The Senate adopted SB514 last week, disregarding the concerns of Counseling, Social Work and Psychology professionals and training programs across the state. The legislation is predicated on the incorrect notion that the practice of social work and psychological counseling is more fundamentally about providing spiritual and personal advice. In practice, however, the professions of social work and psychological counseling involve the clinical application of treatment to persons irrespective of their spiritual needs. The legislation essentially allows a counseling student trainee to arbitrarily deny treatment to any client with whom they might claim to have a religious difference.
Currently, all trainees are made fully aware of the ethical codes governing the training programs at the beginning of their respective academic programs.
Proponents of the legislation argue that the ethical codes that require counselors, including student trainees, to treat the clinical needs of all patients should no longer be recognized as reasonable guides.
The measure was adopted by the Senate on a 22-4 vote.
The implication from proponents of the legislation is clear: Professional obligation to provide clinical treatment, even through a state sponsored clinical program, does not apply if the client’s religious belief differs in any way from that of the practitioner.
Proponents argue that accrediting associations such as the American Psychological Association, and by extension, the American Bar Association, or the American Medical Association have no standing in Tennessee.
What will happen to the ethical tenant of “First, do no harm?” Will Tennessee train doctors to deny treatment to anyone whose religious beliefs differ from their own, even if it causes harm to the patient in question?
These are now the ethical quandaries facing our colleges of social work and psychology across the state. This legislation, if adopted by both chambers, has the potential to capriciously damage the training and professional practices of counseling in Tennessee, and places program accreditation at risk.
Upon further testimony from experts in social work, psychology, and counseling from across the state, it appears the House Education Subcommittee will potentially end the debate during their vote next week.