When my wife was working on her graduate degree in counseling, I remember talking with her just a few weeks into her first semester and saying, “You are already way ahead of the small amount of pastoral counseling I learned in seminary.”

Now, several years into her private practice, she makes a profound impact upon the lives of numerous people every day – particularly young people. She’s a rockstar. And I am very aware as a pastor to refer people out to trained mental health professionals when what they need goes beyond what I, as a priest, can offer.

I say this at the outset to be clear that my own household has skin in the game, that we have a vested interest in a proposal currently working its way through the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA).

The essence of the proposed change is that it would remove the ability of licensed professional counselors (LPCs) to diagnose clients or use the techniques of psychotherapy. The result of that is that no one visiting an LPC would be able to be reimbursed by their insurance company – as diagnosis is a requirement for insurance reimbursement. Furthermore, by not being able to diagnose or use the techniques of psychotherapy, LPCs would be put in breach of their own ethical guidelines.

According to LARA’s statement on these proposed changes, they believe the issue is that current statutory law does not actually give LPCs the ability to diagnose and use psychotherapy techniques and previous attempts to update the law to do so have failed in the Michigan Legislature. State Rep. Aaron Miller (R-Sturgis) has introduced a bill, HB 4325, which would preserve the scope of the LPC profession and how they operate, solving the statutory issue so that LARA’s concerns with statutory limitations can be resolved. This should be an easy area of bipartisan cooperation.

It is essential that HB 4325 pass and is signed into law as soon as possible. James Blundo, the executive director of the Michigan Mental Health Counselors Association, believes that if the scope of practice for LPCs is limited, it would impact 10,000 counselors in our state and leave up to 150,000 clients without access to mental health services. As Blundo noted in an interview with Detroit Fox 2, “We work in hospitals and state government and private practice. All of that would come to a halt. There are going to be a lot of people who will be without a therapist and some of them are in crisis.”

While I appreciate LARA’s concerns about the statutory issues that relate to the scope of practice for LPCs, the way to solve this issue is not to adopt a rule change that explicitly eliminates a profession from the mental health field. No one has claimed that LPCs are not qualified to provide excellent mental health care. No lawsuits – that I know of – have been filed arguing that their practice is outside the bounds of Michigan statute.

For an agency to hold 10,000 counselors and 150,000 clients hostage in order to force the Legislature to pass this law is a dangerous move, one that could have profound repercussions upon those struggling with mental health issues.

Sarah Lewakowski, executive director of Mosaic Counseling, a nonprofit agency serving Ottawa County, stated, “Approximately one-third of the therapists on our panel are LPCs and LLPCs. I cannot imagine the clients that we refer to them not being able to receive the therapy that they desperately need. Many are suicidal. Many are children. The fact that the solution to this issue has come to this is reckless and inhumane. Surely, our political leaders can come up with an alternate resolution that does not displace thousands from the mental health care that they deserve and need.”

A public hearing on this proposed rule change is scheduled for Friday, Oct. 4, in Lansing. It will be at 9 a.m. at the G. Mennen Williams Building Auditorium, 525 W. Ottawa St. It is essential that citizens show up at that hearing and demand a delay in the rule change so that legislators can come up with an appropriate statutory remedy. There is no benefit to taking away access to mental health when we already have a shortage of mental health care providers in this state.

It is also essential that citizens contact their state representative and state senator to urge a swift passage of HB 4325, as well, so that mental health care will never again be held hostage by a regulatory agency in our state.

About the writer: The Rev. Dr. Jared C. Cramer, Tribune community columnist, serves as rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Grand Haven. Information about his parish can be found at www.sjegh.com.

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