On Wednesday, February 10th, the Tennessee Senate Health and Welfare Committee is expected to take up Senate Bill (SB) 1556. The bill, if signed into law, would allow Tennessee’s professional counselors and therapists to deny services to clients and students with whom they do not share common values or beliefs.
The bill, “An Act to amend Tennessee Code Annotated, Title 4; Title 49 and Title 63 relative to conscientious objections to the provision of counseling and therapy,” was drafted in response to the 2014 ACA Code of Ethics.
ACA has been working with members in Tennessee to communicate with the bill’s author, Senator Johnson, and the other legislators who sit on the Senate Health and Welfare Committee. We have made every effort to express disapproval and disappointment in this bill. Our Code is written to protect members of the public who seek the services of a professional counselor. Included in that protection is the assurance that all individuals will be able to obtain services when needed. The 2014 ACA Code of Ethics (Section A.11.b.) describes referral practices when a client’s beliefs differ from those of a counselor, and encourages the counselor to seek additional training if necessary. This issue is particularly pertinent in a state that is already plagued with a shortage of mental healthcare providers.
Additionally, if legislated, this new statute will be in direct conflict with an existing state statute, since Tennessee’s Board of Licensed Professional Counselors, Licensed Marital and Family Therapists and Licensed Pastoral Therapists has adopted ACA’s Code of Ethics into law.
A statement of opposition has been sent to each of the members of the Tennessee Health and Welfare Committee. That statement can be accessed here. The legislation is also being heard in a House Health Sub-Committee meeting this week and ACA’s position has been shared with these members as well. The full text of the bill is available online here.
We will be following this legislation very closely as the session progresses. If you would like to get involved, please contact our State Legislative Representative on ACA’s Government Affairs team, Kelly Nickel. Her direct line is 800-347-6647 x 210 and her email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org.