Texas Special Session should be very short: “Let the sun set on helping profession boards”

Mary Lou Serafine urged that Texas should shutter four regulatory boards in this op-ed today in the San Antonio Express-News and Laredo Morning Times

Let the sun set on these boards of helping professions

By Mary Lou Serafine

Marriage and family therapists, social workers, counselors and professional psychologists will be lighting up phones at the Capitol in coming days as they try to save their regulatory boards from extinction as a result of each one failing its sunset review.

Tellingly, not a single citizen will be calling his legislator crying, “We want higher prices and fewer choices! Please keep these boards!” 

The Legislature should let these boards expire. We don’t need them.

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The helping professions — clinical social work, psychology, counseling and therapy, no matter what the name — all work in one way: through ideas, opinions and advice about the mind and life itself, transmitted through speech.

The American Psychological Association’s website has advice for people who need help. They recommend, “Talk to a psychologist.” I emphasized the word “talk” because that is what these professions do. And nothing more — at least nothing that can be articulated into a body of fixed principles.
 
None of this trivializes what these good people do. But government has no business passing laws in this field. Indeed, the First Amendment prohibits government from infringing freedom of speech, which includes the freedom to think and to share ideas.
 
This is why the federal court in the 2016 case of Serafine vs. Branaman struck down as unconstitutional the main part of the Texas psychologists’ licensing act.
 
In my view, such laws infringe the freedom of speech because no matter how you try to define the “practice of psychology,” it boils down to thinking, ideas and speech about life and the mind. This is protected speech and thought. The last place we need legislation — and these boards have actual criminal authority — is in the area of the mind and how to live your life.
 

What is the real purpose of these boards in psychology, social work, counseling, and marriage and family therapy? To divide up the market for helping services among a few cartels that drive their competitors out of business.

Regulation is the very cause of the claimed shortage of mental health services in Texas.

In reality, thousands of capable people — inside and outside conventional thinking about “therapy” — are available, but they are operating with one hand tied behind their back and are in fear of being reported, investigated, prosecuted, and destroyed.

People should have the freedom to choose unlicensed help, including from life coaches, hypnotherapists, spiritual healers, business coaches, athletes, masters-degreed psychologists (currently prohibited unless “supervised”), curanderas, positive thinking coaches, or internet or teletherapy programs.

Texas legislators should think about what will happen if these four boards are eliminated.

The answer is, nothing bad.

Private associations such as the Texas Psychological Association will run their own certification program. So will the other professions. Certificate holders will advertise themselves as such, and the public will enjoy more health care freedom and will seek more services at market rates.

Schools, hospitals, prisons, insurance companies and state programs can choose to fund only certificate holders.

Texas has the chance to lead the nation in this area of freedom. These boards should sunset.

Mary Lou Serafine is the Austin attorney who brought the Serafine vs. Branaman case. Her website is www.mlserafine.com

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Serafine urges Governor Abbott to veto HB 3808

To: The Honorable Greg Abbott, Governor
Re: Urgent veto of HB 3808 is needed

Dear Governor Abbott:

I write as the Austin attorney and psychologist who brought the Serafine v. Branaman case, which struck down as unconstitutional the Texas definition of the “practice of psychology” because it infringed the freedom of speech.

Before you is House Bill 3808. It should be vetoed, urgently, by June 9th.

HB 3808 is a Trojan Horse. Ostensibly about educational loan assistance, it carries a bad amendment. The amendment redefines the “practice of psychology” so that it is worse than the old one and equally unconstitutional.

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The amendment outlaws a broad swath of opinion, advice, and ideas about personal life, whenever this infinite subject is discussed without a license during a “relationship” only the government can identify.

Texans deserve health freedom, especially in mental health. Some people prefer unlicensed practitioners outside the conventional system. They want life 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.

HB 3808 otherwise accomplishes only a longer list of people who receive educational loan assistance and don’t need it—this time adding marriage and family therapists.

I urge you to veto HB 3808.

Respectfully submitted,
Mary Lou Serafine
Austin

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American Psychological Association publishes story on conflict between free speech and regulation of psychology

The implications of Serafine v Branaman on state laws regarding the licensing of psychologists is becoming more widely known among psychologists.

The American Psychological Association published this story in its May issue of Monitor on Psychology noting how the decision “significantly disrupted the regulation of the practice of psychology in Texas, and it has serious implications for states with similar statutes.”
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While there are many professional associations in psychology, the American Psychological Association, with over 100,000 members, is by far the largest and most politically active.

The APA advocates a “model act” for licensing psychologists that purports to prohibit the defined “practice of psychology” and use of the word “psychologist,” except by government license. It is these two prohibitions in the Texas version of the act which Serafine succeeded in getting struck down as violating the freedom of speech.

Serafine advocates that states should certify psychologists as an option which would not infringe on First Amendment civil rights.

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