NM psychologists wary of attempt to allow unaccredited graduates to practice

Updated: 12/30/2015 10:33 PM |
Created: 12/30/2015 9:16 PM

Caleb James, KOB Eyewitness News 4

Certain jobs take a lot of training -- and for very good reason. But an online college wants New Mexico to consider loosening the requirements for students who will eventually treat people with mental illnesses. 

That online school asked the state to consider licensing graduates of unaccredited psychology programs. The association that represents New Mexico psychology professionals says doing that is a bad idea.  

"I served in the Army as an active duty psychologist until 1979," said Thomas Sims, a PhD and practicing psychologist in New Mexico. 

After 40 years as a psychologist -- from the warfront to the home front -- Sims now represents the New Mexico Psychological Association. 

New Mexico is strict about what it takes to be licensed a psychologist -- you have to be a graduate of a nationally accredited school. 

But Sims says something brewing in Santa Fe is concerning. 

"What is being proposed is to change that law and say that you don't have to be a graduate of an accredited program," said Sims. 

An online school without American Psychological Association accreditation called Walden University has asked legislators to consider licensing psychologists from programs like theirs. 

"I think it's about them doing business," said Sims. "I think it's about them being able to have a market in New Mexico."

Sims says loosening standards would damage the quality of care available to New Mexicans, especially because New Mexico psychologists can qualify to prescribe medication. 

"When you have someone from an unaccredited program, you don't know what the quality of the program is," said Sims. "It just has not been evaluated by someone from the outside."

Sims served on a task force of Higher Education Department representatives, psychologists and Walden University representatives. Their report recommended not changing the law. 

"I think in New Mexico we need more psychologists," said Sims. "But I think the school should simply look for becoming accredited."

"That would solve the problem rather than changing the law in New Mexico," said Sims. 

KOB reached out to Walden University on Wednesday to ask why they would want to weaken New Mexico's licensure laws instead of seeking accreditation. Messages left for a representative after hours were not returned by airtime. 

No measures to change the law have been introduced yet, but we will update you. 

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