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State lawmakers introduce bill to train more mental health professionals, as pandemic measure is set to end

(left to right) Dr. Carol Podgorski, Maria Cristalli, Sen. Samra Brouk and Assemblymember Harry Bronson photographed at Hillside Children's Center.
Racquel Stephen
(left to right) Dr. Carol Podgorski, Maria Cristalli, Sen. Samra Brouk and Assemblymember Harry Bronson photographed at Hillside Children's Center to announce a new bill that will train more mental health professionals.

The demand for mental health services has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, but New York State law limits diagnosis and treatment to physicians, psychologists and licensed clinical social workers.

A temporary pandemic measure expanded that list to include licensed mental health counselors, marriage and family therapists, and psychoanalysts under supervision, but it will expire on June 24.

State and county leaders are now pushing for passage of a new bill that will give these exempted professions the ability to diagnose and treat patients permanently. Proponents say it will increase access to high quality care.

Assemblymember Harry Bronson said the new legislation is not lowering the bar, it's increasing the requirements for these mastered licensed professions.

“We're not lowering the bar, we're keeping the bar the same to make sure that we have safe, quality care in the mental health arena,” said Bronson, who cosponsored the bill with Sen. Samra Brouk.

Bronson said the bill will ensure members of these three professions have the educational and clinical training to perform these duties. Candidates will have three years to meet the requirements, which includes 60 semester credits and clinical hours to be qualified.

"This will help with that logjam of people not able to get into care,” Bronson said, adding about 10,000 additional professionals to the field.

This expansion is particularly timely now. Youth suicide rates have been rising for a decade, and more young people are being exposed to racism and gun violence.

“We have to help our young people get through those decision making, understand conflict resolution, understand those stressors in their lives, and figure it out,” he said.

Brouk said the modernization of these professions, with this new legislation, is right on time.

“We're in unprecedented times, we're seeing unprecedented crises, and therefore we need to act and create unprecedence,” she said.

The legislation has passed both houses and is waiting for the governor’s signature.