Myths vs. Facts

Myth: This law only affects a few people.

Myth: ACA recently changed their Code of Ethics so that counselors could not deny services based on strongly held values.

Myth: This law isn’t anti-anybody; it protects religious liberty.

Myth: As a counselor, I’m protected under this law so no other real consequences exist.

Myth: The federal government might have consequences but ACA can’t dictate who I choose to counsel.

Myth: A counselor would know from the first session whether they want to counsel their client and continue a professional relationship.

Myth: ACA is against religion.

Myth: The governor consulted with ACA before signing this bill.

Myth: ACA was not active enough in preventing this bill from becoming law.



Myth: This law only affects a few people.

Fact: 25 percent of Tennesseans live in rural areas. This law limits the services and alternatives accessible to those seeking care. Only about 60 percent of Americans who need mental healthcare receive it. Only about 26 percent of people who get referred end up receiving care.


Myth: ACA recently changed their Code of Ethics so that counselors could not deny services based on strongly held values.

Fact: The ACA Code of Ethics language has been in place for more than 20 years, and emphasizes the protection of the consumer (rather than simply protecting the profession). This law is a direct violation of ACA’s Code of Ethics, particularly A11B and A11C, which lay out the process to terminate a client—both having been in place long before this bill was signed into law. The Governing Council adopted the 2014 Code of Ethics at their March 2014 meeting. Furthermore, ACA was never consulted during the drafting of this bill. As leaders in setting standards and ethical methods of practice, and given that the ACA Code of Ethics has been in existence for more than 60 years, Senator Johnson and his staff should have reached out to us during this process.


Myth: This law isn’t anti-anybody; it protects religious liberty.

Fact: As counselors, our priorities continue to be the needs, support, and advocacy of the clients and communities we serve. The American Counseling Association’s Code of Ethics states that counselors should seek “training” when a counselor’s “values are inconsistent with the client’s goals or are discriminatory in nature.” Through this law, a counselor who is offended by a client’s hijab could turn away the client; A counselor who doesn’t agree with a client’s feminist stance could turn away the client; A counselor who doesn’t agree with a client's sexual identity could turn away the client.


Myth: As a counselor, I’m protected under this law so no other real consequences exist.

Fact: HB 1840/SB 1556 could jeopardize federal healthcare funding for Tennessee, since it conflicts with a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services mandate that says states lack the authority to deny healthcare to patients based on religion, race, sexual orientation, and other protected characteristics. Commercial insurance recognizes Licensed Professional Counselors (LPCs) as reimbursable service providers. If the service of LPCs can be called into question for discriminatory practices, many of the 1,800 LPCs in the state could be denied payment for their services.


Myth: The federal government might have consequences but ACA can’t dictate who I choose to counsel.

Fact: The ACA Code of Ethics supersedes the new Tennessee law. If a complaint is brought against a counselor who is a member of ACA, then we have an obligation to investigate the charge. We do this through an adjudication process that has been followed for many years. The Ethics Committee gathers to discuss the case and then determines whether there is enough evidence to move forward. If it does warrant a full blown case, we do conduct a hearing.

If an individual is found to be in violation of the ACA Code of Ethics, the counselor could be asked to take remedial coursework or other types of corrective action. However, for the most serious of violations, the ultimate penalty would be expulsion from the American Counseling Association. When this is the outcome, the information is also forwarded to the state licensure board and is made known to the company providing professional liability insurance.

In order to maintain the integrity of the process, we are obligated to adjudicate complaints.


Myth: A counselor would know from the first session whether they want to counsel their client and continue a professional relationship.

Fact: Many clients don’t share revealing information until a few sessions in. If a counselor decides to stop working with a client based on his or her personal beliefs, this could be considered abandonment.


Myth: ACA is against religion.

Fact: We continually write about, train, and support counselors who work with clients. Counselors are trained to show respect for all aspects of a client and that includes the client's spiritual journey, religion, and values. Additionally, the Association for Spiritual, Ethical and Religious Values in Counseling (ASERVIC), one of ACA's divisions, is devoted to professionals who believe that spiritual, ethical, religious, and other human values are essential to the full development of the person and to the discipline of counseling.


Myth: The governor consulted with ACA before signing this bill.

Fact: ACA was never consulted in the drafting of this bill, or in how this legislation would affect counselors and their clients.


Myth: ACA was not active enough in preventing this bill from becoming law.

Fact: You may not be aware that when SB 1556/HB 1840 was introduced, it was actually ACA that created a coalition and deployed resources to address the issue. Additionally, it was ACA who provided advice and consultation as to why partners needed to become active in this fight. It was also ACA who spent funds by hiring a lobbyist in Tennessee and a public affairs firm to battle the far right in their effort to emasculate the ACA Code of Ethics. ACA staff has met with legislators, the Governor’s office, and formed critical coalitions with both traditional and non-traditional partners to raise awareness and inspire advocacy efforts.


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