An Open Letter from a Therapist:
I am really struggling with where to begin. As a general rule, I don’t post things on my professional page that are opinionated in nature. I believe my personal opinions about politics, religion/spirituality, or even food should not really be relevant to my professional clinical practice. Today however I feel the urge to share my opinion about something that I feel is an issue regarding basic human rights and the access to clinical care. Today is a day when I cannot and will not be silent. This morning I read an incredibly disturbing article about a recent bill passed by legislators in Tennessee, House Bill 1840 (info linked in comments section below), that would allow counselors and therapists to deny services to individuals in the LGBTQ community based on “sincerely held principles”. To put it lightly I was completely horrified and alarmed, as this legislation would be in direct violation of both the NASW and the ACA’s Code of Ethics. As the National Association of Social Worker’s Code of Ethics states:
“The primary mission of the social work profession is to enhance human well-being and help meet the basic human needs of all people, with particular attention to the needs and empowerment of people who are vulnerable, oppressed, and living in poverty.”
It further states:
“Social workers promote social justice and social change with and on behalf of clients. “Clients” is used inclusively to refer to individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities. Social workers are sensitive to cultural and ethnic diversity and strive to end discrimination, oppression, poverty, and other forms of social injustice.”
In addition, the American Counseling Association’s Code of Ethics states the following:
“The mission of the American Counseling Association is to enhance the quality of life in society by promoting the development of professional counselors, advancingthe counseling profession, and using the profession and practice of counseling to promote respect for human dignity and diversity.”
Now to add some clarification here, on both the social work and counseling track, these Codes are NATIONAL standards. While each state has their own licensing board and requirements for licensing in terms of hours required before independent clinical practice, etc, the codes of ethics for both (which we as clinicians and social workers are all supposed to abide by and uphold) are not different state by state. This legislation is in direct contradiction with these ethical standards, and in actuality if a therapist were to do this in practice, they could and should be sanctioned by the Board.
On a more personal level, I really love what I do. This work is sacred to me, and finding out about this legislation felt like someone came into my sacred place and defiled it. Anyone who is a good therapist is aware of the unique and powerful things that can happen in a therapeutic setting. I have borne witness to some people’s darkest moments, sat with them in compassion during extreme emotional pain, and I have seen people grow, change, experience tremendous joy, overcome trauma, radiate resilience, and be reborn. It is the most rewarding and valuable work I have ever done, and I can never say enough how every person I encountered has changed me and inspired me. My gratitude that I am able to do this work is endless, even on the toughest days.
That being said, this work is not for the faint of heart. Not everyone should be a therapist, regardless of how pure your intentions may be. Being a therapist means being able to put yourself aside to be there and be present for the person sitting across from you. For that person who may be vulnerable, hurting, afraid, ashamed, at risk of relapse, or at risk of giving up and dying. That person may have been wounded and rejected a thousand times over before they work up the courage to seek help. How tragic to get to that point, to finally take that very difficult and brave step, to then be rejected again by the PROFESSIONALS that are supposed to be there to support them. Therapy is supposed to be the one place in our society where you can find an objective person, free of judgement, to support and empower you and meet you where you are. It is supposed to be the one confidential place (safety and child welfare concerns not withstanding) where a person can seek solace and support without fear of judgement or consequence. This legislation is a complete violation of that sacred space, pure and simple. I may not always agree with a client’s idea or beliefs, but that doesn’t matter because it’s not my job to do so. What is my job is to ensure that I manage those feelings appropriately through good supervision and consultation so my own “stuff” doesn’t taint the work.
So if you are a therapist in Tennessee, or anywhere for that matter, and you saw this bill and even one iota of you thinks it’s a good idea, then please, from the bottom of my heart, realize this work is not for you. Please find another way to offer your services or help your community. Because if you agree with this legislation then you are not a true social worker. You are in fact dangerous and harmful in your role to the community at large, and if you have any sense of responsibility and empathy, you will know yourself enough and respect the profession enough to quietly bow out.
And if you are someone who has experienced this from a therapist, or has had any other negative therapeutic experience, I implore you to not give up your search to seek help. There are so many good ones out there, and each and
every one of us is so deserving of safe and empathic clinical care. If you have had a bad experience, then that person didn’t deserve your story and is it their loss. As Brene Brown said “Our stories are not meant for everyone. Hearing them is a privilege, and we should always ask ourselves this before we share: “Who has earned the right to hear my story?” Remember that it is you doing the hard thing in opening up and taking risk, and if a clinician is going to judge you, please know the problem is with them, not you.
My hope is that by writing this letter, at least one person who is living in a place where it doesn’t feel safe to be you, might see this and feel comforted. And might know that you are not alone, those of us in this field for the right reasons have not and will not abandon you. If one person gets that message, then that will be enough.
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