A Politico Calls Herself a Psychologist, Protected Under the First Amendment

What’s in a name? Professional psychologists are bracing for change after a Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling undermined the state’s official definition related to official state licenses for practicing psychology.

By Rhonda FanningJune 9, 2016 12:53 pm

Licensing officials in Texas thought they knew what a psychologist was. But a federal court disagrees.

This difference in opinion has opened up the very definition of the term. So, what does it mean to be a psychologist and who gets to say if someone is – or isn’t– one?

Alana Rocha, reporter for the Texas Tribune, says a state Senate seat up for grabs brought this issue to light: Mary Louise Serafine, an Austin-area attorney, said on her campaign website that she was a psychologist.

“That phrase caught the eye of the Texas Psychological Association, who then filed a complaint with the licensing board,” she says, “and ran it up to the AG’s office who issued a cease-and-desist for her to stop calling herself a psychologist without license to do so.”

Serafine took the phrase off her site, Rocha says, but filed a lawsuit based on the First Amendment – the freedom to call herself what she wanted and what she thought she was. As an academic, she had served on psychology faculties at Yale and Vassar College.

“While she didn’t have a license and never intended to get one, frankly, because the requirements require certain courses that she didn’t take,” Rocha says, “but she feels like she’s a psychologist in the truest sense – that’s somebody who studies the mind and behavior.”

What you’ll hear in this segment:

– How political speech is protected and how this phrase could fall under that definition

– What this ruling means in terms of using titles like psychologist and how licensing factors into that

– Why licensed psychologists came out against Serafine and what legislation she plans to file related to this issue