Regents expand mental health professionals who can diagnose


ALBANY — Mental health counselors will be able to diagnose their clients starting Tuesday, in a bid to speed up the wait time before those in distress can get help.

Until now, only psychiatrists and other high-level mental health professionals could diagnose a condition, like PTSD, after which other counselors could provide treatment. But there are very few more specialized professionals and counselors have asked permission to diagnose their patients so they can start treatment earlier. Diagnosis is often critical because insurers require it to pay for the care patients need.

The state’s Board of Regents on Monday approved a new rule to extend diagnostic privileges to many other professionals. Licensed mental health counsellors, licensed marriage and family therapists and licensed psychoanalysts will be allowed to make a diagnosis under supervision.

The supervision that will be needed to diagnose will usually mean their employer. Those working alone in private practice will not be granted diagnostic privileges.

Proponents said this should have an immediate impact on long waiting lists for help. It greatly increases the number of professionals who can diagnose a new patient.

“Children and adults are waiting months for a diagnostic appointment,” supporter Andrea Smyth said after the vote. “It could be weeks instead of months. And I look forward to when it’s days. You know, when you break your ankle, we don’t make you wait weeks for an x-ray.

Diagnosis is the crucial step in obtaining effective care – and sometimes, in obtaining any care.

“Often insurance won’t pay for services until there’s a diagnosis,” she said. “I’ve worked on this legislation for over 20 years and I’m thrilled.”

Smyth retired on July 1 from his role as CEO of the NYS Coalition for Children’s Behavioral Health and is now running for state senate.

In about 46 other states, counselors, therapists and psychoanalysts are allowed to make diagnoses under supervision. Smyth suspects that many New York mental health professionals leave the state after graduating because of this.

“We may be encouraging more people to stay now,” she said.

The rule requires practitioners to have a 60-hour master’s degree with 12 hours of clinical content. Those who don’t have all 12 hours can go back to school now to take those classes. Then they can diagnose under supervision, which usually means they discuss the case with a supervisor.

Regent Catherine Collins said after the mass shooting in Buffalo it was clear there were not enough practitioners to diagnose and treat the sick.

“We definitely need more mental health people in Buffalo…and across the country,” she said.

Regent Frances Wills agreed.

“We go through a crisis every day,” she said. “Without mental health services, people are self-medicating and that has caused huge problems.”


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