Counselors cheer passage of bill protecting their work
LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan’s 10,000 counselors could continue to diagnose mental disorders and practice psychotherapy under a bill they say is needed to stop regulators from destroying their profession.
The measure won unanimous House approval on Tuesday and will be considered by a Senate committee as soon as next week. The vote came amid concerns over a state agency’s proposed revision of rules governing licensed professional counselors.
“Probably a third of the mental health system would be shut down through this action,” James Blundo, executive director of the Michigan Mental Health Counselors Association and a supporter of the legislation, said Wednesday.
He said if the new regulations are adopted, “we wouldn’t have much scope of practice left.” The bill would essentially block regulators by codifying counselors’ current practices into law.
The state Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs has been working to update what a spokesman called “very outdated” rules, primarily by moving provisions out of a section that defines what counselors do to the training and education portion of the regulations.
“Counselors will still be able to practice their profession under the new rules,” said spokesman Jason Moon. “The current and new rules do not allow licensees to diagnose and use psychotherapy techniques because the statute does not allow this practice under the profession’s scope.”
Counselors, however, said they have been using counseling techniques and diagnosing problems for 31 years.
The new regulations, if adopted, would severely hurt their ability to practice because insurers need a diagnosis to reimburse claims, Blundo said. He said at least 150,000 Michigan residents are being served by counselors at a time when there already is a shortage of mental health providers.
“There is a lot of fear over what will happen to them, but I think more about what will happen to their clients as it relates to mental health care,” said Republican Rep. Aaron Miller of Sturgis, the bill sponsor. He said the legislation is the “antidote.”
“For us to even think about allowing an agency to tinker with this profession after 31 years of no problems is absolutely crazy,” said Rep. Isaac Robinson, a Detroit Democrat. “I’m so happy that we are getting involved and providing a legislative solution to make a stand for mental health services.”
The Michigan Psychological Association, whose psychologist members have more training than counselors, has said the existing law should be updated because it lacks clear training and education requirements for counselors who seek to treat people with mental and emotional disorders. It recently expressed concern, for instance, that the bill could let someone with a degree specialization in career counseling treat a patient with bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.
The group has said it could shift from opposing the bill to supporting it if changes are made.