WASHINGTON–What started out as a shouting match over licensing board statistics at the American Psychological Association (APA) convention in Boston last year evolved into a peaceful discussion about the same subject this year.
Randall P. Reeves, J.D., director of the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Board (ASPPB), promised not to scream as he did last year during a symposium on insuring fair treatment by licensing boards.
Noting that he was the father of two teenagers, Reeves said he was accustomed to not being respected, and expressed his pleasure at being invited to this year’s civil discussion about how tough state licensing boards are on the profession.
He was joined on the panel by Mark B. Peterson, Ed.D., of New Hampshire, who convened the symposium; Bryant L. Welch, Ph.D., J.D., former head of the APA practice directorate; Martin Williams, Ph.D., of San Francisco; and Gary R. Schoener, a licensed psychologist from Minneapolis.
Using statistics kept in the ASPPB data base, Reeves sought to rebut what he termed five myths that surround licensing board activities.
Those myths include the beliefs by the profession that the boards are issuing far too many sanctions; the California board is on a witch hunt; boards are extremely punitive; boards are issuing large numbers of sanctions for complaints arising out of child custody disputes; and boards do not afford due process of law.
While none of the participants took issue with Reeves’ statistics, they did question whether numbers told the whole story.
Williams, for example, said that it does appear that the 344 disciplinary actions taken against California’s 17,500 licensed psychologists since 1988 “is a drop in the bucket” as Reeves contended.
“That may appear like a small number unless you are one of the 344 psychologists that have been sanctioned by the board,” Williams said.
To Welch, the issue “is not how many psychologists are brought before the board, but what happens to them when they appear before the state licensing boards.”
Welch said he continues to be “flabbergasted” at the cool treatment psychologists receive during board investigations and hearings and the “lack of clinical sophistication by boards.”
Several references were made to the case involving Don Crowe, Ph.D, who spent $400,000 appealing a board’s decision three times.
Reeves said that based on the number of disciplinary actions per 100 licensed psychologists, California ranks 32nd.
To help defray costs associated with board charges, Schoener recommended that psychologists purchase the highest level of coverage for licensure board actions as possible. He said such coverage ranges between $35 and $95 a year.
He said psychologists run a greater risk of being charged by state licensing boards than they are of civil action.
Schoener said that as important as financial distress for psychologists facing board is, equally of concern is how investigations affect their mental health.
Stress from isolation, he said, often lead to suicides and thoughts of suicide during the one to three years a board investigation typically requires.
Isolation, he said, results from instructions from attorneys to talk to no one; the tendency for colleagues to avoid someone who is up on charges; and complications of colleagues being themselves under investigation or being witnesses in the case.
Schoener said it is best to ignore the advice of attorneys who sometimes discourage psychologists from receiving professional help, fearing that disclosures made in therapy will be discoverable and put the individual at risk.
“Obtain the help you need and if your colleague is in trouble, you need to recognize their need for help and support,” he said.
Reeves used the December 1999 series of articles in the Cleveland Plain Dealer to rebut other charges. He said the series pointed out how lenient boards are toward psychologists who breach ethical and other concerns.
That series quoted several people who thought boards were more interested in rehabilitating wayward psychiatrists than they were in punishing them for their misdeeds.
He said that of the 2,413 complaints dealing with child custody, 1,600 were received by the California board. Only one actual disciplinary sanction was issue in that state. Nationally there were 27 findings of formal fault or probable cause.
Reeves added that all state boards offer psychologists a great deal of due process.
“Boards are charged with the responsibility of protecting the public, not the profession,” Reeves said. “In reality, there are very few disciplinary sanctions issues against psychologists.
“The myths that psychology boards are out of control and overly punitive are simply not supported by existing data.”
Schoener suggested that psychologists and state psychological associations work with their boards and state legislatures to correct problem areas and not to remain silent when they perceive that wrongs are being committed against them.