Jerry Kopel


Question: How many psychotherapists does it take to change a light bulb?

Answer: Just one, but the light bulb must WANT to change.

A country called Yugoslavia managed to exist and thrive despite inhabitants of different religions and backgrounds. Today, those religions are in "independent" ghettos with destroyed economies. Colorado may soon end its own "Yugoslavia" when the State Grievance Board is broken into five separate factions: Psychologists, Social Workers, Professional Counselors, Marriage and Family Therapists, and unlicensed psychotherapists.

The 10-year-old Grievance Board forced psychotherapists of all backgrounds and approaches to live under the same regulatory roof and work out their "turf" differences, while culling the misfits. As Judith Silver, licensed psychologist who serves on the Grievance Board recently wrote to Gov. Romer: "Bad psychotherapy can harm and kill just like bad medicine."

HB 1072 by Rep. Marcy Morrison, R-El Paso, and Sen. Dottie Wham, R-Denver has passed House Health (HEWI) committee and is now lodged in House Appropriations. Since its purpose is to de-Yugoslav the practice of psychotherapy into five independent "turf oriented" groups, the strains, fueled by deceit and suppressed dislike, are already showing.

Without informing the unlicensed psychotherapists in advance, some HEWI members (rumored to have been prodded by a psychologist from El Paso county) successfully introduced an amendment to the original HB 1072:

As of July 1, 2000, all 2,400-plus unlicensed psychotherapists regulated under the state grievance board will have to possess a bachelor's or graduate degree from an accredited college or university; pass an examination established by the grievance board; OR show at least two years experience in the practice of psychotherapy.

Since no one can practice for two days, much less two years, as an unlicensed psychotherapist without being included in the state's data base, there is NO WAY for any person not IN the data base as of July 1, 1998 to EVER become an unlicensed psychotherapist minus a college degree. This is known as the "attrition" approach, since all of the presently regulated unlicensed psychotherapists without college degrees will eventually die.

So any new unlicensed psychotherapist must have a degree and pass the board's test. The whole point of the original 1988 law recognized that no one approach to psychotherapy was the "right and only answer". A large majority of the unlicensed presently do have bachelor or graduate degrees. But having a degree is no guarantee the holder won't cause harm.

According to the Dept. of Regulatory Agencies Sunset Report, between July 1, 1988 and April 30th, 1997, 116 social workers, psychologists, professional counselors and marriage and family therapists, all holding either bachelor or graduate degrees, were disciplined (as well as 100 unlicensed psychotherapists) for violating Colorado's present law on psychotherapy. And all 116 also took and passed "an exam" before they were licensed.

There is another amendment that passed aimed at the unlicensed psychotherapist: Only persons with a masters degree and at least one graduate level course can "administer, score, or interpret" tests other than standardized personnel selection, achievement, general aptitude or proficiency tests. And the right of the unlicensed to "administer" a test doesn't include the right to "score or interpret".

The bill, as amended in committee, does provide something positive that was missing in the original law. Clients of unlicensed psychotherapists will have their confidences protected by state law. Presently an unlicensed psychotherapist can be compelled to testify as to what was said by a client during sessions.

But another HEWI committee amendment will make it more difficult to bring disciplinary actions against licensed and unlicensed psychotherapists (which may give the reader a hint of the thinking behind this bill). The committee REPEALED the following law:

"Any person participating in good faith in the making of a complaint or report or participating in any investigative or administrative proceeding before the ...board pursuant to this article shall be immune from any liability, civil or criminal, that otherwise might result by reason of such action."

So consumers beware. If this repeal isn't changed, any complaint you may file, or information you give in an investigation, IN GOOD FAITH, won't keep you from being sued!

Which brings up some additional thoughts by Dr. Silver who urged Gov. Romer to veto the bill. "If (HB 1072) is enacted, it will be testimony to the fact that money, politics, and negotiations held out of the view of the public, not hard research data, common sense and genuine interest in the consumer of services, are what makes government run."

As to whether turf "hair-splitting" between psychotherapists as proposed in HB 1072 makes sense, Daniel Robinson, chair of the Grievance Board who has served seven years as a public member, joins Dr. Silver in opposition:

"...the entire notion of different mental health professions is a distinction without a difference. Most consumers are not interested in the fine distinctions created among the various mental health practitioners. They are interested in receiving services to resolve their life dilemma or mental difficulty. There is simply no proof that one profession heals better than the other."

Meanwhile, readers of the original 60 page bill might as well throw it away and concentrate only on the HEWI 75 page amendment. And HB 1072 could change in House Appropriations before it is heard on second reading. But the only reason for additional amendments is whether "sticking it" to the unlicensed will create roadblocks to passage.

If unlicensed psychotherapists and their lobbyists are once again conned by a new "huggy-kissy" atmosphere as HB 1072 wends through the legislature, maybe they really don't deserve to be called "psychotherapists".

* * *

The Colorado Press Association convention is underway, and this is a good time to remind legislators of advice I have offered in the past on how to use Colorado newspapers effectively to get legislation adopted.

Several weeks ago, I was having lunch at the Happy Cooker in Georgetown. Looking for something to read, I picked up the Mountain Messenger, a weekly newspaper in Clear Creek County. Inside were TWO articles by Rep. Mike Salaz, R-Cheraw, about two of his bills.

Now Rep. Salaz doesn't represent Clear Creek County. Rep. Bryan Sullivant does. So what was Rep. Salaz doing? He was pitching his bills to Clear Creek County readers who might in turn mention to Rep. Sullivant that they thought the bills were worth passing. Since legislators pay attention to what their constituents think, it might make Rep. Sullivant more receptive to voting for the two bills.

All Colorado newspapers, and especially Colorado weeklies, are willing to look at and often print, articles by legislators who are not "local". Rep. Salaz just proved that two weeks ago. Every legislator should get a list from the Colorado Press Association listing addresses (and fax numbers if available) for all the papers.

I used this approach (writing to all papers) as a legislator and can affirm that it often turned "no" votes into "yes" votes.


Jerry Kopel writes a column for the Statesman based on 22 years past experience as a state legislator.

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