SPRINGFIELD — Dr. Cynthia Clark said it has been difficult during her 25 years practicing psychology to watch and wait for some of her clients to receive treatment.

The Carbondale psychologist said she supports a recent measure that would allow psychologists to prescribe medication like psychiatrists do now because there is not enough access to psychiatric care in her area.

“I’ve done all kinds of things to try to find ways to get people the help that they need — and support them while they wait to get the help that they need,” Clark said.

The measure would allow psychologists to prescribe drugs for treating mental, emotional and psychological illnesses. It was approved earlier by a Senate panel and is likely get a vote in the full Senate in April.

Yet the Illinois Psychiatric Society and the Illinois State Medical Society, among others, are opposed.

Dr. William N. Werner, president of the latter group, said rural areas of the state need more trained psychiatrists available. Psychiatrists, unlike psychologists, also are physicians.

“In the case of psychologists wanting prescriptive authority to write for psychotropic drugs, we know from studies from the (American Medical Association) that psychologists don’t go out and practice in the rural areas, and they would not fill in for the psychiatrists who are in rural areas,” Werner said previously.

State Sen. Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, who sponsored the legislation, could not be reached for comment.

Jagannathan Srinivasaraghavan, professor emeritus of psychiatry at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine, said the training for psychologists and psychiatrists is very different, beginning even with the undergraduate degrees, where psychologists might not have a required biology or chemistry course.

“Basically we are talking about inadequately trained people to be prescribing medication,” Srinivasaraghavan said.

He said that drugs can affect many different organs, causing reactions for which psychologists might not be prepared.

However, Dr. Jeffrey Kellogg, an independent practice clinical child psychologist in Carbondale, said a collaborative effort between psychologists and primary care physicians will remain under the measure.

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“We’re not trying to compete with anybody,” said Kellogg said. “And given the difficulty anybody has seeing a psychiatrist, I don’t think we’re going to be changing their workload whatsoever. We’re just going to be able to provide more services to more people.”

The measure would require that psychologists take additional training as a two-year master’s degree in psychopharmacology followed by a year’s supervision from a physician.

Currently, New Mexico and Louisiana are the only two states that allow prescriptive authority for psychologists.

“I am a person who has visited every country in the world,” Srinivasaraghavan said. “To my knowledge, other than the United States, there is not even any other place that allows psychologists to be prescribing medication.”

The legislation is Senate Bill 2187.


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