Psychology Lags in Helping Impaired Colleagues

By John Thomas, Associate Editor
May 4, 2016

Psychology lags far behind other health professions in helping impaired colleaguesWashington – Psychology lags far behind other health professions in helping impaired colleagues, an Oklahoma psychologist told a small group at the annual State Leadership Conference sponsored by the American Psychological Association and its Practice Organization.

Julio I. Rojas, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Oklahoma, said the colleague assistance program he chairs for his state psychological association is seeing results, but there are many obstacles to developing such programs.

He listed the major obstacles as concerns about liability, determining who has the leverage to require providers to get help, limited financial resources of state psychological associations and limitations imposed by state licensure and practice acts.

Such obstacles, he said, can be met by a thorough reading of the state licensure and practice acts to see if state psychological associations have legal authority to create colleague assistance programs and other state laws governing liability for those reporting psychologists they think are impaired by such things as drug abuse, alcoholism, mental health issues and dementia.

Rojas noted that the program in his state got off to a good start when the state’s attorney general said the Oklahoma psychology licensing board could affiliate with the state’s medical monitoring program for physicians, which has been in effect for 30 years.

The Oklahoma program is now in its second year and legislation to amend the state’s practice act, by requiring psychologists to attest their suitability to practice with skill and safety when renewing their licenses and to provide immunity from civil and criminal liability if a report of suspected impairment is made in good faith, is moving toward enactment.

He said his research into colleague assistance programs shows that psychology is years behind how other health professions help their members who are impaired. One participant said psychologists tend to be too hard on their impaired colleagues and have a habit of creating a firing squad by forming a circle and shooting at each other.

Some participants said their state associations have colleague assistance programs on paper, but few are active. Rojas said he will be sending out a survey to state psychological associations to determine how each could take advantage of new or existing programs to establish more colleague assistance programs. Participants from the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Board said they have a model act available and a long-existing white paper on the subject is available online from APA.


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