Update, 10/24/19: This bill has now passed the State Senate and is going to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to be signed into law. Read the full story here.
Last Tuesday, the state House unanimously voted 108-0 to approve House Bill 4325 which would allow licensed professional counselors to continue to practice clinical techniques, including diagnosis, psychotherapy and development of treatment plans to address behavioral issues.
This comes as lawmakers, counselors and mental health advocates have shown strong opposition to newly proposed regulations that could limit the ability of licensed professional counselors to treat patients, which sparked outrage in the mental health community.
Earlier this year, the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) proposed regulations that would limit the ability of licensed professional counselors to treat patients by overhauling education and licensure requirements for licensed professional counselors. Proposed changes include revised educational curriculum standards and required examinations, among others.
The agency’s proposal clarifies the scope of practice for counselors to comply with state law, which was established in 1989. Under the current law, licensed professional counselors are not allowed to diagnose and use psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy, but counselors have historically had leeway to interpret the rules broadly.
“The 108-0 vote was a strong statement of appreciation and respect for licensed professional counselors and the important role they play in delivering mental health services to over 200,000 clients. Without this legislation, 10,000 highly trained qualified mental health counselors with Master’s Degrees would be prevented from providing care,” State Rep. Isaac Robinson, D-Detroit said. ”We are etching in stone language to ensure our LPCs can continue the vital work they do for the state of Michigan.”
Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s administration has also come out and supported the bipartisan legislation.
“Licensed professional counselors play an integral role in the mental health services system in Michigan. The Administration would support legislation to broaden LPCs’ scope of practice,” Press Secretary Tiffany Brown said in a statement.
Old Law, New Rules
LARA Communications Director Jason Moon said in a statement that all the agency is doing is updating the current rules, which are outdated.
“The current and pending rules do not allow licensees to diagnose and use psychotherapy techniques because the statute does not allow this practice under the profession’s scope,” Moon said. “Current law does not give counselors the authority to diagnose and use psychotherapy techniques.”
But mental health advocates said the rules would unnecessarily limit counselors’ ability to treat patients and exacerbate a treatment shortage.
At a recent rally at Wayne State University, Wayne County Commissioner Tim Killeen, who chairs the Health and Human Services Committee and serves on the board of the Detroit Wayne Integrated Health Network (formerly the Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority), said the proposed measure will make mental health care services inaccessible. The network serves over 75,000 people in Wayne County and employs hundreds of licensed counselors who would be impacted by the regulation changes.
Historically, the community mental health system has been underfunded, and the currently faces budget challenges, according to notes takes at a recent public meeting by WDET’s Detroit Documenters.
“Not only will we have 10,000 people out of work but we’re gonna slow down and make more expensive getting services to people that need those in a system that’s already underfunded,” Killeen said.
State Agency to Evaluate Public Feedback
Dr. Sameerah Davenport is a lecturer at Wayne State and a licensed professional counselor with a practice based in St. Clair Shores. She says that the proposed changes have sparked outrage in the mental health community.
“Everyone should be in an uproar right now. These are people’s lives at stake,” Davenport says. “Every day we deal with people who are suicidal, who are homicidal. We have the training, we have the knowledge, we have the ability.”
Moon also said that LARA has not received any complaints about licensed professional counselors violating the law in relation to their scope of practice, and it is unclear why there is a push to institute rule changes now. LARA held a public hearing on the proposed regulations earlier this month in Lansing and will review feedback on the proposal. It then must be submitted to the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules for approval to amend Michigan’s Administrative Code.
The bill was introduced by State Rep. Aaron Miller, R-Sturgis in March. It will now be passed to the Senate for approval. If approved in the Senate, Governor Gretchen Whitmer would then have to sign the bill to enshrine it into law.