Georgia Senate bill expedites licensing of marriage and family therapists

State Sen. Larry Walker, who sponsored SB 373, said the legislation would support Georgia's mental health workforce. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

State Sen. Larry Walker, who sponsored SB 373, said the legislation would support Georgia's mental health workforce. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

The state Senate passed a bill Tuesday that aims to cut through the red tape slowing down the licensing of some therapists, a move supporters say will help close the gap in mental health services.

As Georgia grapples with its mental health crisis, workers in the system have struggled to stay afloat, mostly due to low pay and burnout. An effort to address another contributing factor to staffing issues — lengthy delays in licensing — has passed the state Senate.

Senate Bill 373, which received unanimous support, would allow marriage and family therapists who have practiced lawfully in other states to move more quickly through the licensure process in Georgia. So long as an applicant holds a valid license, is considered in good standing with another state, does not have a criminal record, is a legal resident and pays the necessary fees, the expedited license should be issued within 30 days.

Sen. Larry Walker, a Republican from Perry who sponsored the bill, commended Gov. Brian Kemp for including additional funding for mental health services in his proposed budget. But he said the missing piece to improving the system is addressing the workforce needs, and without access to professional care, “all these efforts that we’ve done really will be in vain.”

“Georgia has had serious problems with access to mental health care and a shortage of qualified mental health professionals at a time when demand for services is increasing,” he said.

Despite completing a standardized national exam, some therapists who have moved to Georgia have had to take additional courses, or repeat courses, to practice in the state. Sen. Sonya Halpern, a Democrat from Atlanta who spoke in support of the bill, said therapists have been delayed for up to a year while awaiting licensure.

The bill also aims to expand and support the broader mental health workforce, not just hospital workers at state psychiatric institutions serving the most severely mentally ill.

About the Author