SB 1482: The AZ legislature misses the mark again. This is what happens when electeds think they know best.

Cactus Arizona

Update: we spoke and the bill was killed in committee. You can watch the committee proceeding here. They didn’t let all of us speak but enough of what we discussed seemed to get through. Yay! Thankfully, there will be a chance to draft something with language that doesn’t open the door to disaster. Maybe this is a chance to build bridges and help the legislature learn more about our professions and therapy through friendly, collaborative dialogue!

SB 1482 of the Arizona Legislature is incredibly dangerous. It’s a power grab initiated by the Legislative Branch toward the Executive Branch, which oversees professional boards. Under the guise of religious freedom, it essentially handcuffs professional regulatory boards (psychology and behavioral health, to be specific) from doing their job to protect the public from harm. If it passes, anyone who wants to can claim they’re a “therapist” and doing “therapy” just by way of saying it’s part of their religious convictions. No matter if they’re doing something really harmful or exploitative.I’m not a fan of “conversion therapy” at all, and I’m not even a religious counselor myself, but I also think the way that the professional associations are fighting this thing is not going to work because this bill is so much bigger than that. The strategy isn’t going to resonate as compelling with the bill’s sponsors or the majority of the legislature and, unfortunately, if we don’t get a better pitch going, our professions and the citizens who seek our help as therapists, will be critically injured.

Here’s what I wrote in to the legislature:

What might be a well-intended bill to stand for the religious and healthcare freedom of Arizonans will, unfortunately, put Arizonans in danger, and I’m not actually referencing gay conversion therapy at all (which is a high-risk service that people are already allowed to pursue, under other names, with pastoral counselors, life coaches, and spiritual healers). As both a counselor and marriage and family therapist, as well as a PhD student with a research focus on therapists’ ethics and how counselors cope with board complaints, I have attended dozens of hours of Psychology and Behavioral Health Board meetings. I’ve also been a complainant when my own therapist had some disturbing behavior and, thanks to regulatory boards, she’s getting some support she needs. That would not be possible if our professions weren’t regulated, or had a major loophole like this bill would create.

My practicum (the first of two clinical fieldwork experiences) in my master’s program was at a Christian counseling center and I fully support spirituality and values being included in therapy if it’s the right fit for that client’s choices and goals. And clients should get to choose those goals. Therapists are already allowed to offer religion-inclusive counseling so long as the methods haven’t been shown to cause harm. This bill, while perhaps trying to further that pursuit, ends up doing so much else instead, and to disastrous effect. If folks can call themselves therapists and offer therapy outside of board regulation so long as they hide behind religion, folks who have not committed to a code of ethics, or who’ve been relieved of their licenses after code violations, will be able to prey on clients without consequence:

Breaking clients’ confidentiality in humiliating ways. Showing up to and performing sensitive services while inebriated. Using their authority and secrets held in order to pressure clients to do things for a therapist’s personal gain. Providing treatments that are empirically harmful or administering otherwise safe treatments in harmful ways. Meddling in families’ parenting, custody and other liberties by providing testimony and disclosures to courts when it’s inappropriate.

Regulatory boards ensure that the public is protected and that, when therapists go rogue or are incapacitated in ways that can really hurt people, they get the help (supervision, rehab, probation, education) they need and, in the direst cases of serious harm, those people are removed from practice so they can’t victimize anyone else. There is a strong reason why professions are regulated with a synergy between professionals in that field and members of the public, with the stewardship of board staff and an assistant attorney general: professionals who work in the depths of their fields and understand the nuance, deeply care for their clients, and work from a detailed and carefully crafted ethical framework are the best folks to spot and understand when treatment breaks down and clients are harmed. Public members broaden the understanding, the staff keep things organized and working, and the attorneys general help all the staff and volunteers stay on the right side of the law.

The idea that folks can just claim religion to get around accountability and ethical practice, which is what this bill would serve to do, terrifies me. Please, I beg you, end this bill and work with Leg Council to craft something better. The citizens of Arizona trust you, they voted for you. We voted for you. Do the right thing. It’s not passing this bill, at least the way it is now. Our professions need to remain reserved for clinicians who have the education, clinical experience, competence, and professional ethics accountability to offer care and services at a standard the public can trust. Thank you for your consideration on this matter.

— Okay, I’ll get off my soap box now. It’s just, we really need to get our strategy/act together if we’re going to influence the legislature. We need to teach them things that they don’t already know and show them their blind spots. Just saying…

Therapist. Explorer. Anthro Nerd. Meaning-Maker. PhD student in Counselor Education & Supervision. halinabrooke.com & recoursecounseling.com