Intending to ease consumer access to mental health care, New Mexico legislators in March passed a law allowing psychologists to prescribe psychotropic medications, such as antidepressants. The state's action, the first in the nation, has the blessing of the American Psychological Association (APA), which considers prescriptive authority a logical extension of psychologists' role as health care providers. But powerful groups, including the American Medical Association, oppose the idea and have a surprising source of support: psychologists themselves, some of whom call it a radical experiment and fear that the most likely victim will be the science of psychology. "I am concerned that nonmedically trained people as legitimate prescribers of drugs will not be accepted by the American public," says psychologist Gerald C. Davison of the University of Southern California.
The APA has spent more than $1 million to help state psychological associations develop and lobby for such prescription privileges--or "RxP"--legislation. The version endorsed by the APA would license doctoral-level psychologists to independently prescribe psychotropic drugs after completing 300 hours of classroom instruction in neuroscience, physiology and pharmacology, followed by four months' supervised treatment of 100 patients. Critics say that is not nearly enough compared with other prescribers, such as M.D. psychiatrists or nurse practitioners who have at least six years' medical education and clinical experience.
This article was originally published with the title Inner Turmoil.