Counseling bill could hurt Tennessee

ACA-American-Counseling-Association-logoOn Monday, legislation passed in Tennessee that would allow counselors to deny services and refer clients because of the provider’s “strongly held beliefs.”

As of press time on Tuesday, that legislation (HB1840/SB1556) was on its way to Gov. Bill Haslam’s desk for signature.

This legislation is an unnecessary government intrusion that has the potential to negatively impact Tennessee’s economy and damage the counseling profession as a whole.

Since the bill’s introduction, a growing chorus of voices has called on the state legislature to reject the legislation.

National attention has turned to Haslam as Tennessee seems poised to become the next state embroiled in the contentious debate surrounding LGBTQ rights and religious freedom legislation.

The recent national attention on the issue further underscores the potential damage to the state outlined by the Tennessean in a recent editorial, “Is Tennessee still open for business?”

The editorial condemns the bill and other discriminatory legislation as wrong for Tennessee and bad for the state’s businesses and reputation.

Prior to the legislation, Haslam’s recurring theme that the state is business friendly had led to unprecedented growth, a boom in jobs, record-setting tourism numbers and population growth. Tourists and investors from London to Tokyo to Ottawa have sought to strengthen ties with the Volunteer State.

However, that progress is in peril if Tennessee lawmakers decide that they want to join a handful of other states seeking to humiliate and marginalize its minorities, be it because of religion, sexual orientation or gender identity.

Butch Spyridon, CEO of the Convention and Visitors Corporation, who is quoted in the piece, worries about the impact the bill will have on Tennessee’s bottom line.

“We don’t need to do anything to diminish or hinder the success that is driving the state’s economy,” he said.

Spyridon called for Haslam to “veto any legislation that seeks to discriminate against the citizens he is charged to protect. If Tennessee is truly open for business, it would be open for business to all people, not just those deemed worthy by the majority of legislators.”

Read the full editorial at

ACA Director Art Terrazas said last week, “Tennessee is the only state in the country to pass a bill that invalidates the ACA’s Code of Ethics. HB 1840 mischaracterizes our profession, and it puts the people of Tennessee, particularly members of the LGBTQ community, in harm’s way.”

Barney Self, president of the Tennessee Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, also opposes this bill. He explained in a CNN interview: “If a client says to me, ‘I’m gay and you’re a Baptist; I don’t feel comfortable,’ I give them a list of other therapists that they might feel more comfortable with. It’s a co-constructive reality.”

He believes HB1840 hurts this process and makes clients feel uncomfortable. Self believes this bill does more harm than good and “ultimately, it legalizes malpractice.” To access the CNN coverage, see Barney_Self.

Tennessee counselor Leticia Flores’ wrote in her column for a leading LGBT publication, The Advocate, “While those behind the bill are fixated on the ‘LGBT bogeyman’ preying on their religious rights, HB 1840 is dangerous solution to a problem that — just like the bogeyman — does not exist.”

The American Counseling Association is a not-for-profit, professional and educational organization. It is the world’s largest association exclusively representing professional counselors in various practice settings. For more information or to review its Code of Ethics, see

This column was compiled from multiple press releases provided by the American Counseling Association.