July 30, 2017

Psychologists and Prescription Medications

While most psychologists are not able to write prescriptions for medication, those practicing in a few states do have this option. The ability of psychologists to write prescriptions is an intensely debated subject even within the psychology career community.

Psychologists practicing in New Mexico and Louisiana may pursue the opportunity to prescribe medications to their patients. This benefit requires additional training and examination. Clinical psychologists are required to earn master’s degrees in clinical psychopharmacology after completing their doctorates in clinical psychology. Following this training, a passing score on the Psychopharmacology Examination for Psychologists is required.

In 2002, New Mexico passed state legislation allowing psychologists to prescribe medications to their patients. Two years later, Louisiana followed suit. By 2006, there were thirty-one prescribing psychologists in Louisiana and four in New Mexico. In several other states there have been bills proposed that would grant psychologists this privilege, but as of this writing none have been signed into law.

Individuals opposed to this power given to psychologists state that the completion of postgraduate training is simply insufficient to train psychologists to properly prescribe medications. Opponents say that if a psychologist wanted to prescribe medications, he or she could have attended medical school to become a psychiatrist.

Proponents of passing laws to allow psychologists to prescribe medications argue that doing so allows psychologists to provide the most comprehensive mental health care in the country even when compared to psychiatry. Survey data indicates that psychiatrists get paid more for their time when appointments are to monitor medication use versus appointments scheduled for psychotherapy. Some say this has swayed the psychiatric community as a whole toward providing less therapy and prescribing more medication. Individuals who are in favor of psychologists having prescribing privileges argue that, because a psychologist’s first impulse will be to treat with psychotherapy and prescribe only if necessary, this creates a more well-rounded experience for the patient.

The ability of psychologists to prescribe medications is likely to increase with more states approving relevant legislation over the next decade. This may well be an important evolution in psychology careers.