Every year, states across the country focus legislative efforts on health care, safety, children’s issues, economic matters and dozens of other concerns. This year in Connecticut, the state’s psychological association is backing a number of legislative proposals relevant to mental health issues.

According to Christine H. Farber, Ph.D., private practitioner in South Windsor, Conn. and one of two legislative chairs for the Connecticut Psychological Association (CPA), her organization has cited support for funding for the Dept. of Children and Families, the Dept. of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS), Office of the Child Advocate and Office of the Healthcare Advocate as a top priority. “We focus on children and others with mental behavioral issues and disabilities,” she says. “The majority of our work is responding to legislation that’s out there. There’s not a lot that we’ve initiated.”

One issue that might seem outside the purview of a psychological association is a change in the teen driving laws. A ban on texting and talking directly on a handheld phone while driving, as well as stricter penalties for speeding, reckless driving, street racing and curfew violations, received support and kudos from the CPA. “At first brush, it may not seem relevant, but [psychologists] have the scientific knowledge to give informal advice [on these matters],” says Farber, citing a psychologist’s knowledge of behavioral change relevant to the teen brain.

CPA continues to support Raise the Age, a bill that sets adulthood at 18 instead of 16. Raising the age limit affects the type of punishment imposed for criminal activities. According to Farber, statistics show that teens incarcerated in the adult system may become hardened and more likely to re-offend. “Rather, put them in a detention center or group home where they are more eligible for rehabilitation,” she says. “At 16 and 17, they don’t have adult judgment and can be treated unfairly inherently.”

Raise the Age has gone into effect for 16 year-olds, but funding challenges have delayed implementation for 17-year olds until 2012. “We are working with the Conn.Juvenile Justice Alliance and wrote testimony in support of getting 17-year olds into the system,” she adds.

The CPA has also devoted its attention to the question of compassionate dying. “Historically, in other states psychologists have spoken on this issue,” Farber says. Blick v. Conn. stems from second-degree manslaughter charges brought against Huntington Williams of West Cornwall who assisted John Welles, a friend dying from prostate cancer, in ending his life. Farber explains that some psychologists perform competency determinations for the terminally ill, so are qualified to offer a professional opinion on this controversial matter.

She reports that the CPA may write an amicus brief and provide testimony. “We are not necessarily opposed to compassionate dying. The psychologist’s role, in terms of informing the debate, is to speak to something more narrow,” Farber says.

Much of the work CPA does  happens behind the scenes. “We look at issues and how they will narrow the scope of practice or impede our practice,” says Farber. “In general, the legislative priorities of CPA always include grassroots efforts to make CPA a visible resource for legislators on psychological aspects of a broad range of issues as well as monitoring potential legislation affecting the discipline and practice of psychology and the populations we serve.”

Efforts to reach spokespeople at DMHAS for comment were unsuccessful.

By Phyllis Hanlon

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