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Can Psychologists Prescribe Medications?

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can psychologists prescribe Image: Joel Rorabaugh
Question: Can Psychologists Prescribe Medications?
Answer:

In the vast majority of cases, psychologists cannot prescribe medications to their patients. However, there has been a recent push in several states to grant psychologists prescribing privileges and there are actually already a few places where psychologists do have prescribing privileges.

Psychologists are able to prescribe medications in the military and the Indian Health Service as well as in Louisiana and New Mexico. Professional psychologists gained prescribing privileges in New Mexico in 2002 and in Louisiana in 2004. In such cases, psychologists are required to receive proper training and are permitted to prescribe certain medicines used in the treatment of mental disorders.

What kind of training is needed? In Louisiana, for example, psychologists who want to gain prescribing powers must complete a post-doctoral master's degree in clinical psychopharmacology, pass a board-recognized national exam, and hold a certificate of responsibility from the Louisiana State Board of Examiners of Psychologists.

Psychologists are not the only non-physicians who have been granted prescribing rights. Advanced psychiatric nurses also have limited prescribing powers in at least 40 different states.

Arguments for Prescribing Privileges

Supporters of prescribing rights for psychologists include the National Alliance of Professional Psychology Providers. Advocates suggest that psychologists should be allowed to write prescriptions for a number of different reasons. Today, physicians prescribe approximately 70 percent of psychiatric medications even though they often have limited training and experience with mental illness. Proponents suggest that many people would be better served by a psychologist who can also utilize other treatment strategies outside of pharmacological interventions.

Some other reasons cited by supporters include:

  • Increase accessibility to mental health care
  • Allow patients faster access to treatments
  • Help rural patients access treatments more readily
  • Decrease wait time for treatments; many states face a shortage of psychiatrists, making it difficult for clients to access mental health care in a timely manner

Arguments Against Prescribing Privileges

Organizations against offering prescribing rights to psychologists include the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, and the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Opponents cite a number of reasons why psychologists should not be able to write prescriptions, including:

  • Insufficient training in medicine and pharmacology
  • Risks of side effects of medications
  • Danger of overlooking medical disorders that might be mistaken for mental disorders
  • Approximately half of all patients prescribed psychotropic medications also have one or more co-existing medical conditions
  • Physicians and psychiatrists are better trained to determine when and if medications are needed

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References

National Alliance on Mental Illness. (2002). Prescribing privileges for psychologists: an overview. Retrieved from http://www.nami.org/Template.cfm?Section=Issue_Spotlights&template=/ContentManagement/ContentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=8375

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