Dear ATSA members:
As those who follow ATSA’s list-serv may have noticed, the “National Psychologist” newspaper recently published an article that was critical of ATSA. By all appearances, neither the newspaper nor the psychologist cited in the article contacted ATSA to get our organization’s perspective. Much of the article contains inflammatory language (e.g., “ATSA is no different than a cancer”) and contains a number of assertions that the ATSA Board of Directors finds inaccurate. For example: “Initially they ask for reasonable legislation to address a class of crimes and criminals that are feared. With the legislation they seek board rules to prevent psychologists from practicing in the area. This is happening in multiple states and eventually will result in psychologists not being able to practice or do research in an area which psychology essentially pioneered."
I thought it would be helpful to include a response from Florida resident and ATSA Board member Jill Levenson. It appears below. In the bigger picture, ATSA’s Board of Directors has become increasingly aware of a number of situations in which individuals either do not understand our organization or are willing to speak out against it for their own reasons without seeking contact with us.
ATSA wants to reduce the harm of sexual abuse in collaboration with others by sharing knowledge and resources with others. Part of the solution is under way through ATSA Public Policy Consultant Alisa Klein's contacts with a number of outside agencies (see her report in this issue). Other means to address this effectively are currently in development (e.g., the development of an ad hoc committee to assess situations and explore solutions), and we will keep you posted through the Forum and the list-serv. Another concern is the perception of ATSA membership as de facto credentialing (see Robin McGinnis’s discussion of this in the summer issue of the ATSA Forum newsletter), and this continues to be a focus of the board's efforts as well. Dr. Levenson’s discussion of the National Psychologist article follows:
Hello List-servers --
I just read the article in National Psychologist, and I believe it greatly distorts both the content and intent of FATSA's proposal.
Here's the history from the perspective of a Florida ATSA Board member:
During the 2005 legislative session, FATSA participated with the FL Council Against Sexual Violence, a victim's advocacy group, in attempting to close up some loopholes in the conditions of sex offender probation that allowed some potentially dangerous molesters to have contact with kids. The bill modified the conditions of probation so that sex offenders could not have unsupervised contact with children or be allowed to live with children until a risk assessment could be done by a qualified practitioner (QP). ATSA was not mentioned in the legislation, nor were there ever any suggestions that QPs had to be ATSA members.
There was also no mention of ATSA standards or any requirement to adhere to them. The bill was simply, at that stage, intended to close a gap in the supervision conditions that potentially put children at risk. FATSA suggested that sex offenders should not have contact with children until an assessment and safety plan were completed by someone experienced to do so. Once the bill passed, the legislature then charged the licensing boards with defining the meaning of "Qualified practitioner."
At that point, FATSA drafted a proposal to advise the boards of what the minimal qualifications might be in order for someone to be considered qualified to conduct these assessments. In Florida, psychologists are regulated by a board of psych, and masters-level clinicians are regulated by a board of clinical social work, mental health counseling, and family therapy. Both boards were given the proposal. Keep in mind that the QP concept applies very narrowly in the law only to assessments done in cases in which sex offenders on probation are requesting contact with children. FATSA's proposal and its evolution can be accessed at www.floridaatsa.com <http://www.floridaatsa.com>. As you can see, FATSA never suggested that a QP must be an ATSA member, or adhere to ATSA standards, but simply suggested that QPs should ideally have a minimum amount of experience and training working with sex offenders in order to be considered competent to perform such as assessment. Along these same lines, FATSA suggested that QPs demonstrate a certain number of educational credits covering certain pertinent content. These credits were a combination of courses that most of us took in graduate school (e.g. human development, psychopathology) and continuing education credits that one would take if they were working with this special population (e.g. dynamics of abuse, risk assessment).
Just to clarify a misrepresentation in the article, FATSA did not recommend additional graduate coursework or additional supervised hours, but suggested that to be considered qualified to evaluate sex offenders, a licensed professional should have at least 2000 hours experience working with this population and a certain number of hours of graduate coursework and/or continuing education credits in certain pertinent topics related to sexual abuse and sex offenders.
It should also be noted that this definition of QP is a passive practice act, not a license or certification. In other words, there is no exam or cost involved to become a QP. However, if anyone ever sued a licensee or filed an ethics complaint to the licensure board in a case involving a sex offender assessment, the burden would be on the professional to prove that he or she is a "qualified practitioner" according to the definition of the licensing board.
In FATSA's proposal, ATSA standards were referenced only to demonstrate that there are nationally recognized standards in existence that offer guidelines for appropriate practice with this population. The suggested 2000 hours of experience came, as you might guess, from the ATSA criteria for clinical membership. Obviously, a certain number of hours of experience does not guarantee competence in anyone, but, simply put, the idea was that seasoned professionals with experience should be assessing risk in this potentially dangerous population. As for the CEU or training requirements, there was some debate among the FATSA board about how much to recommend, and what the content should be. But, the consensus was that QPs should have some amount of ongoing post-graduate training in a range of pertinent areas and we used those outlined in the ATSA standards as a model.
