A bill allowing students in state university counseling, psychology, and social work programs to arbitrarily refuse treatment to certain patients has been put on notice in both the House and Senate, meaning lawmakers will likely be voting on the proposal in a matter of days. New accrediting standards issued by the American Psychological Association make clear if such a change is adopted by the legislature, state-based psychology training programs will lose accreditation.
Such a move would be perilous. Without accredited training programs at Tennessee’s public higher education institutions, access to care in the state over time will be significantly reduced.
The legislation is predicated on the false assumption that the practice of social work and psychological counseling is fundamentally about providing spiritual and personal advice. This is simply not the case.
The professional practice of social work and psychological counseling involves the clinical application of treatment to persons irrespective of their spiritual needs. The legislation permits a counseling student trainee to deny treatment to any client with whom they might claim to have a religious difference. It should be noted that student trainees are made fully aware of the ethical codes governing the training programs at the start of their respective academic programs. Yet, 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.
Social Work and Psychology professionals have clearly defined scopes of practice and ethical guidelines adopted by national associations, which govern their respective professions. The implication from proponents is crystal 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.
Perhaps the greatest damage done by such legislation is the implication that emergency rooms, K-12 classrooms and courtrooms could be next. Proponents argue that the 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. The bill, which some advocates may remember from last year, has the potential to compromise training and professional counseling programs at Tennessee public higher education institutions.
House Education Instruction and Program Subcommittee members are expected to hear the bill next Wednesday. Check back soon for updates.