The West Virginia Legislature is studying whether to require psychologists to have a doctorate degree.
It is a tough decision, considering it is difficult to find able medical professionals in the rural parts of the state, whether it be a physician or a psychologist.
West Virginia is the only state that licenses people with master's degrees as psychologists. On the Legislature's agenda for the upcoming 60-day regular session that began Wednesday is a proposal to require a more advanced graduate degree, a doctorate, as a minimum standard for future licenses.
Slightly more than half of the licensed psychologists practicing in West Virginia are master's-level, according to the state board that oversees the profession.
About 15 of West Virginia's 55 counties have only master's-level psychologists, including Hancock County, while another 11 have no licensed psychologists.
That is disturbing considering the National Alliance on Mental Illness gave West Virginia an "F'' in its most recent grading of states in 2009. The report cited such factors as scarce or non-existent acute and long-term care, overcrowded state-run hospitals and waiting lists for services.
The West Virginia Board of Examiners of Psychologists, which oversees licensing, supports the current standard. Besides requiring degrees from accredited schools and at least 80 percent of the coursework from on-campus classes, the board also has master's-level providers practice for five years under supervision.
Psychologists, like other medical providers, need to have an appropriate level of education.
But there is a shortage of licensed psychologists across the country. Federal officials are considering allowing master's-degree holders to treat veterans. There are 14 states that allow holders of a master's degree in psychology to provide some behavioral services.
West Virginia is losing federal dollars because there are so few psychologists with a doctorate degree.
That is helping to limit the number of psychologists with a doctorate degree from setting up practices in the Mountain State. The majority of psychologists in the state with a doctorate degree are concentrated in urban areas.
The Legislature should require a doctorate degree for psychologists. State residents need to be assured they are receiving care from professionals with the highest available education and training.