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Proposed rule change stirs conflict among mental health professionals

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Proposed changes to a state statute that would ban Licensed Professional Counselors from diagnosing patients are creating conflict among mental health professionals. 

The rule change, if it passes, would mean that Licensed Professional Counselors, or LPCs, are no longer allowed to practice psychotherapy techniques or diagnose patients. 

Heidi Weipert is an LPC in Big Rapids. 

“It would be the collapse of my private practice,” she said. “I would be in an ethical dilemma with my clients; it’s in our code of ethics not to abandon clients.”

According to officials, the changes were initiated by the attorney general’s office when it found inconsistencies between licensing rules and current state statute.

Dan Olsen is with the attorney general’s office. He said the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs is amending counseling rules “to ensure that the rules more clearly align with existing law.”

“I understand and respect that many health professionals have strong views on these issues and remind them that there is a bill pending—HB 4325—that may resolve their concerns,” he said. “We encourage all health professionals, including counselors, to contact their legislators to have their voices heard.”

State Representative Aaron Miller (R-Sturgis) introduced HB 4325. He said under the bill, counselors would keep their ability to make a diagnosis. 

“It’s what they’ve been doing for 30 years. All we’re looking for is a codification of current practice,” he said. “All we’re looking for is for them to keep on doing what they are doing: diagnosing mental illness.”

But Miller said, he is getting some pushback. 

Justin Fisher with the Michigan Psychiatric Society said the group believes that what LARA is doing is extreme. But he said LPC’s should not be allowed to diagnose patients.

“Just to be frank, they don’t have the education that is required to make some of these decisions, life or death decisions,” he said. “It possibly puts these patients at risk. If they are misdiagnosed or improperly treated, a million things could happen.”

President-Elect of the Michigan Psychological Association, Joy Wolf Ensor, said she supports counselors and everything should be done to ensure that state residents don’t lose mental health coverage. 

“We have a critical shortage of mental health providers in Michigan, there’s room in the profession for all specialties, and there’s need in communities for all of us,” she said.

Ensor said that she would like to see Michigan's standards for the Clinical Mental Health Speciality mirror the national standards laid out by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP), one of the major counseling accreditation bodies in the country. She said the legislation currently pending before the state House is an opportunity to codify those requirements.

And she said current counselors should be grandfathered into the updated standards so that counselors don’t lose their jobs and patients don’t lose their care provider.

Rep. Aaron Miller said there is some urgency in trying to resolve these differences. 

“I think there is still time,” he said. “Regardless, we need to move HB 4325 quickly, in my opinion.”

If HB 4325 is passed into law, it would supersede LARA’s proposed rule change.

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