Regents expands mental health professionals who can diagnose

ALBANY — Mental health counselors will be able to diagnose their clients starting on Tuesday, in an effort to speed up the waiting time before people in distress can get help.

Until now, only psychiatrists and other top-degree mental health professionals could diagnose a condition, like PTSD, after which other counselors could provide treatment. But there are very few of the more specialized professionals, and counselors asked for permission to diagnose their patients so they could start treatment sooner. The diagnosis is often critical because insurers require it to pay for the treatment patients need.

The state Board of Regents approved Monday a new rule to expand diagnostic privileges to many more professionals. Licensed mental health counselors, licensed marriage and family therapists, and licensed psychoanalysts will be allowed to diagnose under supervision.

The supervision that will be required to diagnose will generally mean their employer. Those in private practice on their own will not be granted diagnostic privileges.

Advocates said it should have an immediate impact on long waiting lists for help. It vastly expands the number of professionals who can diagnose a new patient.

“Kids and adults are waiting months for a diagnostic appointment,” proponent Andrea Smyth said after the vote. “This could make it weeks instead of months. And I look forward to when it is days. You know, when you break your ankle we don’t make you wait weeks for an X-ray.”

Diagnosis is the critical step in getting effective care – and sometimes, in getting any care at all.

“Often insurance will not pay for services until there is a diagnosis,” she said. “I have worked on this legislation for over 20 years and I am thrilled.”

Smyth retired July 1 from her role as the CEO of the NYS Coalition for Children’s Behavioral Health and is now running for state Senate.

In about 46 other states, counselors, therapists and psychoanalysts are allowed to diagnose under supervision. Smyth suspects many of New York’s mental health professionals move out of state after graduation because of that.

“We may be encouraging more people to stay now,” she said.

The rule calls for practitioners to have a 60-hour master’s degree with 12 hours of clinical content. Those who don’t have all 12 hours can go back to school now to take those courses. Then, they can diagnose under supervision, usually meaning they discuss the case with a supervisor.

Regent Catherine Collins said that after the mass shooting in Buffalo, it was clear there were not enough practitioners to diagnose and treat sufferers.

“Certainly we need more mental health individuals in Buffalo…and around the nation,” she said.

Regent Frances Wills agreed.

“We’re in a crisis every day,” she said. “Without the mental health services, people self-medicate and this has caused enormous problems.”

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