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Family Therapists Can Diagnose Nonmedical Disorders, TX Court Rules

By George Khoury, Esq. on March 02, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Marriage and family therapists in Texas can breathe a sigh of relief now that the state's supreme court has ruled in their favor. The Texas Therapist's Board was sued by the Texas Medical Association in 2008 in order to prevent therapists from diagnosing patients. After nearly a decade, the case may now finally be over.

Last week's ruling overturned the lower trial and appeal courts' decisions, which found that allowing therapists to diagnose patients allowed therapists to engage in the unauthorized practice of medicine. The Texas Supreme Court found that the medical association was being overly semantic by not allowing therapists to diagnose patients. In practical terms, the types of issues diagnosed by therapists generally fall within their area of expertise, and the issues are in a different category of conditions not exclusively diagnosable by medical doctors.

What Can a Therapist Diagnose?

While diagnosing medical conditions remains the province of medical doctors, the therapist's board successfully argued that licensed therapists only needed to diagnose emotional, behavioral, and mental conditions. Examples of these conditions include: anxiety, anorexia, depression, and addiction. Typically, most state laws require a medical professional of any kind be licensed in order to provide any types of diagnosis in order to avoid the grave danger of misdiagnosis.

The board argued, and the court found, that therapists need to be able to diagnose these types of conditions in order to be able to find the appropriate treatment methods or approaches, and also to know when medical intervention may be necessary.

Details of the Decision

As the Texas Supreme Court noted, the lower courts' decisions made Texas the only state in the country where licensed therapists could not diagnose patients within their specialties. While the court found this, in and of itself, telling, the court did not consider it. After all, when has Texas been known for caring about what the rest of the country thinks about it. The court did consider the fact, and found compelling, that chiropractors' rights to diagnose were not being challenged.

Generally, the case focused on resolving a conflict between the Texas laws authorizing marriage and family therapists to do their jobs and the Texas laws authorizing medical doctors to do their jobs. In the end, the court needed to find a balance that would allow both MDs and MFTs to happily co-exist and serve the public.

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