Rule for Nebraska Counselors Still Mired in Gay Debate

Rule for Nebraska Counselors Still Mired in Gay Debate

By Grant Schulte, Associated Press. CREATED Oct 24, 2011

Lincoln, NE (AP) - A coalition of social workers, psychologists and family therapists on Monday demanded the state adopt rules that would require certain mental health professionals to offer referrals to gay patients if they refuse to treat them because of religious beliefs.

Terry Werner, who heads the Nebraska chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, said such referrals are already required in the code of ethics that governs each profession in the group. But he said the state's Division of Public Health has yet to adopt the same language for so-called licensed independent mental health practitioners, a position the Legislature created in 2007.

The new independent position allows qualified mental health practitioners who serve as counselors, social workers and therapists to diagnose and treat mental illnesses without formal medical supervision. Werner said the proposed regulations have sat untouched by the Division of Public Health since mid-2010.

The coalition has filed a petition demanding that the Department of Health and Human Services advance the rules.

Without such rules, the practitioners have "no formal guidance regarding their profession," the petition states. "Since the Legislature's creation of this category of professionals in 2007, there have been no rules or regulations governing these professionals."

"We believe that a therapist has the right to refuse service based upon religious or moral convictions," Werner said.

"However, they absolutely must provide a thorough and comprehensive referral. Anything less than that, in our minds, is in violation of our code of ethics and is not in the best interest of the client."

Jim Cunningham, executive director of the Nebraska Catholic Conference, has said psychologists, therapists and other licensed counselors should be able to refuse to treat clients because of religious or moral convictions and not have to refer them to another therapist. Their concern rose largely from an Iowa Supreme Court ruling that allowed same-sex marriage, raising the prospect that gay couples could come to Nebraska therapists for marriage counseling.

Cunningham has said the addition of sexual orientation to anti-discrimination professional ethics requirements makes it unclear whether that's allowed.


(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)