State Licensure Laws and the Mental Health Professions: Implications for the Rural Mental Health Workforce


Investigates whether and the extent to which licensure laws that determine the permissible scope of practice for each of these professions may affect the availability of mental health services, particularly in rural communities. Findings: Licensure laws authorize non-physician mental health providers to practice assessment, treatment planning, and individual and group counseling independently in most of the 40 states studied. Many states do not explicitly grant the authority to all of these professions for diagnosis or psychotherapy, but none explicitly deny it. Despite this finding, Medicare and some other payers do not directly reimburse Marriage and Family Therapists or Licensed Professional Counselors. Laws that require clinical supervision of newly trained practitioners to be performed exclusively by a member of the profession in a face-to face setting may make it difficult for a new graduate seeking rural practice to log the number of required hours within the specified time limit to qualify for independent practice. Some states' laws allow supervision that is not face-to-face, a rural-friendly policy. Also discussed are the nature and effects of guild behavior in the mental health professions. Based on the findings, report recommends that states simplify licensure and clarify clinical roles by combining regulatory functions for several professions into a single office or agency; that Medicare reconsider its position on reimbursing Marriage and Family Therapists or Licensed Professional Counselors; that professional competition over the right to practice and be reimbursed be addressed; and that supervision requirements be modified to allow new mental health professional graduates to address rural needs soon after graduation.

Maine Rural Health Research Center
David Hartley, Erika Ziller, David Lambert, Stephenie Loux, Donna Bird