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Michigan counselors to continue practice as normal under bill sent to Whitmer

Licensed mental health counselors in Michigan will be allowed to continue diagnosing and treating patients under a bill adopted Thursday by the state Senate. The bill is now in its way to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer for her to sign or veto.

Lawmakers have been flooded with messages on social media and voicemail as well as visits to their offices. Licensed counselors say new rules being enacted by the state Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs  (LARA) would put them out of business.

“We had everything — coffee hour visits, office visits, Facebook messages, Twitter messages,” says state Sen. Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield). “I was waiting for people to have carrier pigeons come up to my front door.”

The intensive lobbying effort was aimed at blocking a change in rules as they’re enforced by LARA. It would prohibit counselors from diagnosing patients and helping to develop treatment plans. That would also make it harder for counselors to have their services covered by insurance.

David Flowers, a counselor from Flint, says if the rules were to take effect he couldn't do his job.

“The rule would prohibit us from using therapy techniques, and part of therapy techniques is defined as establishing a therapeutic relationship with a client,” he says. “So if you can’t do that, you can’t do anything.”

Counselor Anna Van Wyck from northwest Michigan works with children up to age 12. She says the bill adopted by the Legislature is a welcome reprieve.

“It means all the children and the families that I see are going to be able to continue to get the counseling that they need,” says Van Wyck. 

Counselors stood in the Senate gallery and cheered once the unanimous vote was announced. Their attention will now turn to Whitmer as they press her to sign the bill.

The governor’s press secretary says she’s sympathetic to the goal of the legislation, but she has not committed to approving the bill.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987. His journalism background includes stints with UPI, The Elizabeth (NJ) Daily Journal, The (Pontiac, MI) Oakland Press, and WJR. He is also a lifelong public radio listener.