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Tennessee Passes Bill Allowing Counselors to Deny Patients Based on 'Sincerely Held Principles'

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Tennessee legislators passed a bill on Monday that would allow counselors to reject patients they feel violate “sincerely held principles.” Gov. Bill Haslam (R) of Tennessee has not yet signed the bill into law — but critics argue it would jeopardize mental health access for those in the LGBTQ community.

If passed, Tennessee would become the only state with such a law, ABC News reported.

The American Counseling Association publicly condemned the bill, calling it “an unprecedented attack” on the association’s code of ethics, which states:

Counselors refrain from referring prospective and current clients based solely on the counselor’s personally held values, attitudes, beliefs and behaviors. Counselors respect the diversity of clients and seek training in areas in which they are at risk of imposing their values onto clients, especially when the counselor’s values are inconsistent with the client’s goals or are discriminatory in nature.

LGBTQ individuals are almost three times more likely than others to experience a mental health condition such as major depression or generalized anxiety disorder, according the the National Alliance on Mental Illness. For LGBTQ people aged 10 to 24, suicide is one of the leading causes of death.

David W Bond, LCSW and vice president of programs at The Trevor Project, said bills like this have a number of negative mental health outcomes for the LQBTQ community. And technically, because mental health professionals already have the obligation to know if they can provide the best treatment for their clients, the passage of the bill won’t do much except send a message. 

The Trevor Project, which provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ youth, released a statement saying, “The homophobia and transphobia infused in Tennessee’s House Bill 1840 [the bill in question] is a disgrace to the mental health community.”

According to ABC News, the bill would not allow counselors to turn away people who are in imminent danger of harming themselves or others. Gov. Haslam said he wanted to read the final version of the bill before deciding whether to sign it into law.

To contact the Trevor Lifeline at 866-488-7386. To read the Trevor Project’s full statement, click here.

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.

Originally published: April 12, 2016
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