This week, Arkansas lawmakers approved a bill that will allow therapists to reject clients if treating them would violate their religious beliefs. It’s only slightly less worse than a similar law in Tennessee that allows therapists to outright refuse to work with certain clients (though that law is being challenged).
The new policy, proposed by the Arkansas Board of Examiners in Counseling, says that counselors should refer clients elsewhere if they have a “religious objection” to treating them. It opens the door to discrimination against LGBT people, atheists, unwed mothers, or countless other groups of people whose lives may contradict a therapist’s religious beliefs.
The rule will allow counselors and therapists to refer a patient to someone else over sincerely held “ethical, moral or religious principles” but only after careful consideration and consultation, and only if the counselor is unable to effectively serve the client. It also says counselors cannot abandon someone who seeks assistance.
It sounds like counselors in Arkansas are already turning clients away because of their own beliefs, but this new law will just allow them to get away with it more easily:
Michael Loos, the board’s executive director, said the rule change was intended to help resolve complaints if a counselor refers someone away because of their beliefs. Counselors would not face sanctions for referring current or prospective patients, according to the rule change.
“We’re going to be policing our own profession, making sure folks are doing what they’re supposed to be doing about those issues that intrude upon their ability to be with a client,” Loos told lawmakers.
This is a blatant sugarcoating of a discriminatory new policy, and the American Counseling Association has already spoken out against it:
Arkansas’ new rule is prompting similar criticism that it opens the door for counselors and therapists to refuse treating someone because of their personal beliefs. The American Counseling Association, which represents more than 56,000 professional counselors, said the move conflicts with its code of ethics.
“The ACA Code of Ethics clearly states the steps that should be taken before a client is referred to another counselor,” Rich Yep, the association’s chief executive officer, said in a statement. “This (rule) blatantly circumvents that process and opens the door for discrimination.”
Once again, lawmakers are invoking “religious freedom” to exempt people from doing their jobs — and in crucial health services, no less. If a therapist can’t bring themselves to treat someone without judgment and empathy, perhaps they should find a different profession.
(Image via Shutterstock)