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Latest attempt to ban diversity training in Kansas hurts doctors and patients

In 2022, Kansas lawmakers rejected diversity training requirements for psychologists because they wanted to avoid any implications of critical race theory. These same rumblings are again being used to justify tampering with critical diagnostic training requirements through a budget reserve.

According to a story by Jason Tidd of the Topeka Capital-Journal, the clause creates a “ban on diversity training for social work professions authorized by the Behavioral Sciences Regulatory Board.”

The problem at hand, and the reason I feel compelled to speak up again, is that the people who make our state’s laws and policies don’t seem to have an understanding of what they are fixing or challenging. “Equality is the idea that because everyone is of equal value, everyone deserves equal treatment. But equity is the idea that everyone is of equal worth and therefore deserves to receive the care they need to perform at their best,” writes Emily Weyrauch.

Bias is a bias or judgment that prevents fair trials from occurring naturally. Sometimes it frames our individual worlds in ways that make life unfair and difficult for the people we meet. We live with those stills until someone brave enough to recognize them speaks up.

We all have prejudices. And unfortunately, the rule of law does not directly address explicit or implicit bias.

The bias is why a minority physician in private practice like myself needed non-minority therapists to vouch for me so I could access training intended to benefit minority communities. It is reasonable to assume that a licensed practitioner pursuing a doctorate in trauma is capable of understanding the attachment curriculum. Yet it took three years and the word of non-minority professionals to get me accepted, despite my participation in a consortium where that same curriculum was being introduced in the state of Texas as standard.

The bias also prevents me and other minorities in private practice from accessing federal funding that is critical to the mental health services we provide to families in the state of Kansas.

If this is my story as a licensed physician, imagine the experience of clients and patients who are marginalized and feel they have no voice among professionals. My older sister is one of these people. She shared her story via text message shortly before she passed away from COVID-19. She was denied a $1,200 antiviral treatment because it was assumed she couldn’t afford it. Instead, more than $250,000 worth of treatment was billed until she was taken off the ventilator.

Author and advocate Heather McGhee said: “I’m basically a hopeful person, because I know that decisions made the world the way it is and that better decisions can change it. Nothing about our situation is inevitable or immutable, but you can’t solve a problem with the consciousness that created it.

Prejudice costs money and lives.

I realize that our lawmakers are inundated with an enormous amount of information when it comes to the bills presented to them. There aren’t enough hours in the day to consume it all. I also realize that there are committee meetings to attend and countless other commitments that need to be fulfilled. But there is no excuse for the level of disconnect shown when it comes to decisions that make a difference to the Kansans’ physical, mental and emotional well-being.

The process of evaluating and diagnosing a client or patient is not simplistic in nature. Nor is it based simply on a vendor’s intuition. It requires ongoing education and training aimed at breaking the element of bias in its application of fair and evidence-based principles.

The CDC just released a report acknowledging an increase in the suicide rate among minorities between the ages of 10 and 24. We know that Kansas ranks 50th in prevalence of mental illness and access to care for youth (51st for adults), according to Mental Health America.

Clearly, we have work to do. We need all the help we can get to get it right. Continuing education in diversity, equity, inclusion, acceptance and belonging should not be just a requirement to help professionals. It should also be a reason for all Kansans to feel confident that the treatment they receive is impartial.

Tara D. Wallace is a licensed clinic and trauma therapist in Topeka. Through her opinion section, Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are influenced by public policy or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to post your comment, here.

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