FATSA's proposal was simply a set of recommendations to help educate the licensure boards about the specialized training and experience that would best serve the interests of offenders and children. Eric Imhof and Leo Cotter worked tirelessly on this proposal and, with Denise Hughes Conlon and Chip Royall, traveled all over the state several times to attend licensure board meetings and answer questions. Eric is a licensed psychologist, and the others are licensed at the masters' level.
The FPA seemed to interpret FATSA's proposal as trying to exclude psychologists from this type of practice. The FPA then counter-proposed that ONLY licensed psychologists should be considered QPs, attempting to exclude masters' level practitioners from working with sex offenders.
(70% of Florida's SO providers, like in other states, are masters-level clinicians). Needless to say, the LCSW-LMHC-LMFT licensure board did not accept that. Again, the irony is that all of this was in response to a very narrowly focused piece of legislation that pertains only to sex offenders on probation requesting contact with kids, and would most likely affect only those professionals who are already working in sex offender treatment programs (and who are mostly masters level).
The end result has been that both licensure boards have accepted a modified version of FATSA's proposal. The psych board definition includes "demonstrated specialized knowledge" in certain pertinent topics without a number of credits attached. As well, the requirement for 2000 supervised hours of experience was dropped. The final definitions, as adopted by both licensure boards, are pasted below.
FATSA is satisfied with these definitions and believes they will help protect consumers of sexual abuse services and ensure that they receive competent clinical care.
How the FPA interpreted FATSA's efforts as an attempt to exclude psychologists from sex offender treatment is anyone's guess. Just for the record, the implication that FATSA or ATSA seeks to "prevent psychologists from practicing in the area" is, on its face, absurd.
Four of FATSA's board members who were involved in drafting this proposal are licensed psychologists. On the other hand, APA ethical standards, like NASW, prohibit practicing outside of one's expertise. It should go without saying that any practitioner without sufficient experience and training in treating a problem or population should not do so. This concept is widely accepted in the medical field. If you had a brain tumor, you wouldn't seek treatment from a dermatologist, even though he's a licensed M.D., would you? FATSA's motivation was simply to assist the legislature and licensure boards to establish some minimal qualifications and experience needed to best serve offender clients and protect children from potential harm.
Hope this helps clarify. Have a nice remainder of the weekend!
Psychology: 64B19-18.001 Qualifications to Evaluate and Treat Sex Offenders as a "Qualified Practitioner"
Prior to holding oneself out as a "Qualified Practitioner," eligible to evaluate and treat sex offenders, complete a "risk assessment" or prepare a "safety plan," as defined in Sections 947.005(9), (10), (11), and 948.001(6), (7), (8), Florida Statutes, a Florida licensed psychologist shall demonstrate specialized knowledge in the filed.
Specialized knowledge shall be demonstrated by completing education or training in each of the following areas:
(1) Theory and research regarding the etiology and diagnostic information regarding sexual deviance and associated conditions. Among the conditions that are the main focus of this area of practice emphasis are those such as:
(b) Impulse control disorders;
(d) Psychoactive substance abuse/dependence;
(e) General criminal behaviors; and
(f) Cognitive and developmental impairment of sexual offenders;
(2) Theory and research regarding evaluation, risk assessment and treatment of sex offenders;
(3) Theory and research regarding physiological measures of sexual arousal;
(4) Legal and ethical issues in the evaluation and treatment of sex offenders; and
(5) Adherence to the continuing psychological education requirements governing "Qualified Practitioners," set forth in Rule 64B19-13.003(5), F.A.C.
SocialWork, Mental Health Counseling, & Marriage & Family Therapy:
64B4-7.008 Requirements to be a Qualified Practitioner for completing Risk Assessments and Treatment of Sexual Offenders
(1) In order to be a qualified practitioner for completing risk assessments for sexual offenders, one must hold an active license as a clinical social worker, marriage and family therapist, or mental health counselor under Chapter 491, Florida Statutes.
(2) A qualified practitioner under this rule shall possess 55 hours of post degree graduate coursework or post degree continuing education in the following core areas:
(a) Etiology of sexual deviance;
(b) Evaluation/risk assessment and treatment of adult and adolescent sexual offenders that have established scientific bases;
(c) Evaluation/risk assessment and treatment of specialized populations of sexual offenders
(d) Physiological measures of sexual arousal;
(e) Sexual offender and DSM-IV diagnosis;
(f) Safety planning/Family Safety planning;
(g) Report writing;
(h) Legal and ethical issues in the evaluation and treatment of sexual offenders;
(i) Co-morbidity and substance abuse issues; and
(j) Relapse prevention.
(3) Have documented 2,000 hours of post degree experience in the evaluation and treatment of sexual offenders.
(4) A qualified practitioner under this rule must complete 20 hours of biennial continuing education in the assessment, evaluation and treatment of sexual offenders; relapse prevention; experience and training in working with victims; and related legal and ethical issues.
Jill S. Levenson, Ph.D., LCSW
Fort Lauderdale, FL [Back to Top]