Alaska Moves to Mandate Background Checks for Psychologists

By Michael Klazema on 2/21/2015

There may soon be a new law on the books in Alaska, requiring all professional psychologists working in the state to undergo a background check. According to a report from the Associated Press, the Alaska legislature is considering a bill that would make background checks a mandatory component of the licensing process.

It might surprise some people to hear that not all practicing psychologists do have go through background checks to obtain a license. After all, most states require doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals to go through criminal screening processes prior to being allowed to practice. These policies are in place to protect the safety and well being of patients, as well as to ensure a doctor-patient relationship that can be based on trust.

But while a relationship between a psychologist and a patient is absolutely one where trust is key, Alaska laws don't currently require practicing psychologists to face background checks. That's contrary to the desires of the state Board of Psychologists and Psychological Associate Examiners, though. Indeed, one board member interviewed by the Associated Press said that the board has been working for "several years" to make criminal background checks a standard part of the licensing process. So far, they've come up empty. That's because the Alaska Board of Psychologists and Psychological Associate Examiners isn't completely in charge of how psychologists get licensed in the state. In order to conduct background checks on applicants, the board needs state approval. In other words, the board needs the state legislature to pass a law expressly calling for background checks to be added to the licensing process.

From the looks of it, though, the board's wishes could finally be coming to fruition. A new bill currently working its way through the legislature would finally make psychologist background checks a reality in Alaska. The Senate Labor and Commerce Committee recently reviewed the bill and approved it for consideration by the full Senate. If passed, this new law would bring a much-needed overhaul to a system that has far too much potential for failure. The current system for licensing psychologists to practice in Alaska relies primarily on an honor system, asking applicants to disclose their criminal history. Alaska also checks a psychologist's license in other states, to make sure the practitioner is in good standing


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