Psychologists and Prescription Medicines

As a rule, psychologists do not provide medications and are not allowed to write prescriptions.

But there is more to be said on this topic.

In the United States, there are a handful of psychologists who are authorized by the Department of Defense to provide prescription medications for the treatment of mental illness. The U.S. military recognizes the need to have psychologists fully involved in the treatment of mental disorders.

Psychologists licensed in the States of New Mexico and Louisiana can also provide prescription medications. To do so, they must meet very specific training requirements and be supervised by a physician.

The American Psychological Association is actively engaged in efforts to create a broader privilege for psychologists to prescribe medications. Understandably, but perhaps not wisely, this effort is generally being opposed by the Medical profession.

As more psychologists are authorized to prescribe medications, this privilege will be limited to a very few who have obtained specific and appropriate training, and a special and limited license.

Many psychologists are already experts on psychotropic medicines. Many provide consultation to general practice physicians on medication issues, and psychologists are among the leaders in the research in this area.

Psychologists are persuing the prescription privilege because in many parts of the country, there is a definite need for additional services. Many communities do not have enough psychiatrists to meet the needs of the mentally ill. This is true in heavily populated states, including California, and it is especially true in rural America, on Indian Reservations, and in urban areas with high densities of elderly, poor and immigrant populations. There is also a need in our prisons and State mental hospitals.

General practice physicians often provide necessary medications, but many do not possess the special expertise required for treating psychological disturbances. Even in cases of general depression - a condition that is common and that can be devastating - research has repeatedly found that most general practice physicians are not adequately prepared to provide accurate and effective diagnoses.

Psychologists are seeking the prescription privilege because there is a definite need, and because psychologists are uniquely qualified and available to respond to this demand.

As a profession, psychology is preparing to assume a limited prescribing role through research and through the establishment of training programs.

Psychologists may provide prescription medications for the U.S. Military and in the States of New Mexico and Louisiana. But in California, a psychologist is not allowed to write prescriptions.

This is what the State of California, Board of Psychology has to say on this topic:

California psychologists cannot legally prescribe medication. This prohibition is established in Section 2904 of the California Business and Professions Code.

Often, consumers seeking mental health services are taking medications or suffering from conditions that could be treated very successfully by medications prescribed by a physician. Psychologists are often the first mental health care providers assessing and treating such consumers. Indeed, many psychologists have extensive training and experience in the applications of medications. Psychologists may discuss medications with a patient. A psychologist may suggest to a physician a particular medication to be prescribed by a physician. However, the ultimate decision as to whether a patient should receive medication lies solely with the physician. A psychologist may engage in a collegial discussion with a patient's physician regarding the appropriateness of a medication for the condition being treated. A psychologist has primary responsibility to monitor the patient's progress in psychotherapy which includes assisting in monitoring the changes which may be attributable to the medication in the patient. Psychologists should maintain a close consultative relationship with physician care givers in order to assure appropriate overall treatment of the patient.

There are many psychological conditions which manifest themselves in physical symptoms. There are physical problems which have psychological symptoms as well. The best interests of the patient demand that psychologists work closely with primary care physicians and psychiatrists who are prescribing medications to the patient of the psychologist. While a psychologist's responsibility can include involvement in limited aspects of a patient's medications, the patient's physician is the only person who may lawfully prescribe the medication for the patient.   |