Jerry Kopel

"The old ways are the best". I'm not sure whether that was said by Yoda when he met with Luke in a Star Wars episode, or by Rep. Kay Alexander (R), when she sponsored HB 1283. Her bill restores the old social workers licensing AND disciplinary board. It also ends the ability of 2,542 unlicensed psychotherapists to practice.

Who is pushing HB 1283? A Social Workers Association that doesn't want disciplinary decisions against social workers made by a Grievance Board that includes other psychotherapists. Under HB 1283, there would be six social workers and three "representatives of the general public" handling discipline.

There presently is a Social Workers Board that examines and licenses social workers. They lost jurisdiction over discipline in 1988 because they were NOT disciplining social workers who were violating the law.

The Colorado legislature decided in 1988 to form a Grievance Board composed of social workers, psychologists, professional counselors, marriage and family therapists, and public members to handle discipline of the professionals as well as set standards for and discipline unlicensed psychotherapists.

A 1991 Dept. of Regulatory Agencies (DORA) Sunset report explains what happened prior to 1988. The Psychology and Social Workers boards "were found to be less than aggressive in pursuing disciplinary actions against their peers. The Psychology Board pursued ten actions during a 26 year period (1961-87). The Social Workers Board pursued three actions in a 12 year period (1975-87)."

No license was ever revoked or suspended by the pre-1988 Social Workers Board. No license was ever suspended by the pre-1988 Psychology Board and one license had been revoked. I'm including psychologists in these comments because their association had a "late bill" introduced Feb. 21st to also remove themselves from the state Grievance Board. What is revealed here about the social workers intentions goes ditto for the psychologists.

Has the Grievance Board worked? In July of 1995, DORA released "An analysis of complaints filed against mental health professionals in Colorado". In the back of the report is a list of 133 individuals by name against whom disciplinary action was taken between July, 1988 through December, 1994. Some persons had more than one type of violation proven.

A numerical breakdown was four marriage/family therapists, three professional counselors, 16 social workers, 47 psychologists, and 63 unlicensed psychotherapists. Since then, from 1995 through 1996, the Grievance Board has disciplined 6 psychologists, 7 social workers, 5 professional counselors, one marriage and family therapist, and 18 unlicensed psychotherapists.

So far the score, if this was football: Social Workers, 1975-87, "three" and Grievance Board, 1988-96, "twenty-three" including 2 suspensions and 2 injunctions. Psychologists, 1961-87, "ten", and Grievance Board, 1988-96, "fifty-three", including 3 revocations, 2 suspensions, and 3 licenses surrendered.

Have you been aware of news stories over several decades about the sexual vulnerability of patients abused by psychotherapists? There have been 47 decisions by the Grievance Board in which sexual acts were charged. The numbers are: Unlicensed, 28; psychologists, 12; social workers, 4; counselors, 2; marriage/family therapists, one.

In 1994, Colorado's Grievance Board legislation became "model legislation" sponsored by the Council of State Governments in their 1994 volume, page 138, entitled "Psychotherapy Grievance Board". DORA officials inform me at least six states have adopted the model law.

Colorado's Grievance Board has jurisdiction over 2,542 unlicensed psychotherapists who are subject to standards of practice, penalties for civil and criminal violations and loss of ability to practice. They total 30 percent of 8403 practicing psychotherapists in Colorado under the board's jurisdiction.

An up-to-now "hidden" agenda of HB 1283 on social workers and the psychologists bill is to force the unlicensed to become licensed. HB 1283 as amended in House Health Committee provides that anyone performing two or more of the services in the four pages used to define what social work is MUST be licensed by the Social Workers Board.

The litigation costs on that one issue between the proposed board and the unlicensed will be tremendous and are nowhere discussed in the legislative fiscal note prepared prior to the Health Committee amendments.

If HB 1283 becomes law, the board plans to have control over school social workers, public agency social workers and social workers presently licensed under the Grievance Board. That's 4,500 people. Add 2,500 unlicensed psychotherapists and you have 7,000 people.

HB 1283, as amended, puts the Social Workers Board directly under the executive director of DORA instead of under the division of registrations. The executive director's job is general policy, not direct oversight over 7,000 present and potential licensees. This amendment guarantees no one can really watch what a Social Workers Board does in future years.

The Grievance Board and the various psychotherapy boards connected to it are scheduled for review, repeal, or reenactment in 1998 by the legislature. The DORA research teams are already preparing reports which will be ready by September, if not before.

So why the sudden rush to move social workers and psychologists out from under the Grievance Board? Is something terrible going to be divulged by September that they and their lobbyists know about?

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Bringing you up-to-date on bills previously mentioned in this column: HB 1243 by Rep. Schauer raising consumer interests rates to 45 percent passed on third reading in the House 37 to 28. Six Democrats voted for the bill and provided the margin of passage. They were Reps. Dyer, Reeser, Takis, Tate, Udall, S. Williams. Ten Republicans voted to kill the bill: Reps. Epps, George, Johnson, Kreutz, Lawrence, Morrison, Sinclair, Sullivant, Tool, Tucker.


Jerry Kopel writes a column for the Statesman based on 22 years past experience as a state legislator.

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