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Mental and behavioral health

Psychology advocates press Congress to support the psychology workforce and expand access to behavioral health care

Advocacy summit advances policies to promote equity and address discriminatory insurance practices.

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American Psychological Association. (2022, April 7). Psychology advocates press Congress to support the psychology workforce and expand access to behavioral health care.

People of color and the U.S. Capitol building

On March 28, over 200 psychologists from 49 states met with their respective members of Congress as part of the Advocacy Summit on Advancing Health Equity and Access to Psychological Services hosted by APA Services. These psychologists, one third of whom were new to advocacy, took action to preserve and expand key psychology workforce programs, facilitate coverage of services provided by doctoral-level psychology trainees to expand access to care and support the growth of the psychology workforce, and increase insurers’ compliance with federal parity law. 

Even before COVID-19, the United States lacked an adequate supply of mental and behavioral health providers, including psychologists (PDF, 723KB), with shortages expected to worsen significantly by 2030. A strong mental and behavioral health workforce is critical to combating the long-term impact of the pandemic and remedying longstanding access gaps. 

Summit attendees asked their members of Congress to support the following initiatives:

  • Reauthorization of and increased funding for the Graduate Psychology Education program, which supports the interprofessional training and placement of psychologists; and reauthorization and increased funding for the Minority Fellowship Program, which supports training for psychologists to improve mental and behavioral health outcomes for people from diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds.
  • Medicare reimbursement of services provided by psychology interns and post-doctoral trainees under the supervision of a licensed psychologist.
  • Support for state oversight of insurers’ compliance with mental health insurance parity law through the Parity Implementation Assistance Act (H.R. 3753/S. 1962), and establishment of authority for the Department of Labor to impose civil monetary penalties on insurers for noncompliance with federal parity law.

A copy of all materials used in the summit and a video recording of the complete summit can be found on the Action Center webpage.

Advocacy summit highlights

APA President Frank C. Worrell, PhD; APA CEO Arthur C. Evans, Jr., PhD; and APA Chief Advocacy Officer Katherine McGuire, MS, opened the Advocacy summit with an overview of the mental health crisis exacerbated by COVID-19 and a reminder that attendees’ visits with their elected officials were “not the finish line, but an important first step in advancing” APA Services’ advocacy goals. 

Carrying out “everyday advocacy”

Advocacy Coordinating Committee Chair Sharon Berry, PhD, ABPP, led a panel of diverse psychology advocacy leaders who each shared their unique perspectives, reflections, and experiences on how to integrate state and federal advocacy into their daily lives and practices. The panel included APA Past President Rosie Phillips Davis, PhD, ABPP (2019); counseling psychology doctoral student Joey White, MA; and Texas Psychological Association Past President Megan Mooney, PhD. From judicial advocacy to community-based advocacy, the panel shined a light on how they wear the psychologist “advocate” hat every day. “Do something that is small… part of what makes us scared is when we go too big, and think that we’re going to change the world… You’re not going to solve it overnight. What you must do, though, is something, and not do nothing,” said Phillips Davis on how to advocate with time constraints. To get involved with APA Advocacy’s news, events, and alerts, visit the Stay Informed webpage.

Promoting equitable, effective access to psychological services

To assist participants in their meetings with their representatives and senators the following day, a panel of speakers provided an overview of the challenges facing the psychological workforce, the heightened demand for mental and behavioral health services and ongoing challenges with insurance coverage denials during the COVID-19 pandemic, and APA Services’ ongoing advocacy efforts related to supporting the practice of psychology. Panelists included subject-matter experts on psychological practice APA Past President Antonio E. Puente, PhD, (2017) and APA Senior Special Counsel Alan Nessman, JD. APA Senior Director of Congressional and Federal Affairs Scott Barstow, MSc, moderated the panel.

Interactive advocacy training and skills building

APA Advocacy staff also provided attendees with a more intensive review of the specific requests they took to Capitol Hill offices the next day. APA Advocacy staff provided a role-play demonstration to prepare advocates for their meetings with congressional staff. APA concluded this segment of the training with a presentation by APA’s social media strategy manager, Christine Delaney, MBA, and APA’s director for grassroots engagement, Doris Parfaite-Claude, MPP, on communicating effectively with members of Congress directly and via social media.

