Counseling discrimination: the dark ages have descended
The dark ages have once again descended upon Tennessee.
To summarize: “Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam has signed a controversial bill that compromises client care in favor of counselors’ 'sincerely held principles.' This makes Tennessee the only state that allows counselors to refuse treatment to clients based on their own belief systems.” This law is not controversial. It is a travesty.
Imagine that you are a LGBTQ child from a low income family living in the Tennessee hills. Imagine that you are depressed, even somewhat suicidal, and when your good Christian parents find out about your distress, they send you to the only counselor in town.
When you enter the counselor’s waiting room, you notice books about Jesus, positive thinking, faith and will power. Counseling is supposed to be a supportive, safe space where you should be able to say anything that comes to your mind, where you can build trust with a confidential counselor who can help you understand yourself and the world around you so that you can find healthy ways to live, even with depression.
However, if you tell this counselor that you are gay, bisexual or transgender, she may want you to embark on a journey of conversion or reparative therapy for your LGBTQ issues, possibly neglecting your depression and suicidality as secondary to the issue of homosexuality. Such a counselor should be reported to and reprimanded by the Tennessee Health Related Boards but you don’t know that as a child. You aren’t even sure you want to live, and this lady is telling you that homosexuality is a sin and in order to feel better, you must change who you are.
If you as this child asks that the counselor to treat you in a gay-affirming manner, the counselor, who should be your thread of hope, can now tell you, because of this legislation, that she has decided not to work with you because of her “sincerely held principles,” her thinking that your sexuality is problematic. Some might say if you are suicidal, she has to work with you, but not unless you are in imminent danger of hurting yourself or others. Regardless, who would want to work with this kind of counselor anyway? Someone in trouble, that’s who.
So imagine if you had begun counseling with this person and had worked with her for a year already before you told her that you are LGBTQ - after trust has been built, after you have depended on her for so long, a lifeline for you. Then, she may refer you to another counselor because of the same issues. Such a betrayal by a counselor is traumatic and tragic to an already struggling child.
A young LGBTQ child may not have the resources or the transportation to find any other avenues for mental health counseling in rural Tennessee. And, if the child reports to their parents what the counselor has said, they may agree with the counselor because they also don’t like the fact that their child seems to be oh, horror of horrors, LGBTQ. They, too, may be uneducated about any other healthy alternatives for counseling assistance.
All this because some Tennessee legislators and the governor have proposed and passed this disgusting bill into law.
One mental health advocate, Sita Diehl, Licensed Advanced Practice Social Worker with the National Alliance on Mental Illness, states,“This legislation flies in the face of professional ethics. Helping professionals make considered decisions about who they can serve - and who they should refer to others - based on their areas of professional competency, not their personal beliefs. Referral is a skill that requires sensitivity and professional judgement. The law is a blunt instrument that has no place in this delicate process. I’m truly disappointed that Governor Haslam has seen fit to besmirch our state by signing this bill into law.”
What’s a child or even an adult to do? Some counseling not only reinforces the shame that the child or adult may already feel but can add to their depression and suicidality, figuring that if even a counselor says they are a sinner and need to change, or go to hell, then life is not worth living. They may die.
Is this what we want for Tennessee and its citizens? Absolutely not, most of us counselors say. But, hardly anyone is listening.
Not only is there no need for this law, it is a disgrace to Tennesseans.
Barbara Sanders, LCSW, a licensed psychotherapist in Nashville: http://synergeticresolutions.blogspot.com