Tara Wallace: Kansas lawmakers axed diversity training plan for psychologists, but the need persists (Column)

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Note: The Lawrence Times runs opinion columns written by community members with varying perspectives on local issues. Occasionally, we’ll also pick up columns from other nearby news outlets. These pieces do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Times staff.

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The Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of widening the conversation about how public policies affect the day-to-day lives of people throughout our state. Tara D. Wallace is a licensed clinician and trauma therapist in Topeka.

The decision of Kansas lawmakers to reject diversity training for psychologists is extremely concerning for me personally as a social worker and chair of the National Association of Social Workers’ Social and Economic Justice & Peace Committee.

The NASW Code of Ethics states: “Social workers should obtain education about and demonstrate understanding of the nature of social diversity and oppression with respect to race, ethnicity, national origin, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age, marital status, political belief, religion, immigration status, and mental or physical ability.”

SB 387 outlines the regulations required for psychologists licensed to practice in the state of Kansas. Every 24 months, those individuals must engage in continued learning, as new research, experiments, and treatment methodologies are proven almost daily.

They may attend conferences or workshops, take classes, and gain certifications to become subject matter experts. They may participate in research to improve their profession’s methods. 

This continued learning — evaluating behavior, interpreting, writing articles, testing theories, and analyzing patterns — helps psychologists inform the general public. The result of these efforts leads to psychologists being seen as experts by educators, courts and government agencies.

What is not recognized in this equation is people.

I am not referring to the psychologists. I am referring to the research subjects and the patients. Not things. Not animals. Not widgets. Actual human beings. With all due respect, diversity, equity and inclusion is a psychologist’s lane.

At the core of what every individual engaged in public health and welfare does is at least one human being. Diversity, equity and inclusion must be part of what we understand about the work that we do when engaging with those we serve.

Before we can begin to help the individuals we serve, we must recognize their existence as people deserving of our respect and honor their individuality. If not, we have already failed to uphold our ethical responsibilities. We must honor their story and place in time to understand what brought us to the moment where our lives meet. 

Only then can we begin the work that starts with, “Hi, my name is ___. How can I help you?”

Diversity, equity and inclusion is not limited to race or gender. It can also represent individual culture and experiences. Those experiences influence the behaviors observed by psychologists. When taken in context, it may result in a different diagnosis.

I had the privilege of sharing testimony before the House Committee on Children and Seniors about a child who displayed negative behaviors in response to specific triggers. The lack of diversity, equity and inclusion education among treatment providers led to an extensive history of misdiagnosing and re-traumatization.

Approaching the situation with understanding created the opportunity for different outcomes. That is what diversity, equity and inclusion does for helping professionals. That is what diversity, equity and inclusion does for any relationship when given the opportunity to operate.

If the goal of lawmakers is to publicly say, “We do not want psychologists to be equipped to reach vulnerable communities,” your message has been received.

It will be business as usual with wasted resources and limited opportunities to change lives.

I didn’t give the whole story when I said diversity, equity and inclusion is a psychologist’s lane. There is no single “lane” for any single profession to recognize diversity, equity and inclusion. They are everyone’s responsibility, in every profession. That means all of us, including Sen. Mike Thompson

The fact that critical race theory became part of the argument for removing an essential education component for professionals who diagnose and treat vulnerable individuals underscores the need for deeper understanding among those charged with crafting legislation. I am willing to have that conversation, and I implore you to accept the offer.

That NASW Code of Ethics also states: “Social workers should promote conditions that encourage respect for cultural and social diversity within the United States and globally. Social workers should promote policies and practices that demonstrate respect for difference, support the expansion of cultural knowledge and resources, advocate for programs and institutions that demonstrate cultural competence, and promote policies that safeguard the rights of and confirm equity and social justice for all people.”

This bill represented an opportunity to equip psychologists to help people in a way that upholds the ethical values of their profession. Despite the efforts of legislators to hinder progress, psychologists and other helping professionals can and should seek diversity, equity and inclusion education resources on their own.

It will enrich the quality of their lives and the service they provide to vulnerable populations.

— Tara D. Wallace is a licensed clinician and trauma therapist in Topeka. She is an adjunct professor and executive director of Lighthouse TCO Foundation, a nonprofit organization working to address racialized trauma in communities of color.

Through its opinion section, the Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own commentary, here. Find how to submit your own commentary to The Lawrence Times here.

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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