Background on Psychologists Seeking Prescription Authority

Psychologists have an academic degree (PhD or PsyD) in the study of psychology and human behavior. Psychologists focus on behavioral change through talk therapy, not underlying biological causes and medical conditions.

Why these proposals are unsafe

Psychologists have proposed unsafe prescribing bills in as many as 28 states and two territories. These attempts have failed because state lawmakers appreciate competent medical care is in the best interest of their constituents. A common problem with these unsafe prescribing bills is that they propose inadequate training requirements. Most mandate only 400-450 hours of education – the equivalent to a 10-week course – to teach the fundamentals of medical practice. In comparison, psychiatrists and other physicians must complete 2,700 hours of medical school classroom education and four years of residency training.

Most of the previous proposed laws would give psychologists an unfettered ability to prescribe any medication. For example, data from the two states where prescribing laws were passed more than a decade ago, reveals that psychologists have written prescriptions for heart medication, muscle relaxants, cholesterol drugs and other conditions which are far outside their expertise. Many of these drugs have dangerous side effects and patients taking them must be carefully monitored. Allowing psychologists to prescribe these medications after only a brief crash course in medicine clearly puts patients at risk.

The truth about unsafe prescribing

Psychologists frequently use the Department of Defense (DoD) pilot program to support their argument for gaining prescribing authority. The truth is the program was terminated in 1997 and the federal Government Accountability Office noted its “persistent implementation difficulties” and “substantial costs and questionable benefits” failed to justify reinstating the program.

Access to mental health care is a real problem, particularly in rural areas. However, there is no evidence that allowing psychologists to practice medicine would resolve this shortage. The American Psychiatric Association supports real solutions that could help patients get the care they need, including increased use of telepsychiatry, integrating mental health care into other health care settings and ensuring health plans increase the number of psychiatrists in their networks.


Unsafe prescribing bills are also riddled with conflicts of interest. Most medical fields rely on separate organizations to train and certify practitioners to ensure there are checks and balances built into the system. Unsafe prescribing bills typically allow just one professional organization – the American Psychological Association – to have complete oversight over training and certification. This is a clear conflict of interest.