Do No Harm? SB514 Undermines Professional Code of Counselors, Psychologists

“Do No Harm.”  This value permeates the medical field.  While applicable in a multitude of medical contexts, this expectation also exists in the fields of psychology and counseling.

What does this have to do with SB514?

SB 514 prohibits public institutions of higher education from disciplining, expelling, providing remediation to, discriminating, or taking any other adverse action against a student in a counseling, social work, or psychology program because the student refuses to counsel or serve a client as to goals, outcomes, or behaviors that conflict with a sincerely held religious belief of the student, if the student refers the client to a counselor who will provide the counseling or services.

While well intentioned, this bill would cause numerous problems in implementation and in practice.

Please consider:

  • The impact of this bill will likely place accreditation at risk for TN counseling programs.
  • In counseling, the best possible education requires students and trainees to learn to serve people of all backgrounds and belief systems.  Students agree to do so through a “Statement of Training Values” upon enrolling in counseling programs.
  • Very often, conflicts based on sincerely held religious beliefs do not occur until after many counseling sessions, after a relationship has already been established between patient and counselor.  Referrals, even if they are prompt, can be extremely stressful to patients and can cause harm.
  • The existing professional code works.  Current law works.  In the classroom, students enjoy great religious and free speech liberty.  As practitioners-in-training, students are given the best and broadest education possible in preparation for the workforce.
  • Professional counselors do not discriminate based on age, gender, gender identity, race, ethnicity, culture, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability, socioeconomic status, or any basis prescribed by law. This expectation is set through professional and ethical codes associated with the counseling profession.

This bill will be heard tomorrow in the Senate Education Committee at 3:00 PM CST.