CCA Multicultural Counseling Committee & CT-ALGBTIC Committee

Dr. Misty Ginicola, LPC & Kelly Moran, School Counseling Graduate Student

Welcome to our inaugural Cultural Corner Column! We are dedicated to bringing CCA members brief news, resources, or event announcements each month that can help us all become more multiculturally competent as counselors!

This month, we are highlighting the disturbing news from Tennessee, regarding the SB1556 legislature, which if signed into law, would allow counselors to openly discriminate against LGBT clients by refusing to treat them on “sincerely held principles” (amended from “sincerely held religious beliefs”). ACA has responded and is continuing their lobbying in opposition to the law, which may include the annual 2017 conference being held in another location. In this article, we wanted to highlight a few reasons why we believe the tenets of this law are damaging to our field.

1. Where do we draw the line for “sincerely held religious principles”? Could an atheist refuse to work with a Christian? Could a Christian refuse to see a Jewish client? Could a Jewish counselor refuse to serve a Muslim? Could a Muslim refuse to see any client who eats pork? The spirit of the law was focused on allowing counselors to refuse LGBT clients, but this loophole law allows anyone to openly discriminate against anyone that practices something that does not fit into their personal beliefs.

2. As counselors we are allowed our personal beliefs; we are stronger clinicians for being self-aware and having strong values. But the moment we impose our personal values and beliefs on ANY client, we are violating the basic essence of counseling: of unconditional positive regard and empathy that lead to healing, regardless of our specific theoretical orientation and interventions.

3. Finally, referring a client out to a more accepting counselor may seem like a good alternative to struggling to provide acceptance to a client who you fundamentally do not agree with in some way. But, imagine this scenario: a suicidal client reveals to you 3 months into treatment that they are struggling with the thought that they are gay. You refrain from saying much, and then let the client know after therapy that you are referring them to another counselor. Imagine the impact on that client; this may not only cement their feelings of hopelessness, it may push them to acting on their suicidal thoughts.

We do not take a formal “oath” as counselors like doctors do with their Hippocratic Oath; But we do share a common ethical standard: “First do no harm.” When you enter the counseling field, you agree to take on the massive responsibility of caring for your clients, never abandoning or harming them, and always having their best interests at heart. This responsibility includes understanding where our personal values end and clients’ autonomy and right to treatment begins.