Florida psychologists win right to treat sex offenders

By Richard E. Gill Assistant Editor
September 1, 2006 - Last updated: May 31, 2011

In a last-minute meeting the Florida Psychological Association (FPA) defeated a Florida Board of Psychology (BOP) rule that would have required doctoral level psychologists to acquire thousands of additional hours of supervised training to treat and evaluate sexual offenders.

Proposed by the Florida Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers (FATSA) and adopted by the BOP in February, the rule prevented psychologists holding doctoral degrees from treating or evaluating sexual offenders without first completing an additional 65 graduate hours, plus 2,000 hours of supervised training over a two-year period, said David Kazar, Ph.D.

After several failed attempts to persuade the BOP to change its ruling, the FPA filed suit. An administrative law judge was scheduled to hear the suit in August. At the July 28 meeting, the FPA was successful in defeating the ATSA-backed rule. “They completely did away with the 65 graduate hours and the additional 2,000 hours of postdoctoral training,” Kazar said.

The board’s reversal appeared in The Florida Administrative Weekly in August, making the FPA challenge official, Kazar said. But the suit would stand until the appeal process is concluded. Under Florida law, an appeal must be filed within 30 days.

“The rule would have required psychologists have both treatment and evaluation experience,” said Kazar, who is president of the Florida Psychological Association Forensic Division and is running for president-elect of the association. “So people working exclusively in evaluations would not qualify under the rule and those working exclusively with treatment would not qualify under the rule.”

Kazar blames FATSA, which is part of ATSA, a national organization that includes law enforcement officials and attorneys, for introducing the rule change and causing turmoil among practicing psychologists.

But that’s the way ATSA works, Kazar said. The organization approaches state legislatures and warns of increasing sex crimes and then proposes that new and tougher laws are required, along with higher standards for those that evaluate and treat sexual offenders.

“What it wants is to chip away at what psychologists can do. That is the big issue,” Kazar explained. “ATSA and FATSA have been working to carve out a piece of the market which ATSA can control. This has happened in Virginia, Illinois and there is a similar proposal in New Hampshire.”
Essentially, what the BOP rule dictated is that a psychologist such as Kazar, who has about 14 years experience working in corrections, state hospitals and community health centers, would be unable to treat or evaluate sex offenders without the additional training. Most psychologists would have been affected by the rule, Kazar added.

Kazar said ATSA “is no different than a cancer. Initially they ask for reasonable legislation to address a class of crimes and criminals that are feared. With the legislation they seek board rules to prevent psychologists from practicing in the area. This is happening in multiple states and eventually will result in psychologists not being able to practice or research in an area which psychology essentially pioneered.”

In Florida, the legislature gives the BOP authority to make rules to govern the practice of psychology. Kazar said ATSA persuaded the BOP to adopt a rule that placed difficult restrictions on psychologists that wanted to work with sex offenders.

Kazar said ATSA has twice been successful in introducing rule changes that were passed by the BOP. In 2004, it was successful in its efforts to persuade the BOP to adopt rules that restricted psychologists in the assessment of juvenile sex offenders. A suit filed by the FPA prevented the ATSA guidelines from becoming law.

“The impact of FPA’s work with the Florida Board of Psychology was to define that the scope of professional psychology should not be defined by single interest group like ATSA,” said Stephen Bloomfield, Ed.D., co-chairman of FPA’s Legislative Advocacy and Public Policy Board. “Professional psychology must become more active in the legislative, administrative and the public policy arena if we want to take ourselves seriously.”

What also caused consternation among FPA members was that the rule change did not preclude master’s level graduates from performing duties that more qualified practitioners were prevented from doing.

Kazar said a master’s level person, with essentially two years of training after completion of a bachelor’s degree, could take a position working for a sexual treatment provider, and was then proposed to be a “Qualified Practitioner,” the designation contained in the rule change for sexual abuse treatment providers.

Meanwhile, psychologists with two or three additional years of training, plus one-year internship and one-year postdoctoral experience would under the rule be required to obtain at least another year of specialized training.

“Under the rule Qualified Practitioners are the only persons that can do anything of a treatment or evaluative nature with sexual offenders. This would affect every psychologist and every psychiatrist in the state,” Kazar stated.

Offered Kazar, “My point is … how can a person less experienced be better equipped to deal with the complexities of persons with developmental disorders, people that are psychotic or those with substance abuse? How can you expect them to treat these other conditions if they are only trained in treating someone who has committed a crime?”

Kazar said the ruling would have seriously depleted the number of providers working in the area of sexual offenses. Also, FPA was troubled that ATSA would have control over training procedures.

“I personally believe that if you drive psychologists out of this treatment area you will wind up with less qualified providers and presumably less competent treatment. And I would agree there is a much greater risk of misdiagnoses and a greater risk of under treatment or inappropriate treatment.”

Kazar admits that he is troubled by ATSA strategy. “If ATSA succeeds as they have done in other states and to a smaller extent in Florida what is next? Is it going to be child custody evaluators? Will it be major mental illness treatment providers? Will it be substance abuse providers? ATSA has a successful almost stealth-like strategy.

“Take a little piece of a not very popular area and no one will notice. Because it is a national strategy, but enacted at the state level, the APA doesn’t notice or care and the states are not aware it is happening.”

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