Mary Lou Serafine criticized HB 3808 as a Trojan Horse in the following op-ed in the Houston Chronicle.
Serafine: Licensing of psychologists is a fix for a problem that doesn’t exist
Gov. Abbott should veto HB 3808
Texas House Bill 3808 is carrying within it a bad amendment, one that unconstitutionally infringes free speech and limits health-care freedom. The amendment does this by redefining the licensed “practice of psychology” so that a broad swath of opinion, advice and ideas about life are now outlawed if they are discussed without an expensive state license during a “relationship” only the government can identify.
The amendment recites a long list of things that are prohibited to provide to a client, unless you have a license. But all of them boil down to prohibiting conversations on myriad topics about how to cope with the troubles and joys of life, if those conversations occur in a “professional relationship.”
What counts as a “professional relationship”? Only the Texas State Board of Examiners of Psychologists would know, and they would not decide what it is until someone is in trouble before them.
Last year, a federal court struck down as unconstitutional Texas’ previous definition of the practice of psychology, rendering it unenforceable, because it infringed the freedom of speech. The federal case is Serafine v. Branaman. The new definition is worse than the old one and equally unconstitutional. You would be engaged in the unlicensed practice of psychology if you engaged professionally in “description” of human behavior. The rest of the amendment is incomprehensible to the point of meaninglessness.
Does the government know how to tell who can best talk and advise about life’s joys and problems? No. The last thing we need is government bureaucracy spreading into this area.
This bad amendment was tacked on to the opening text of HB 3808 in the last days of the legislative session. The opening text – like a true Trojan Horse – does not harm the people of Texas too much beyond how they are already harmed by having to pay off other people’s debts – people who don’t need the help. Right now taxpayers pay parts of the educational loans of young psychiatrists, psychologists and counselors, under certain conditions. HB 3808 adds more people to the list of those getting the free money – adding marriage and family counselors.
Government licensing schemes for mental health do no more than create monopolies and cartels in which the licensees’ boards drive others out of business. The licensees then charge higher prices than they otherwise would in a free market. How great a deal for them that we subsidize their school loans!
Health freedom is a better idea, especially in mental health. It refers to allowing people a choice in addressing the problems of life. Some people prefer practitioners outside the conventional system. They want coaches, hypnotherapists, spiritual healers, business coaches, athletes, masters-degreed psychologists (currently prohibited unless “supervised”), curanderas, positive thinking coaches, internet programs and countless others who are forced to operate under the radar or in fear of agency action based on definitions such as the one inside House Bill 3808.
The governor should veto this bill. This will give Texas the chance to reach the right solution – certifying psychologists, which would not infringe the freedom of speech.
Serafine is the Austin attorney who brought the Serafine v. Branaman case. Serafine ran for Texas Senate in 2010. She sued the Texas psychology board after it required her to change campaign materials in which she called herself “an Austin attorney and psychologist.” She had taught psychology and published research papers in psychology, but was not licensed to practice in Texas. She prevailed at the Fifth Circuit.