Counseling Today, From the CEO

CEO’s message: A dangerous precedent

By Richard Yep April 28, 2016

Richard Yep, ACA CEO

Richard Yep, ACA CEO

In Tennessee and a number of states across the country, state legislatures have considered discriminatory bills under the guise of “religious freedom.” This past month, the Tennessee General Assembly voted on House Bill 1840, the first of these bills specifically targeting the American Counseling Association and attempting to undermine the counseling profession through legislation that would permit counselors to deny essential services to clients based on the provider’s “strongly held beliefs.”

When Georgia, North Carolina and Mississippi, among other states, considered similar bills, it negatively affected their reputations and damaged or endangered their state businesses, tourism and convention industries. More worrisome than the economic impact of these bills, however, is their societal impact. These so-called “religious freedom” bills set a dangerous precedent and send a harmful message that fairness and equality are secondary to personal opinion.

The Tennessee legislation would brazenly violate the fundamental tenets of the counseling profession. Tennessee is among 13 states that already include the ACA Code of Ethics in their state counselor licensure laws. The ACA Code of Ethics states that professional counselors may not deny services to a client regardless of that person’s “age, culture, disability, ethnicity, race, religion/spirituality, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, marital/partnership status, language preference, socioeconomic status, immigration status or any basis proscribed by law.” Nearly 60,000 counselors abide by this standard — which Tennessee’s proposed legislation seeks to fundamentally undercut.

[UPDATE: Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam signed this legislation into law on April 27. Questions or feedback on this issue can be emailed to myvoice@counseling.org. More info: http://bit.ly/1NiBQgb]

And for what reason? This is a supposed “solution” in search of a problem that does not exist. If lawmakers backing this bill solicited the vast majority of counselors’ opinions, they would understand that the counseling profession already has in place ethical and responsible processes and procedures to deal with situations in which counselors must refer prospective or existing clients.

Yet those most damaged by Tennessee moving forward with this legislation would not be professional counselors but rather those in the darkest chapters of their lives. Each and every counselor can recite numerous examples of individuals for whom accessible and professional counseling services are and were a lifeline. Allowing any counselor — or any other health care provider — to deny services based on personal belief could harm access to essential and professional care for many of the most vulnerable members of the community.

Religion cannot and should not be politicized or manipulated to allow for discrimination. These “religious freedom” bills constitute unnecessary government overreach and result in demonstrable harm to citizens across the nation. The American Counseling Association urges our members and allies to take action in their states to oppose similar discrimination bills.

As always, I look forward to your comments, questions and thoughts. Feel free to call me at 800.347.6647 ext. 231 or email me at ryep@counseling.org. You can also follow me on Twitter: @Richyep.

Be well.

 

1 Comment

  1. Jennifer VanDerveer

    These religious freedom bills are an abomination to the counseling ethical codes, whether the code be from the ACA, APA, NAADAC, or the AAMFT. These codes hold us to a standard, to a set of values necessary to be upheld for the betterment of the clients & to assure counselors don’t discriminate. I’m still in graduate school for professional counseling; that will enable me to gain a LPC after I fulfill all my practicum requirements. I still have a little while to go before I’m the professional counselor I’ve dreamed of being for so long. Now however, it seems like the very profession I’m working so hard to gain access to, is becoming overloaded with political agendas that go against the very core values of its worth. Counselors DO NOT discriminate! That’s the point of seeking out professionals in the helping profession, to not be judged, to gain help with issues without the helper telling you because they don’t like one aspect about you, they won’t help you. This simply doesn’t make any sense to me. Counselors do not refer clients out for not agreeing with the clients values or views. That is discrimination. What’s happening in the helping profession that counselors would even consider such a way to counsel?

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