I. Am. Appalled.
This new Tennessee law is one of the most unbelievable pieces of legislation I've seen in awhile. Discriminatory laws always bother me, but this one really hits home. The law basically tells any mental health professional 'Sure, go ahead and violate your ethics. No problem - it's totally fine!' Ummm, except it's not.
I am a school psychologist so I am most familiar with my ethics as a psychologist and as a school psychologist (yes - there are 2 separate ones). I know what the American Psychological Association (APA) and the National Association for School Psychologists (NASP) have to say about ethics. I am less familiar with counselors, social workers, and other helping professionals. To my wonderful colleagues out there - if anything I say is incorrect or misleading, please comment below. But I'm pretty sure that ALL of us adhere to the same basic ethical principles. I believe that this law advocates breaking several ethical principles, but the one that stands out to me is:
Respect For People's Rights and Dignity
You see that this is respect for rights and dignity. Not or. Telling someone that something is wrong with them when they contact you for help is the counseling equivalent to kicking someone when they are down. Anyone who seeks therapy is emotionally vulnerable and telling them that you can't treat them because of who they are?? SO UNETHICAL.
If you want to read the entire ethics code for psychologists, you can access it here. How many other ethical violations do you see? Leave a comment below.
I am not implying that every counselor should have to treat every patient that walks through their door - this would also be unethical. You should only treat those who are within your areas of competence and expertise. But if the sole reason that a counselor is turning someone away is because they are gay or transgender, that's ethically, and I would argue morally, wrong.
If you live in Tennessee and you seek counseling and are turned away solely because of your sexual orientation or gender identity, please, please, please report that person to their respective national organization. That's right - skip right over the state organization and go national. By causing distress based on discrimination they are breaking their ethics. That should be reported. Not sure which organization to report to? Here's a handy list:
Psychologist - American Psychological Association; http://www.apa.org/
Psychiatrist - American Psychiatric Association; https://www.psychiatry.org/
Counselor - American Counseling Association; https://www.counseling.org/
Social Worker - National Association of Social Workers; https://www.socialworkers.org/
At least one organization holds the same belief that I do. Here is ACA's statement about the new Tennessee law: https://www.counseling.org/news/updates/2016/03/03/counseling-profession-under-attack-in-tennessee
I couldn't find a direct response to the new law on APA's website, but this statement paper highlights similar concerns: http://www.apa.org/ed/graduate/conscience-clause-brief.aspx
To you all, especially my colleagues in the trenches - what do you think about this law? Leave a comment below with your thoughts.
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Dr. Sweeney is a licensed school psychologist and cultural competence expert. Here are her musings on life in a multicultural world.
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