The very first bill filed for this legislative session was filed by Senator Jack Johnson and is a continuation of his mission to destroy counseling in Tennessee. Jack Johnson proposed last year’s bill that passed into law allowing counselors the right to refer clients whose goals conflict with the counselor’s personally held principles, a direct challenge to the ACA Code of Ethics. TCA fought hard against this bill for three reasons:
- It jeopardizes clients and prospective clients, preventing many from reaching out for help due to fear of being rejected.
- It threatens license portability and reciprocity agreements for counselors moving into/out of the state by having a different set of practice standards in TN than in other states.
- It creates confusion within the profession, prohibiting our licensing board from holding counselors accountable to the practice standards we all agreed to when we attended accredited training programs, became Nationally Certified Counselors and obtained our license in TN that agrees to these standards.
- The Code of Ethics is developed and reviewed by counselors from across the country. Before it is ratified and adopted it is open for all ACA members to review and comment. A TN counselor was on the review committee and we all had the opportunity to weigh in. This is a code we created for ourselves, to govern our practice standards – just like the American Medical Association, the lawyers, the acupuncturists. Why should counselors be treated differently?
SB1 is a sequel with the goal of continuing to dismantle our profession’s autonomy. The bill proposes that “the Board for Licensed Professional Counselors, Marriage and Family Therapists and Clinical Pastoral Therapists may not refer to a national association’s code of ethics, including, but not limited to, the American Counseling Association Code of Ethics.” Our board is the only board named. When asked why not the American Medical Association’s Code of Ethics that governs the Medical Examiners in Tennessee, Johnson’s response was that they hadn’t done anything that the state disagreed with. TCA opposes this bill for the following reasons:
- It further confuses the public about what is expected of counselors in Tennessee.
If we are not held to standards of practice that are developed by counselors and agreed upon by the largest organization of counselors, then we drive the public away from trusting the counseling profession. In many interviews with counseling recipients, many of them homeless veterans, they state that they are willing to seek professional counseling from licensed providers because they know we are bound to a code of ethics that requires confidentiality, appropriate training for treating specific conditions and standards of care that will protect them from harm. Legislation like this calls those standards into question.
- Pragmatically, the function of writing a code of ethics is lengthy and arduous, they are living documents that change over time. Anyone who has gotten licensed with the state knows what that process is like. The timeline for writing and ratifying a code of ethics, then having it reviewed and approved by the Legislative committee is simply impractical. And we don’t know what happens in the interim. If the legislature declares that our current code of ethics is null and void then how is the board to protect the public between the time that declaration is made and the time the new code is adopted? Who continues to amend the code as needed? What is the process for the amendments?
- With this legislation being targeted ONLY at the Board for Licensed Professional Counselors, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists and Clinical Pastoral Therapists we are being held to different standards than any other profession. Our autonomy is being challenged again. Our public perception is being threatened again. All counselors are being viewed with skepticism when our training and life’s work is in being helpful to people in the time of their greatest need.
- Call your Senator and voice your opposition to this legislation. Let’s try to get it killed before it moves to committee. Attached is a list of Senators by county they represent. Or you can click here to enter your address and find your Senator.
- Call your Representative and introduce yourself so they will know who you are and what you do when we call in the coming months asking for support on issues that affect counseling, education and higher education in the coming months. Click here to find your representative.
- Donate – these efforts take money and we need to raise some. We are grassroots taking on well-established and well-funded opponents. Our friends in the field are with us, but we have to lead this charge to protect all counselors in Tennessee from misguided attempts to over regulate the profession. Click here to donate to our advocacy efforts. Please give what you can and ask any friends, family, coworkers to give what they can as well. I’m working on additional fundraising efforts, but we need cash now to make sure we can organize our efforts to fight this and other bills we expect to come our way.
MS | MA | NCC | LPC-MHSP
Public Policy and Legislation Chair
MS | School Counselor