Updated 9/7/2011 – Updated link to legal document.
The Texas Board of MFT Examiners has been sued (summary | legal document) by the Texas Medical Association, alleging that MFTs should not have the authority to make diagnoses of mental illnesses. The case has the potential to set a dangerous precent for mental health care nationwide.
At issue is a proposed Texas rule that would simply make MFTs’ ability to diagnose explicit. In every state where MFT licensure exists, MFTs routinely assess, diagnose, and treat mental illness. The terminology in statute may differ from state to state, but these tasks are part of MFT practice in every state. When the TMA initially raised concerns about making this ability explicit in the Texas MFT scope, the licensing board dismissed their concern, noting
The inclusion of the term “diagnosis” in §801.44(r) does not expand the scope of practice of marriage and family therapy into the practice of medicine, but accurately reflects the scope of practice of marriage and family therapy.
So what gives?
Physicians are trying to expand their exclusive control of medicine. Under the guise of “protecting the public,” the Texas Medical Association and its sister organizations in other states are not just seeking to keep non-physician healthcare providers from expanding their scope of practice, but are actually seeking to actively roll back existing practices. In Texas, the medical association was successful in keeping podiatrists from expanding their scope to include the ankle.
What’s different in the MFT case is that family therapists were making no effort at all to expand their scope of practice.
What’s clear about the Texas case is that if the TMA wins, it would absolutely not be serving the best interest of patients. Texas already has a severe shortage of psychiatrists, as well as a shortage of mental health care workers generally. Marriage and family therapists receive specific training and supervised experience in the assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of mental illness. Restricting who can diagnose mental illness by removing MFTs from that task would only make it harder for patients to access clinically appropriate care.
An update on the lawsuit from the Fall 2008 Houston Association of MFTs’ newsletter can be found here. The Texas Association for Marriage and Family Therapy is working diligently to help the licensing board defend against the lawsuit. If you would like to help, the best way is to donate to the TAMFT Political Action Committee.