Michigan Citizens At Jeopardy of Being Without Mental Health Counselors
Our nation is facing a mental health crisis and there simply aren’t enough counselors and other mental health professionals to meet the burgeoning demand for services, according to a recent analysis by the U.S. Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA). HRSA estimates nationally we need to add 10,000 providers in each of seven separate mental healthcare professions by 2025 to meet the expected growth in demand.
In Michigan there are nearly 1.4 million adults with mental illness and 67,000 youth suffering from a major depressive episode and the majority of these individuals are not receiving the care they need. We see the impact of this nearly everywhere — schools, workplaces, jails and emergency rooms – and it’s not without a cost. In “A Guidebook to Human Service Professions”, it is suggested that by 2020, depression will be the second most costly health problem, surpassed only by heart disease.
It’s quite shocking then, given this mental health crisis, that the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) would move forward with plans that will prohibit our 10,000 licensed professional counselors from continuing to practice in the state and leave hundreds of thousands of residents without the treatment they need. Mental illness is already mired in cultural stigma and access issues. These actions only continue to severely limit the availability of mental health services for those who require it most.
Despite the unanimous objections from the Michigan Board of Counseling, LARA is recommending repealing rules for Licensed Professional Counselors’ (LPCs) scope of practice. Most notably, it would remove the ability for LPC’s to diagnose patients. While these changes are sought to provide needed updates to the 30-year old rules, the unintended consequence is that thousands of qualified mental health professionals will find themselves unable to provide care.
Not only would these rule changes significantly limit the work LPCs can do in Michigan, it would put them in violation of both the American Counseling Association’s code of ethics and the state’s public health code. By adhering to Michigan’s new proposed rules, counselors would effectively be forced into actions that would result in their expulsion from the very profession they trained to practice.
While the ability to diagnose may not seem like that big of deal to the layman, this is a crucial component for patient treatment. A diagnosis is not only required before a mental health counselor can ethically and legally treat a patient, but also for payment by insurance companies.
We already know that costs are the reason nearly half of adult patients are not receiving the treatment they need. Yet mental health counselors are uniquely qualified to meet the challenges of providing high quality care in a cost-effective manner. Requiring patients seeking counseling treatment for their mental conditions to start paying all the costs out of pocket will effectively cut them off from the care they need.
Fortunately, there is a fix to this problem working its way through the state legislature. HB 4325, sponsored by Rep. Aaron Miller (R-Sturgis), would codify existing rules into statute instead of repealing them. This preferred solution allows counselors to maintain their ability to properly diagnose and treat individuals with mental and emotional disorders. As this bill makes its way through the legislature, the Michigan public should call their legislators and implore them to pass HB 4325 into law.
By ushering in this commonsense legislation, the state of Michigan will be ensuring its citizens have access to the licensed, qualified mental health care that they need.
Jim Blundo, Executive Director
Michigan Mental Health Counselors Association