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Michigan counselors rally for bill that would let them keep diagnosing, treating patients

Sarah Cwiek
Michigan Radio

Licensed Professional Counselors, their colleagues and advocates rallied Monday night in Detroit for a State House bill they hope will let them continue doing their jobs in Michigan.

The bill would codify in law that LPCs can diagnose and treat people with mental health conditions. A proposed state administrative rule change would tighten up rules that state officials say have allowed LPCs to do that outside of their scope of practice for more than 30 years.

Veronica Visger is an LPC who runs two practices in Metro Detroit. She says she would have to shut down and let all her staff go if the bill doesn’t pass.

“Passing this bill just makes us protect what we’ve been doing for over three decades,” said Visger.  “It’s not changing a single thing. It’s protecting what we do so we can serve.”

“Over 300 clients a week walk through the doors of just my business. If House Bill 4325 doesn’t pass, I’d have to let all 20 of my mental health clinicians and staff go, and our doors would be shut, and where would all of those clients go?”

The bill faces a key vote in the House Ways and Means Committee Tuesday. Proponents say if it doesn’t pass, 10,000 LPCs will lose their licenses, and many people would lose mental health care.

State Representative Isaac Robinson (D-Detroit) says that would have a devastating effect on a mental health system that’s already overburdened, and the legislation would simply “etch in stone” the work that counselors are currently allowed to do.

“If you have 10,000 trained, highly-qualified mental health counselors who are providing mental health services to people, why would you tinker with that?” Robinson said.

Robinson and other advocates are pressing for the bill, which has strong bipartisan support, to pass without amendments.

David Harns, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, issued the following statement about the proposed rule changes that HB 4325 would reverse:

"The current and new rules do not allow licensees to diagnose and use psychotherapy techniques because the statute does not allow this practice under the profession's scope. The current rules are very outdated and require updates governing the counseling profession. Counselors will still be able to practice their profession under the new rules. The pending rules seek to move the existing language from one section to the proper section under the training and education portion of the rules. If the rules are adopted, the scope of practice would not change because the current law does not give LARA authority to expand or change the scope of practice of this profession by rule."

Update 10/10/2019 at 6:00 p.m.: This article was updated to reflect the fact that LARA contends current state rules do not allow LPCs to diagnose and treat patients as they currently do, and to include a statement from LARA.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Radio in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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