Bill seeks to clarify training requirements

By Janine Weisman
January 1st, 2014

Legislation seeking to broaden opportunities to complete post-doctoral psychology training in school settings in Massachusetts is expected to come before the full House of Representatives for a vote in early 2014.

Rep. Ruth B. Balser, (D-Newton), introduced a bill last fall that would make schools an eligible site for certification as a Health Service Provider (HSP) for independent clinical practice. HSP certification allows a licensed psychologist to bill third party insurers for payment. The state Board of Registration of Psychologists grants this certification to applicants who demonstrate they have at least two years full-time supervised health service experience, of which at least one year is post-doctoral and at least one year of which is in a health service training program.

Current law restricts sites for completing health service training programs to venues “where health services in psychology are normally provided.” That restricts practicum experience for school psychologists in the Commonwealth to 58 school-based health centers located in 19 communities. School-based health centers are licensed by a local hospital or community health center.

Following favorable reviews by the Joint Committee on Public Health and the Joint Committee on Mental Health and Substance Abuse, the legislation was awaiting its third reading before the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing in December, the final step before a full House vote. There has been no formal opposition. If the bill passes, it will move to the Senate where its chief sponsor is Sen. Cynthia S. Creem, (D-Newton).

“It is essential that children be able to access mental health services in schools and we want to provide training of psychologists in all the settings where kids will access services. This bill is an important updating and clarifying of training requirements,” explains Balser, who holds a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and is the first psychologist to ever serve in the Massachusetts legislature.

The regulations regarding HSP certification date back to a 1987 amendment to the laws governing the licensure of psychologists. But supporters say the law needs to change to keep pace with efforts to integrate mental health care into schools, workplaces and primary care settings. A school system that offers supervised clinical psychology training in its special education department, for instance, now must go through a cumbersome application and hearing process to obtain a waiver from the Board of Registration of Psychologists in order to have post-doctoral interns placed in it.

“There’s a great need for us to bring people into schools and in order for them to work competently, they have to train in those settings,” says Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology President Nicholas Covino, Psy.D.

Covino says the proposed legislation reflects the American Psychological Association’s current Model Licensure Act in flexibly recognizing new and growing specialty areas to provide appropriate training sites. Current law leaves higher education institutions unable to place doctoral level psychology interns at behavioral health service sites providing psychological services in settings not exclusively providing behavioral health services.

“We have health screenings for children going into school. We have no mental health screenings for children going into school. It’s unacceptable that children are failed out of kindergarten for social and emotional reasons. Unacceptable. We have limited to no resources in many of our school systems and yet they are the most efficient delivery system for mental health care because all the kids are there,” Covino says.

“The truth is psychologists have to learn to train outside our traditional models and yet maintain the high standards of professional training that we’ve had for many years,” Covino adds.

Jayda Leder-Luis, spokeswoman for the Office of Consumer Affairs & Business Regulation’s Division of Professional Licensure, which oversees the Board of Registration of Psychologists, says the board does not comment on pending legislation.

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