TEXAS PSYCHOLOGIST ASKS FEDERAL COURT: WHAT’S IN A NAME?
by William Perry Pendley
January 1, 2012
In 1975, Mary Louise Serafine received her Ph.D. in education from the University of Florida. While working on her degree and for a semester afterward, Dr. Serafine taught in an undergraduate program designed by internationally renowned psychologist Arthur Combs. Dr. Serafine’s research for her Ph.D. dissertation and her subsequent research over the next decade were published in various well-established journals in the field of psychology, her book on the psychology of music was published by Columbia University Press, and her published work continues to be read, discussed, and cited internationally.
From 1979 to 1983, Dr. Serafine completed four years of postdoctoral training in psychology at Yale University and served part-time on the Yale psychology faculty and, from 1983 to 1988, served as a full time faculty member in the psychology department at Vassar College. During this period, she taught a broad range of psychology courses, including social development, cognitive development, developmental psychology, research methods in psychology, the psychology of music, and the general survey course in psychology. She also supervised several undergraduate theses in psychology. At that time, she was accepted as a member of the American Psychological Association and later Dr. Serafine joined the American Counseling Association. She served on a Chapman University tenure review committee to provide substantive expertise on the psychology of music and, until recently, was listed as a psychologist in Who’s Who in America.
From 1988 to 1991, Dr. Serafine attended Yale Law School and then was admitted to the practice of law in California, New York, the District of Columbia, and Texas. Most recently, Dr. Serafine conducted small-group seminars and offered one-on-one sessions for people facing various issues, including adapting to divorce, singleness, and new mid-life relationships.
During 2009, Dr. Serafine contemplated running for elective office and thus postponed her plans to expand her seminars and the offering of one-on-one sessions. In 2010, she became the Republican nominee for the Texas Senate in Travis County and described her occupation in her ballot application—filed with the Secretary of State—and on her web-site as “attorney and psychologist.” The Texas State Board of Examiners of Psychologists, however, ordered her to “cease and desist” from using the term “psychologist” and threatened legal action. Dr. Serafine, who readily acknowledges she is not a “licensed” psychologist in the State of Texas because she has not taken the necessary examination or met other regulatory requirements, complied, but she intends to run for office again and wants to engage in protected political speech by saying she is a “psychologist.”
In addition, Dr. Serafine intends to engage in the practice of psychology and to communicate with clients, communications protected by the Constitution but barred by Texas. Furthermore, Dr. Serafine is barred by Texas from truthfully communicating with potential clients regarding her skills, experience, and services by using the word “psychologist” and apparently even from truthfully describing herself in a purely social setting.
Therefore, last year, Dr. Serafine sued the Texas State Board of Examiners of Psychologists, through its Chairman and Executive Director, in Texas federal district court, western district, Austin division, for infringing unconstitutionally on her political speech, the practice of her profession, her ability to advertise her services, and her ability to describe her education and expertise in political, commercial, or other contexts. Dr. Serafine’s civil rights lawsuit, pursuant to the Constitution’s First and Fourteenth Amendments and the Civil Rights Act of 1871, seeks both injunctive and declaratory relief against the enforcement of Texas’s psychology licensure laws against her.
Notwithstanding its constitutional importance and landmark legal significance, what Dr. Serafine’s lawsuit is about most fundamentally is her right to define herself. She spent decades acquiring the knowledge, ability, and intuitive skills that are the hallmarks of a psychologist; more importantly, in Dr. Serafine’s view, at her deepest core, the word describes her essence. That the State of Texas believes it can say otherwise is not just unconstitutional; it is un-American.
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