Adoption of psychology code of conduct considered

The Health and Human Services Committee heard testimony March 27 on a bill that would redefine the code of conduct for psychologists who practice in Nebraska.

<a href='http://news.legislature.ne.gov/dist46' target='_blank' title='Link to the website of Sen. Adam Morfeld'>Sen. Adam Morfeld</a>
Sen. Adam Morfeld

LB499, introduced by Sen. Adam Morfeld of Lincoln, would place the new definition within the Psychology Practice Act. The new code of conduct would require a psychologist or anyone he or she supervises to comply with the American Psychological Association Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct. The bill also would:
• prevent a psychologist from accepting a professional role that is outside his or her scope of competence;
• prevent a psychologist from accepting a professional role in which he or she has a conflict of interest that could adversely affect services provided; and
• require a psychologist who is unable to provide professional service to make a referral while accounting for a patient’s needs in a manner that protects the patient and the public.

Morfeld said he introduced the bill to end a 12-year disagreement between the state Department of Health and Human Services and the Nebraska Psychological Association concerning whether psychologists and behavioral health specialists should be required to refer patients in a manner that may contradict a provider’s religious beliefs.

The most recent edition of the American Psychological Association Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, Morfeld said.

“It is time for the impasse to end,” Morfeld said. “It is critical for all health care professionals to follow ethical considerations while serving Nebraskans, many at their most vulnerable.”

Lori Wall of the Nebraska Psychological Association testified in support of the bill. She said Nebraska’s existing ethics code hasn’t been updated since 1992. It includes a prohibition against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation but not for gender identity, she said.

“We are asking that psychologists are allowed to follow our current code of ethics,” Wall said.

Terry Werner, director of the Nebraska chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, also testified in support. Werner said the impasse has prevented his organization from changing its regulations.

“To have gone on like this since 2007 is an atrocity,” Werner said.

Also testifying in support of the bill was psychologist Mary Fran Flood. She said 88 of the state’s 93 counties have a shortage of psychologists and LB499 would help attract and retain them.

Tom Venzor, director of the Nebraska Catholic Conference, testified against the bill, saying it could cause psychologists to stop practicing rather than violate their conscience. The bill also does not define a professional referral, he said.

“When a psychologist cannot provide a service requested by a client, such as same-sex relationship counseling or gender-transition therapy, the question is: what standard of referral is required?” Venzor said. “The practitioner must have, at the least, the ability to provide for an indirect, general referral.”

Darrell Klein, deputy director of the DHHS Division of Public Health, also testified against the bill. He said LB499 would contradict existing law by adding a protected class not recognized in federal law. In addition, he said, some behavioral health practitioners oversee other license holders, such as alcohol and drug counselors.

“This bill would hold those individuals to a code of conduct that it not in their professional license area,” Klein said.

The committee took no immediate action on LB499.

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