New MI law protects licensed professional counselors’ ability to diagnose and treat mental disorders

Public Act 96 of 2019 goes into effect on January 27. It updates the scope of practice for counselors in the Public Health Code to make it legal for licensed professional counselors (LPC) to diagnose and treat mental disorders. The legislation came last fall when the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) proposed to change the rules governing the scope of practice for LPCs. The rule change would have prohibited counselors from using counseling techniques and psychotherapy to treat patients – techniques Michigan counselors say they’ve used for over 30 years. On October 4, 2019, hundreds of counselors gathered in Lansing to lobby against LARA’s proposed rule change and argue for the passage of a bill that would protect their right to practice. Their efforts proved to be a success, as shortly after, House Bill 4325 was passed to preserve LPC’s scope of practice – and signed into law by Governor Whitmer on October 29, 2019.

Counselors are sometimes thought of as the person an individual goes to see when life gets stressful. However, a counselor’s scope of practice can extend beyond techniques that help cope with common stressors such as work-life balance or family matters; they also diagnose and treat mental illness. In Michigan, licensed professional counselors work with individuals, families, and groups to treat mental, behavioral, and emotional problems and disorders. 

Rebecca Spann is a Grand Rapids-area licensed professional counselor, certified clinical anxiety treatment professional, and founder and lead therapist at About You Counseling. She and other Grand Rapids-based therapists were among hundreds of LPCs who traveled to Lansing last fall to lobby around the right to continue practicing in the same tradition of diagnosing and treating mental illness.
 
“LPCs add great value to the communities we serve. We have always used these different treatment modalities while in practice.” However, with the new bill, says Spann, “We are just protected to continue to use them.”
 
The new law will take effect at a time when access to mental health care is still a challenge across the state, primarily due to a shortage of service providers. It also comes at a time when although seeking treatment for mental illness is still a stigma – especially among people of color, there are positive trends toward improvement. According to Spann, the stigma around mental health is continuously being broken for people of color. “More people are asking for therapists,” she says. “I have witnessed a strong social media movement nationwide and an increase in mental health conversations.”

Conversations around mental health matter. They go a long way toward breaking down barriers that prevent individuals from seeking help. On January 18, Spann partnered with four local therapists and artist E’lla Luster Webber to host an evening of mental health discussions and art activity suited for women. “I wanted women from the community to be able to have real-life conversations,” says Spann. When asked about the role of art in mental health treatment, she says, “As a mental health therapist, I like to combine unique activities that give clients a platform to express how they feel, along with talk therapy.” I am not an art therapist, she adds, “but, I have facilitated groups and classes where art activities were used to assist in addressing emotions and to inspire conversation.”
 
LPCs are often on the front line of mental health services. That is why the passage of House Bill 4325 was so important. Without it, thousands of Michiganders were at risk of losing access to vital mental health treatment and thousands of counselors were at risk of losing their jobs. With the law set to take effect on January 27, it presents a new opportunity to initiate conversations around mental health care; specifically, conversations around access.  A common barrier to treatment is the lack of knowledge of resources available to those who need help; such as, LPCs can diagnose and treat mental disorders such as anxiety or depression – and that they can bill insurance for these mental health services.
 
Photos courtesy About You Counseling.

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