Suicide Prevention Drive Ensnaring Psychologists

By James Bradshaw, Senior Editor
August 3, 2017 - Last updated: July 31, 2017

suicide preventionDo doctoral level psychologists need more training in suicide prevention?

The California Board of Psychology says yes – but the California Psychological Association (CPA) says enough is enough.

The board sponsored Assembly Bill 89 (AB89) to require psychologists to have six hours of suicide risk assessment and intervention training effective Jan. 1, 2020, in continuing education courses or “applied experience under supervision.”

It’s highly unlikely CPA will be able to stop the bill. It stands alone in opposition while numerous “concerned citizen” organizations and even the California State Sheriffs Association are on board supporting passage.

The mandate is part of a national movement that almost certainly will reach psychologists in other states, if it hasn’t already. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) seeks to have all mental health professionals trained in suicide prevention, which has translated into laws or regulations in several states.

Kentucky, Nevada, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Utah and Washington state mandate such training for many health professionals and all but New Hampshire and Utah include psychologists. Three other states – Illinois, Louisiana and Montana – “encourage” such training and provide courses that health professionals can apply toward continuing education requirements.

The suicide foundation is clear in its goal: “AFSP is focused on supporting state-level legislation and regulatory efforts in order to reach the end goal for all 50 states to require such training for health professionals.”

The effort currently focuses on mental health professionals because it is estimated that 90 percent of those who commit suicide have a diagnosable mental illness, and the foundation contends that “the vast majority of mental health professionals – a group that includes psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, licensed counselors and psychiatric nurses – do not typically receive routine training in suicide assessment, treatment or risk management.”

The CPA says that is not true of psychologists. The CPA website notes that the state’s psychology board conducted a survey that showed graduate programs provide such training throughout the training curriculum. The board opposed a similar bill that was unsuccessfully floated in the legislature in 2015, CPA said.

Addressing its members, CPA said, “We believe that you, as a psychologist and responsible professional, should be able to choose the CE content that best suits your own needs, depending on the work that you do.” It is particularly objectionable that AB 89 targets only psychologists, the posting noted.

So far, medical doctors have been exempt from the training push, probably because of the lobbying power of the American Medical Association and its state affiliates, but AFSP almost certainly sees them as a target population.

Primary care physicians prescribe the majority of psychotropic drugs, prompting AFSP to note: “This means that the majority of patients utilize their primary health care services as their mental health care services, yet primary care providers similarly lack the adequate training….”

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