IAMFT Legislative Update (February 2021)

The IAMFT Legislative Committee, with the help of our Lobbyist, Mark Scherer, has been hard at work advocating for the legal rights of MFTs in the State of Indiana.  Mark Scherer has been our IAMFT Lobbyist since 1995.  With Mark's help, we are following three important pieces of legislation on behalf of IAMFT.  We are providing recent encouraging updates from the 2021 Legislative Session of the State of Indiana.  [See also 2021 Bill Watch List for Mark Scherer, Lobbyist]

For Senate Bill 82, IAMFT is partnering with social workers, mental health counselors, and addictions counselors to fight for our right as masters-level clinicians to use the term "diagnosis" in our work.  Indiana is currently one of several states that does not have the term "diagnosis" in our licensure language for marriage and family therapists.  Senate Bill 82 would correct this language.  Through their Practice Protection Fund (PPF), AAMFT supports IAMFT's legislative effort in addressing this issue.

To encourage state senators and state representatives to back this bill, we want to show that others in the mental health profession understand that MFTs receive sufficient training in diagnosis through the course of our graduate studies and path to licensure.  Our expertise to diagnose should be recognized legally.

If you work with psychiatrists who would be in agreement with the State of Indiana granting MFTs the legal right to diagnose our clients, we ask that you encourage them to write a letter of support for this initiative on behalf of MFTs.  Please forward this letter to our IAMFT lobbyist, Mark Scherer, at  [email protected].  Mark will share letters with our state representatives to help our cause.

Helpful talking points are listed below to aid conversations with psychiatrists and other mental health professionals.

  1. This legislation would explicitly include the term “diagnosis” within the definition of the practice of marriage and family therapy.
  2. The federal government recognizes MFTs as one of the five core mental health professions. The federal government’s definition of Marriage and Family Therapists states that MFTs “diagnose and treat mental and emotional disorders” (U.S. Department of Labor, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Standard Occupational Classification, 21-1013).
  3. MFTs are trained to diagnose within the scope of our education and training.  COAMFTE (Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education) is the only national accrediting body for clinical training programs in marriage and family therapy.  COAMFTE requires that students in accredited MFT programs receive clinical training in the “assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of major mental health issues” (COAMFTE Accreditation Standards, Version 12.0).
  4. The proposed legislation does not expand the scope of practice of MFTs in any way. This bill ensures that LMFTs would only be able to diagnose within the scope of practice for MFTs as defined by statute.
  5. The state licensure board has the ability to discipline licensees who diagnose outside the recognized boundaries of their competencies.
  6. MFTs are licensed as independent mental health professionals in all fifty states and the District ofColumbia.  Currently, at least 34 states explicitly include the term “diagnosis” within the definition of the practice of marriage and family therapy, including states surrounding Indiana (Illinois and Ohio explicitly include diagnosis; Michigan and Kentucky are silent on the issue).

Furthermore, despite thousands of MFTs “diagnosing and treating” year after year, none of the ethics cases handled by the AAMFT Ethics Committee (as of 2016) have ever found an ethics violation based on misdiagnosis.  The AAMFT Ethics Committee is in charge of disciplining members found in violation of the AAMFT Code of Ethics.  This demonstrates that MFTs are no more likely to commit diagnosis-related practitioner failures than are other mental health professionals in our peer professions of psychiatry, psychology, social work, and counseling.

Other bills we are watching include Senate Bill 3 and House Bill 1286 regarding the provision of telehealth mental health services.  These bills would allow MFTs the ongoing right to use telehealth as a medium for providing therapy.  Senate Bill 3 has made its way through the Senate with full support from all 47 senators.  The wording in this legislation would free all mental health providers (including MFTs) from needing executive order extensions from the governor to offer telehealth sessions to our clients.  Both bills further allow us to use virtual platforms to provide our services beyond the immediate necessity of the COVID-19 pandemic.  As of February 6, 2021, Senate Bill 3 was sent to the House for consideration.  House Bill 1286 has passed out of Committee as of February 13, 2021.

Disclosure Statement:  In previous years, IAMFT has been a recipient of AAMFT's Practice Protection Fund (PPF) grants for legislative and advocacy issues relevant to the MFT profession.  IAMFT anticipates similar financial support from the Practice Protection Fund (PPF) for 2021.  AAMFT created the Practice Protection Fund (PPF) to help defend the MFT profession from legislative and regulatory threats, as well as to help fund the advancement of the profession in every state.  Donations can be made at Advocacy Donation to AAMFT Practice Protection Fund.

We appreciate your continued support for our marriage and family therapy profession.  Please join us and become a member of IAMFT.  We look forward to working for you.  And, thank you for your efforts in helping us move our MFT profession forward in Indiana!

IAMFT Legislative Committee
Laura Snyder, Chair [email protected]