Psychologists and Prescription Privileges

Dr. Lorin Bradbury, author of "Treasures from an Old Book, Ancient Wisdom for a Modern World".

by Dr. Lorin Bradbury

Question: Dr. Bradbury, recently I called and asked about a prescription for medication. I am still somewhat confused as to why you can’t prescribe medication. Maybe you can explain why in your newspaper column because there probably are others like me who don’t understand.

The simplest answer is that the State legislature has not granted psychologists prescription privileges. I believe as of this date, only two states and the Territory of Guam have granted psychologists prescription privileges. Also, in the Air Force, psychologists have been prescribing for a number of years. In each of the jurisdictions that have granted prescription privileges and in the Air Force, the psychologists are required to receive additional training in prescribing. To the best of my knowledge, there have been no malpractice issues with those who have obtained prescription privileges.

People often confuse psychologists and psychiatrist, so a description of both disciplines may help explain why psychiatrists can prescribe, and psychologists cannot. Psychiatrists receive medical training as a medical doctor (M.D.) or doctor of osteopathic medicine (D.O.), and complete a residency in psychiatry.

Since psychiatrists have medical training, they are granted prescription privileges by the jurisdiction in which they are licensed, allowing them to prescribe medications. Though psychiatrists have training in psychotherapy, their role in modern medicine often involves diagnosing and treating mental illnesses with the use of psychotropic medications.

Psychologists, on the other hand, have graduate training in psychology, and have obtained a doctoral degree (Ph.D., Psy.D, or Ed.D.). Graduate training leading to licensure as a psychologist, usually includes approximately four years of graduate training, one year of internship, and one year of supervised post-doctoral training (Residency).

Similar to psychiatrists, psychologists diagnose and treat mental illnesses. Psychologists have advanced training in counseling and psychotherapy, but what clearly defines psychologists from all other mental health professionals, is the ability to administer and interpret psychological tests. Psychiatrists and other mental health professionals often use the results of these tests in refining diagnoses and treating their patients.

Another reason psychologists have not been granted prescription privileges in most jurisdictions is that for years, many psychologists had little or no interest in prescribing. In recent years, as medications used to treat mental disorders have improved, many psychologists have come to the conclusion that they could benefit their patients by being able to prescribe and not having to refer their patients for prescriptions. I suspect with time psychologists will be granted prescription privileges within their scope of practice. However, it may not be while I am still practicing.

Lorin L. Bradbury, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Bethel. For appointments, he can be reached at 543-3266. If you have questions that you would like Dr. Bradbury to answer in the Delta Discovery, please send them to The Delta Discovery, P.O. Box 1028, Bethel, AK 99559, or e-mail them to [email protected].

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