Psychologists Urge Mass. To Join Interstate Compact

Psychotherapy session, woman talking to his psychologist in the studio

Photo: lorenzoantonucci / iStock / Getty Images

BOSTON (State House News Service) - Confronting a worsening mental health crisis and a shortage of care providers, Massachusetts-based psychologists urged Beacon Hill lawmakers Tuesday to allow the commonwealth to join an interstate compact designed to expand access to telepsychology care across state lines.

Nearly 40 states are part of the Psychology Interjurisdictional Compact, which began operating in 2019 and streamlines the process for providers to apply for a certificate to practice beyond their home states, including through telehealth and temporary face-to-face care.

Massachusetts is the only New England state that has yet to join the compact, a status that would change under proposals from Rep. Ruth Balser and Sen. Cindy Creem (H 2989/ S 1980).

The compact says its model helps fill gaps in mental health care access and argues that telehealth services are "as effective" as going to a psychologist's office in person, according to materials provided by Balser's office. Psychology treatments, including talking, work well through digital modes since other medical equipment isn't needed, unlike in other health care settings, according to the materials.

Without the compact agreement here, psychologists are unable to ensure continuity of care for patients during some of their most stressful life transitions, such as when they move out of Massachusetts or attend an out-of-state college and must connect with a new licensed provider, they told the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight.

"Research consistently shows that effective therapy is all about the relationship," Aimee Yermish, a licensed psychologist, said at the hearing Tuesday. "I am being forced to unethically abandon my clients, knowing full well that many of them may never be able to follow through and find a new therapist."

Christine Runyan, a clinical psychologist and the founder of a company focused on providing flexible telehealth care services, sought to counter potential opposition to joining the compact.

"You might hear concerns about this introducing too much competition or decreasing market share or professional liability for Massachusetts-based psychologists," said Runyan, who also acknowledged safety concerns over offering services across state boundaries. "And I think there is massive evidence of unmet need, especially in certain populations," such as adolescents.

As Runyan has watched patients move out of state and experience serious mental health challenges, she said it's felt "just shy" of a breach of ethical practice to be unable to keep providing care to them.

Written By Alison Kuznitz/SHNS

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