Click here to view Mary Lou Serafine’s testimony at the Texas Senate Committee on Health and Human Services held April 5, 2017. Her testimony begins at about the 1:58 mark and ends at about the 2:11 mark. (Technical issue: the video source does not allow it to open in Google Chrome. Mozzilla and other browsers work fine.)
This blog has two sets of readers. Many have been following the case for years and want frequent updates on latest developments. Others are learning about this case and want background info before getting up-to-date. This post is for the latter. Please scroll down for latest updates.
Who is Mary Lou Serafine?
At the beginning of this case, Mary Lou Serafine was the Republican nominee in her district for Texas Senate in 2010. She lived then, as now, in Austin. Continue reading “About Serafine v Branaman”
What issue started this case?
Serafine posted on her campaign website, www.serafineforsenate.com, a traditional “bio.” It said: “Mary Lou Serafine is an Austin attorney and psychologist.”
Why was that a problem?
Texas had taken the position, in the Texas Psychologists’ Licensing Act, that the unlicensed “practice of psychology” was prohibited, fined, and carried criminal penalties. The practice of psychology included even using the words “psychological, psychologist, or psychology” to describe oneself or any service one offered.
Who noticed it?
The Texas Psychological Association—which is a private organization—emailed Serafine that, in their opinion, the sentence on her website violated the Psychologists’ Licensing Act. TPA then notified the government agency, the Texas State Board of Examiners of Psychologists.
Serafine asserts there is virtually no division between the TPA and the Board. The Board then signed its own complaint against Serafine and later contacted the Attorney General’s office to begin enforcement. The Board and the Attorney General also found Serafine unlawful for filling out the form to get on the ballot, when she hand-wrote the words “attorney, psychologist” in the slot marked “Occupation.”
Why was she known to be a psychologist?
Serafine holds a Ph.D. in education and published her doctoral dissertation in psychology. She did post-doctoral work in psychology at the Yale Department of Psychology and also taught undergraduate courses in psychology at Yale and Vassar. At the introductory level over the years, she taught in virtually all of psychology’s sub-fields – developmental and cognitive psychology, psychobiology, learning, memory, perception, language, motivation, social psychology, intelligence, personality, mental illness, psychotherapy and early childhood education. She taught several of these at the advanced level, plus research and statistics. In her research field, which concerned the psychology of music, Serafine was said to have done ground-breaking research.
How did this case wind up in court?
Serafine sued the Texas psychology board in order to get the psychology law struck down as unconstitutional under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. In her view, it violated the freedom of speech. Psychologists do nothing but talk. Their opinions and advice—whether implicit or explicit—may be those of experts who are thoughtful and well-educated, but there is nothing about what they do that should prevent other people from equally providing their own opinions and advice. The public is entitled to choose whom they wish to talk to about the problems and joys of life. Serafine also believed that words like “psychologist, psychology, and psychologically” are ordinary words that the government may not ban. A government law that declares such words to be “titles” instead of just words, is not sufficient to create a ban.
What was the result of the law suit?
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit struck down as unconstitutional the major portion of the psychology law that defines the “practice of psychology.” It also held that the portion forbidding Serafine from using “psychologist,psychology, and psychologically” was also unconstitutional as applied to Serafine.
The case is Serafine v. Branaman, 810 F.3d 354 (5th Cir. 2016).
Reply from Mary Lou Serafine to Dr. Mary Gresham and Christine Massey, in response to their comments on this site.
I respect and am grateful for the various people who have posted comments, especially Dr. Gresham, because it takes up one’s time to put up a post and exposes one to dissent. But I agree with Christine Massey. Among a free people there can be no issue of who should or should not give advice, or what one may “call themselves,” even if it is misleading or, as the Court of Appeals implied, an outright lie.
The issue is, rather, who is to decide if it is true or untrue?
Unelected government bureaucrats? Politicians? The American Psychological Association? “Experts”?
Each of these, at heart, is authoritarianism. I concede there are a couple of exceptions: “misleading” when it leads to fraud, other crimes, intellectual property infringements, and slander should be and are prohibited. The list is short.
My complaint is not against psychologists. It is against government.
And government’s award of monopoly status to the psychologists’ lobby.
Psychotherapists give advice, often overtly, and at least implicitly.
The very act of therapy is advice that working with the therapist is good for you. That may be true. But it is certainly opinion and advice.
In the trial of this case, Serafine v. Branaman, and in the many briefs filed by the Texas Attorney General on behalf of the Board of Examiners of Psychologists, the board repeatedly made the argument that I see has been made here on my website: that psychologists do much more than give advice and opinions. What they do is “practice psychology.”
I repeat here the challenge I gave elsewhere: Give the examples of what constitutes the “practice of psychology” upon which the majority of psychologists would agree. They can’t do it. There is no such thing.
In study after study, psychotherapies based upon opposite assumptions about how the mind works all have equal effects, usually not much better than treatments other than licensed psychotherapy. This is not good news for defining a “practice of psychology.” Almost in desperation, at least one research team, led by Norcross, has tried to show that, if psychologists cannot agree on what is good psychotherapy, at least maybe they agree on what is bad psychotherapy, or bad psychology programs, or quackery. No luck. Expert psychologists can’t even agree on what is or is not quackery.
Exception: There was some agreement—though not universal—that methods such as angel therapy and crystals were believed to be “discredited.” (There’s little or no research on angels and crystals, however, to my knowledge. Which is to say, maybe the crystals work.)
Worse, opinions of quackery were significantly correlated with—let me say it—one, gender; and two, the school of thought of the psychologist. This is very bad news for the claim that this is a profession based upon a body of knowledge that should be awarded a government monopoly. A purported profession that wants a license to prevent the rest of the citizenry from “practicing psychology” with a broad and vague definition, when they themselves cannot distinguish what they do from absolute quackery, does not warrant a license.
Again, after four years of litigation, the Texas psychology board and its trial expert could not come up with a single method that defines the “practice of psychology.” Reason: There is none. My challenge is still open.