Woman's career objective leads to psychological warfare, battle of turfs


ANNAPOLIS -- All Betty Malkus wanted to do was become a licensed psychologist.

She had no idea her career goal would thrust her into a turf battle between two University of Maryland departments, or that she would need the help of her husband's distant cousin -- who happens to be a state senator -- or that state and national psychological associations would line up against her.

She never dreamed she would need to know so much about state regulations that she would pay to subscribe to the Maryland Register, or that her ticket to a psychologist's license ultimately may depend more on the governor's signature than on her own doctoral dissertation.

And she never guessed anyone would ever refer to her as "a redheaded Eskimo."

Her mistake, as it turned out, was to enroll in the university's doctoral program in human development, an extension program offered on the Lower Eastern Shore where she and several fellow students live.

Those students say they were told when they signed up that once they completed the program, they would be qualified to take the examination to become a licensed psychologist.

"If I had known this was a dead end . . . I would have gone another route," said Mrs. Malkus, a 45-year-old Vienna resident who works as a supervised "psychologist associate" and family therapist for the Caroline County Health Department.

"I couldn't pick up my husband's farm and move it to the Western Shore, and I was not in a position where I wanted to leave and be a weekend wife," she said.

But by the time Mrs. Malkus and at least three other students were close to receiving their doctorates, the rules had changed: They were told that state regulations dating from the early 1980s excluded them from the exam based on their doctorates in human development.

Mrs. Malkus said she has a dated notebook from the course's organizational meeting in 1986 showing that Dr. Robert Hardy, the human development chairman, indicated the state was then licensing human development graduates as psychologists and that "the course work offered fits perfectly into the Maryland licensure requirements."

She contends that the subsequent flip-flop is the result of a turf battlebetween the university's psychology department and its HTC education department, which runs the human development program.

Dr. Hardy did not return several telephone calls this past week.

But in a university memo to House and Senate committees in March, Dr. Hardy stated that the human development program failed to prepare students to practice as psychologists, and that students who want to be psychologists are "routinely rejected" when they apply to enter the human development program.

Maryland's association of psychologists, backed by its national organization and the state and national boards that license psychologists, also says the program fails to meet minimum state and national educational standards for licensed psychologists.

"Legislation that circumvents these criteria . . . increases the risk of inadequately trained individuals offering psychological services to our citizens," said Dr. Neil M. Kirschner, president of the Maryland Psychological Association, in a letter to Gov. William Donald Schaefer.

Dr. Kirschner's letter urges the governor to veto Senate Bill 661, which was introduced by Mrs. Malkus' husband's second cousin, state Sen. Frederick C. Malkus Jr., a Dorchester County Democrat and dean of the General Assembly.

The senator acknowledges that he sponsored the bill specifically to help Mrs. Malkus and makes no apologies for it. "I felt as though they had been done an injustice," he said. "These people, had they lived on the Western Shore, could have taken the necessary courses. They weren't offered on the Eastern Shore. We're discriminated against all the time because we're on the Eastern Shore."

Bills such as the senator's, which affect only one or a few people, are so cleverly drafted to apply to one or two people that they're known in Annapolis as "redheaded Eskimos."

Senator Malkus' original bill would have applied to only four students who had taken the doctoral program in human development in the university's Eastern Shore Outreach Program.

It was later amended to apply to any person who graduated from the program on the Eastern Shore or at College Park before Jan. 1, 1992. But that person also must have a master's degree in psychology, and at least three years of supervised experience.

One additional amendment made it even clearer that the bill was intended as a one-shot change designed to help a targeted few: It said anyone who meets the other qualifications must pass the exam by Oct. 1, 1993. After that, the window of opportunity closes for human development graduates.

Because the daylong exam is only offered twice a year, Mrs. Malkus and Sharon Tawes Nelson of Crisfield, the only other graduate of the Eastern Shore program who would still qualify for the test, would get only two shots at passing.

But the psychologists' association maintains even that would be a mistake.

"The exam is really a final screening device. It's not meant to measure all of your knowledge," said Dr. Casey Ann Hughes, a psychologist and legislative lobbyist for the Maryland Psychological Association.

She and others argue that the human development program is intended to train teachers in human development and behavior.

"It's so they can get advanced degrees and get promoted. It's not meant for psychologists at all," she said.

Before standards for Maryland psychologists were tightened in the early 1980s, the state permitted human development graduates to sit for the psychology examination.

But Dr. Kirschner, in his letter to Mr. Schaefer, said such graduates "make up a disproportionate number of those who have been reported to the Board of Examiners for unprofessional conduct and subsequently de-licensed." The program lacks sufficient instruction in ethics, he said.

Mrs. Malkus said she and other students were aware of such shortcomings, and have attempted to "fill the gap" by taking ethics and other courses on the side.

The state Board of Examiners of Psychologists says that during the past three years it has revoked five licenses and suspended one other for disciplinary reasons, and four of those six cases involved graduates of the human development program.

"This exemption would permit, if signed into law, inadequately educated and trained individuals who were fortunate enough to graduate before 1992 to potentially 'treat' vulnerable citizens of Maryland," Lawrence Donner, the board's chairman, said in a letter to Mr. Schaefer requesting a veto.

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