Honoring congressional champions

During the summit, APA Services also honored four congressional leaders who have prominently supported the policy goals of the profession and science of psychology over the past year with the APA Services Congressional Champion award—Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Mike Crapo (R-ID), and Representatives Paul Tonko (D-NY) and Lauren Underwood (D-IL). Wyden and Crapo are the chair and ranking minority member, respectively, of the Senate Finance Committee, and they are leading a series of hearings focusing on the mental health and substance use disorder crisis with a goal of developing a bipartisan legislative response. Senator Wyden has been a champion for access to crisis care through legislation such as the CAHOOTS Act (S. 764) and for access to services for the nation’s youth through legislation such as the Mental Health Services for Students Act (S. 1841). Senator Crapo is an advocate for expanded access to mental health treatment in rural and frontier communities. He is a cosponsor of legislation that created the landmark 9-8-8 suicide prevention lifeline that is expected to go online later this summer.  Tonko has been a champion on mental health policy issues since his time in the New York legislature prior to coming to Congress, and he is sponsoring key legislation to strengthen Medicaid coverage of behavioral health services such as the Medicaid Bump Act (H.R. 3450) and the Medicaid Reentry Act (H.R. 955). Underwood is “a rising star in Congress, respected on both sides of the aisle as a leading voice on mental health issues with a passion for helping our society’s most vulnerable populations,” as noted by Worrell. She has made determined efforts to improve Black maternal health through her introduction of the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act (H.R. 959), and has also worked towards expanding access to mental and behavioral health care services and addressing our nation’s gun violence epidemic.

Celebrating psychologist advocacy leaders

APA honored several leading psychology advocates whose leadership continues to have a positive impact for psychologists. 

Megan Mooney, PhD, federal advocacy coordinator for the Texas Psychological Association, was granted APA Services’ Federal Advocacy Award for her judicial advocacy and leadership in advancing the profession of psychology, health equity and human rights. Mooney was recognized for her advocacy leadership on behalf of LGBTQ children, adolescents, and families, most recently in response to political attacks on Texas’ transgender communities and joining the lawsuit in Texas that led to halting a statewide directive from the governor to report the parents of transgender minors to state authorities if it appeared the minors were receiving gender-affirming care. In her remarks, Mooney spoke to her first-hand experience observing the “negative impact on my clients and people I love and care about” that these attacks are having.

Derek Phillips, PsyD, president-elect of the Illinois Psychological Association, was awarded a presidential citation by APA President Frank Worrell, PhD. He was honored for his advocacy leadership on expanding the training and licensure of psychologists to prescribe medication, for his service to underserved populations, and for his dedication and involvement with the field of psychology as a whole, having served on a wide variety of boards and divisions at both the state and national level. Phillips shared his perspective of advocacy as simultaneously “personal, professional, and political.”

Martin Pierre, PhD, president of the Massachusetts Psychological Association, was awarded a presidential citation for his ongoing work around achieving equity in mental health access and treatment and reaching communities of color in the Boston area. Pierre has shown outstanding dedication to multicultural counseling, youth mental health care and mentoring, and services for underserved populations. In his remarks, Pierre spoke to his experiences coming from a community “riddled with violence” and spoke of his passion for creating a pipeline for future psychologists of color. 

APA Services honored the Maine Psychological Association with its State and Federal Advocacy Award for their “seamless connection” of state legislative efforts to similar federal advocacy, particularly on issues related to scope of practice and reimbursement for psychologists’ services, as well as human rights issues such as protection of marginalized populations, including transgender youth. Maine is a frequent participant in APA Advocacy events and calls to action to ensure that their state advocates are also mobilized for federal policy.

The Diversity and Cultural Competence Committee and the Social Justice Committee of the Florida Psychological Association were granted a new annual award recognizing exemplary advocacy in the states to advance psychology in the public interest. This was for their efforts to increase cultural competence in the clinical practice, research consultation, and education of psychology throughout the state of Florida, as well as their efforts to respond to heightened stress experienced in marginalized communities due to recent police killings of unarmed Black and Latino men.

For more information, contact Scott Barstow.