I wanted to take a moment to speak directly to you regarding SB530.
If you are not familiar with SHB530, it is the bill that will allow for diagnosing for LPCs, LCSWs, and LMFTs, and contains a title protection for all three professions. I encourage all to read the bill, so that you are well informed as to the intent of the bill.
SB 530 was voted on final passage in the Senate (46-3) on October 2, 2017 and received in the House and referred to the House Professional Licensure Committee on October 3rd, where it awaits consideration. At this juncture, the bill needs to be reported out of the House Professional Licensure Committee and then it will head to the House floor for consideration. Should SB 530 be amended at any point in the House, the bill would need to return to the Senate for a concurrence vote on House amendments.
I will admit, this has been a challenging project, but one that all have stepped up to take on. With the guidance of our lobbyist, Janelle Lynch, we have worked tirelessly to provide educational information and data to members and staff in both the House and Senate, as well as the representatives of the Pennsylvania Psychiatric Society, Pennsylvania Psychological Association, PAMFT, and PASW to assist in their understanding of what counselors do and how we are well prepared to diagnosis and treat consumers. I want to acknowledge the great work of the board and other supporters in this effort. It truly is a team effort to work for our membership and protect our livelihood in PA.
I want to answer a few questions for all that have come up in regards to the intent of SB530.
Question: Why do we need a bill to allow diagnosing? We have been doing that already.
We acknowledge that LPCs have been paid to diagnose consumers historically, but we have not had the protection and support of legislation to guarantee the right to equity and parity with our mental health professional peer group. This bill will specifically establish that right for LPCs, as well as the other professions (LCSW and LMFT), which will help independent practitioners be able to practice more independently when dealing with third party payors, and support the concept of equity and parity in attaining credentialing with insurance companies. Trust me, allowing LPCs to diagnose is being questioned by both physicians and psychologists, as they know little of who we are, so the acknowledgement by legislation that we are equal in training and supervised experience is critical.
Question: If this law passes, can I not call myself a counselor without a license? Will I be able to practice independently as a counselor without a license?
First, I want to speak on the intent of the bill. As mentioned earlier, the intent of the bill is to assure equity and parity for Licensed Professional Counselors in PA. To do that, we have to protect the integrity of the profession by providing the guaranteed oversight that insurance companies and consumer advocates demand. Additionally, because the bill protects all three of the professions (LMFT, LPC and LCSW), it further solidifies the professional counselor as equal to the other professions. Furthermore, we, as mental health professionals, want to ensure that consumers have the protection needed to guarantee the following:
Assurance that an accepted standard of education, experience and supervision is required and verified by the state for counselors.
Assurance that if there is a complaint on a provider, that there is a government body that will investigate and remediate.
Assurance that the provider has malpractice insurance as a mental health professional, which is generally unavailable to unlicensed professions.
Assurance that a code of ethics guides the practice of counselors.
With that being said, the bill states the following:
ONLY INDIVIDUALS WHO HAVE RECEIVED LICENSES AS LICENSED PROFESSIONAL COUNSELORS UNDER THIS ACT MAY STYLE THEMSELVES AS LICENSED PROFESSIONAL COUNSELORS AND USE THE LETTERS "L.P.C." CONNECTION WITH THEIR NAMES. IT SHALL BE UNLAWFUL FOR AN INDIVIDUAL TO STYLE ONESELF AS A LICENSED PROFESSIONAL COUNSELOR, ADVERTISE OR ENGAGE IN THE INDEPENDENT PRACTICE OF PROFESSIONAL COUNSELING OR USE ANY WORDS OR SYMBOLS INDICATING OR TENDING TO INDICATE THAT THE INDIVIDUAL IS A LICENSED PROFESSIONAL COUNSELOR WITHOUT HOLDING A LICENSE IN GOOD STANDING UNDER THIS ACT.
This bill would not allow you to practice independently as a counselor, call yourself a professional counselor or imply you are a professional counselor. If you are a private practitioner with a Master’s degree and want to continue to practice without a license, you could be able to do so by using alternative terms such as “psychotherapist” or “life coach”, which is not regulated at this time in PA. If you advertise yourself to be a “counselor” as an independent practitioner that would be in violation of the bill.
For those who find themselves in the situation of wanting to pursue or continue their independent practice, PCA is committed to assisting you in attaining your professional license in PA and is establishing a special committee to provide that support. Our ultimate goal is to raise the professional standards of the counseling profession, to assure that counselors are treated with equity and parity with other Master level clinicians as independent practitioners, and to protect consumers in PA. That is why this bill is so critical to the profession.
Question: What if I am an NCC? Can I still practice independently under this bill?
The National Certified Counseling credential, although a recognized standard in the field, does not guarantee any counselor the ability to practice in any state. I encourage you to visit the NBCC Website for an explanation of the difference between the two. If one were to hold oneself out as an NCC, it would constitute the “USE ANY WORDS OR SYMBOLS INDICATING OR TENDING TO INDICATE THAT THE INDIVIDUAL IS A LICENSED PROFESSIONAL COUNSELOR” to a consumer who does not understand the differences. I assure you this is not a unique situation to PA. Many states have title protection acts.
With all of this discussion, please also note that we as your professional organization are committed to helping all members be successful and prosperous, and will assist in any way with making sure you can practice independently and within the law if this bill should pass.
We hope to have continue open dialogue with all of you as this bill moves forward to help with understanding what it means for you and all of us. This is an amazing step to elevating the professional standing of professional counselors and we are excited for this opportunity to move this forward. We will keep you posted and share ways you can advocate as we navigate the process.
As always, we are here for you.