The COVID-19 pandemic has led to many MFTs transitioning to telehealth-based practice in order to abide by the recommended social distancing preventative measure, or to abide by mandatory stay-at-home orders. Moving from in-person therapy to tele-therapy may have been easy for some MFTs, especially those that have already incorporated telehealth into their pre-pandemic routines. For some MFTs, the transition was much more difficult, particularly those in states that had barriers to practicing using telehealth. AAMFT is happy to announce two recent state successes, after recent intervention from AAMFT, dedicated state MFT leaders and other MFTs.
Under normal circumstances, the telehealth policies that were recently promulgated by the Kentucky Board of Marriage and Family Therapists would be hardly an issue. Effective January 2020, LMFTs would need to obtain 15 hours of telehealth training from a Board-approved source in order to use telehealth legally. This rule had also previously left out MFT associates, which meant that an MFT associate could not practice telehealth at all. To further complicate things, in order to practice tele-supervision, the supervisor had to complete the 15 hours of training. Again, under normal circumstances, an LMFT would have time to take the 15 hours of training, to schedule around it, and continue to see clients in-person to earn an income and continue care. Given the public health crisis, and the recommendation to socially distance, this rule presented as a cumbersome barrier that could have resulted in client abandonment and no way to earn an income while the economy is crashing.
AAMFT worked with other MFTs, and the AAMFT Kentucky Network, to have this rule changed. AAMFT wrote two letters and attended two separate licensing board meetings to advocate for this rule to be lifted during this state of emergency. During the first licensing board meeting, the board unanimously voted to allow MFT associates to practice using telehealth, but the Board Members reinforced the 15 hour training, and applied it to associates. While that change was helpful, AAMFT sought to have the 15 hour restriction completely lifted so that LMFTs and associates would not have to budget for an expensive training course during a public health crisis. It was during the second emergency-scheduled licensing board meeting that the 15 hour training requirement was finally lifted. All of the changes in Kentucky regarding telehealth during COVID-19 can be found in this Memo from the Board.
Alabama MFTs faced very similar barriers: in order for a licensee to practice using telehealth, they must complete 15 hours of training on the topic. This rule also applied to associates; however, supervision presented as a major challenge in Alabama. Supervisors needed to take an additional 9 hours of training on the topic of tele-supervision if they wished to supervise virtually. Unfortunately, only two (2) supervisors in the entire state had taken the 9 hours of training to be able to tele-supervise, which would have left associates with very few options to practice virtually and properly socially-distanced.
The same reasoning behind lifting the 15 hour training in Kentucky applies to Alabama. AAMFT worked with other MFTs, and the Alabama Association for Marriage and Family Therapy to submit letters to the licensing board to urge them to lift the 15 hour requirement, as well as the restriction on tele-supervision. The Alabama Board of Examiners in Marriage and Family Therapy scheduled an emergency board meeting to address our concerns, and quickly voted to waive these requirements. Success! All of the details regarding telehealth during COVID-19 in Alabama can be found in this Memo.