A religious counseling law? What’s next?

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“This is yet another case in which I have a unique perspective.”

OK. I have a question. What on earth is going on in Tennessee? Seriously.

I just reread an article about the so-called “religious counseling bill” recently inked by Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam. In fact I’ve read it a few times. It still doesn’t make any sense.

Oh, wait a second. Let me clarify. The story is fine. It’s Senate Bill 1556/House Bill 1840 — or more accurately, the new law, that blows my mind.

Under the new rule: “No counselor or therapist providing counseling or therapy services shall be required to counsel or serve a client as to goals, outcomes, or behaviors that conflict with the sincerely held principles of the counselor or therapist; provided, that the counselor or therapist coordinates a referral of the client to another counselor or therapist who will provide the counseling or therapy.”

Making A Mountain Out Of A Molehill

Really? Is this necessary?

Proponents say it is. According to the Family Action Council of Tennessee (FACT) the state mandates that “all licensed professional counselors comply with the code of ethics issued by the American Counseling Association (ACA).” As it now stands, the code bars such counselors from referring a client based on the counselor’s “personally held values.” To make matters worse, FACT says, counselors can be disciplined if they don’t play by the rules.

“This is an important bill to safeguard a counselor or therapist’s religious beliefs and moral convictions,” FACT maintains. “It protects the right of conscience of the counselor but also allows the clients to receive treatment from someone who is better suited to treat them.”

On the other hand, those against the new law says it encourages discrimination against the LGBT community.

Chris O’Rear, the president of the Tennessee Association of Pastoral Therapists, expressed his own concern about it in a story in The Christian Times. “I’m not supportive of the bill as it is, but I don’t understand the need for it either. I don’t know what to degree this is actually a problem or whether certain people just want it to be a problem.”

In a statement issued after he signed the bill, Haslam admitted that he also had some concerns. Two of the most significant are addressed in the bill, he added.

“There are two key provisions of this legislation that addressed concerns I had about clients not receiving care. First, the bill clearly states that it ‘shall not apply to a counselor or therapist when an individual seeking or undergoing counseling is in imminent danger of harming themselves or others,” he said. “Secondly, the bill requires that any counselor or therapist who feels they cannot serve a client due to the counselor’s sincerely held principles must coordinate a referral of the client to another counselor or therapist who will provide the counseling or therapy.”

Speaking From Personal Experience

This is yet another case in which I have a unique perspective.

Book Cover

Years ago, it was Adam’s therapist, not Adam himself, who told me he self-identified as a woman. At the time, I resented the fact that my husband lacked the intestinal fortitude to tell me himself. I hated the fact that I had to hear the truth from a stranger. To be brutally honest about it, it was horrible.

But it’s not all about me. Looking back, I am happy that Adam had help and support during an incredibly difficult time. I am glad he could turn to a qualified professional. I shudder to think about what might have happened if he never found her. I also hate to think about what could have happened if he received sub-par treatment or bad advice from someone who felt “forced” to take his case.

Luckily our story had a (somewhat) happy ending. Sadly, that’s not always true.