In September 2019, the state of Michigan’s Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs released new revisions for licensed professional counselors. These revisions dictate that counselors will be barred from diagnosing and using psychotherapy techniques with their clients. The department is hoping to have these rules in effect by November 2019, approximately a month after their Oct. 4 public hearing on the proposal.

While LARA claims these rules will help protect the public, they will actually do the opposite. Approximately 10,000 counseling jobs in Michigan will be affected, as diagnosing is necessary for insurance reimbursement. Furthermore, the mental health of clients will suffer. There are 150,000 Michigan residents who seek aid from professional counselors. Under LARA’s new rules, clients unable to afford the out-of-pocket cost will be forced to exit treatment, jeopardizing their mental health. 

The updates are wildly unnecessary. LPCs are the most accessible resource in mental health care, and their education trains them to treat a broad range of issues. They are clearly qualified to diagnose and use psychotherapy techniques. As LARA's rules will not change counselors’ education and training, they will continue to be qualified. Therefore, making revisions is nothing more than adding unreasonable limitations. If someone goes through proper education and training, they should be able to use their skills, especially when it goes toward helping others.

As someone who has received therapy for over a year, I can say it has been through the help of LPCs that I have found success in my recovery. Through counselors, I was able to understand my eating disorder and grasp my diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder. I was able to begin healing and learn new coping mechanisms. Counselors served as integral parts of my treatment team. Without them, my road to recovery would be more strenuous than it already is. 

When I was in a partial hospitalization program, the majority of my treatment team was counselors. The head coordinator of the eating disorder program was an LPC, as was my case manager. Outside of them, my team was made up of a dietitian, an activity therapist and a psychiatrist. More often than not, my counselors were more helpful than my psychiatrist. While my psychiatrist was able to confirm my diagnoses, prescribe medicine and occasionally offer advice, it was my counselors who unquestionably contributed to my recovery. I was able to express my emotions without judgment or pity, and they provided support during any difficult situations. In the hospital, these impromptu sessions were often during mealtimes. Depending on who was with me, my team would help me process my thoughts and would help make the situation seem less scary. In outpatient treatment, my counselor back home provided similar support in and outside of sessions. But she added another layer of support outside of sessions by texting me to check in and by allowing me to text her during panic attacks, if needed. Today, my counselor in Ann Arbor still serves as a vital part of my recovery. If LARA’s revisions are approved, I will no longer be able to attend counseling, and I will lose a needed service.

Thousands more like me will suffer from the regulations. Mental health care will continue to deteriorate if counselors are barred from providing diagnoses and utilizing psychotherapy. Michigan already has a mental health crisis. The need for care continually increases, but there are not enough counselors to aid people suffering from mental illness. By limiting the help even more, Michigan will further the mental health crisis. 

As a result, mental health insurance will be rendered useless, as counselors will no longer be qualified for reimbursement and will have to charge clients full price. Consequently, only the rich can then afford counseling. If counselors are not able to diagnose or use psychotherapy anyway, the sessions would not be worth the money, and help will be sought only from psychologists. However, there are not nearly as many psychologists, and their higher education makes them more expensive. Poorer clients cannot afford such a high financial change. Thus, LARA’s revisions will create a broken system, where qualified counselors are unable to treat, and the mental health of poorer patients will suffer. 

But it’s not a hopeless situation. Though LARA’s public hearing is already on Oct. 4, a Michigan House bill currently in committee can neutralize the changes. House Bill 4325 was introduced by state Rep. Aaron Miller, R-Sturgis, and its purpose is to clarify the state’s wording and requirements for LPCs. Unlike LARA’s revisions, HB 4325 will expand educational requirements while allowing counselors to continue to diagnose and treat. This bill is what would actually benefit the Michigan population, as it does not place practicing limitations on counselors. Expanding education does require more training to become a counselor, but it does not limit their treatment approach and diagnosing ability. No jobs will be lost and no clients will bear the consequences. 

If HB 4325 is passed before LARA’s revisions are accepted, then it will stop the revisions from happening. And yet, if the revisions are accepted, the bill will then be inapplicable. It is a fateful race against time, but it’s not entirely out of the public’s control. Residents must voice their support for counselors and inclusive mental health care.

Michigan has a responsibility to represent and care for its residents, but the regulations are negligent and endangering. Therefore, we must fight back. Signing petitions and participating in letter-writing campaigns are good starting points. Taking the time out of your day to support counselors and mental health in Michigan is worth it and will benefit our society. Mental health is a personal issue affecting our communities, but mental health care will flounder if we silently allow unreasonable and unnecessary requirements for counselors. Access to mental health care is a human right, and we cannot allow our government to threaten the health of its residents.

Chloe Plescher can be reached at chloebp@umich.edu.

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