10,000 counselors and 150,000 clients with mental health issues could be impacted by new proposal

Her outfit is eccentric. Colored with greens and yellows, Stephanie Kastley is wearing the suicide prevention warrior suit. 

Her costume is a conversation starter. But as a licensed professional counselor her mission of helping people through mental health struggles relating to suicide. Kastley is a suicide prevention coordinator and she's worried about a proposal making its way through the State Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) that would limit who could assist those struggling with substance abuse or PTSD. 

"Take away our ability to diagnose - why are people going to come talk to me?" she asked. "People need to talk to a counselor."

Kastley isn't alone in her worries. Much of the mental health field is worried by LARA's move to reduce the number of counselors who could diagnose conditions like depression, anxiety, addiction and PTSD. It would impact both clients and their counselors.

"Given the prevalence rates of mental health concerns in the United States and Michigan today, this is something that would impact literally every family in Michigan," said Scott Branson, an assistant professor in the counselor program at Wayne State University.

The proposal would also prevent counselors from being reimbursed by insurance companies for their work.

"The amount of clients who would lose mental health services would be astronomical. This is not a good time for that," said Shirley Mack, the clinical director of counseling at Wayne State University.

The executive director of the Michigan Mental Health Counselors Association estimates up to 150,000 clients would be without services. James Blundo estimates if LARA rewrites the scope of their practice, which has been in place for 30 years, it would impact 10,000 licensed professional counselors in Michigan.

"We work in hospitals and state government and private practice," he said. "All of that would come to a halt. There are going to be a lot of people who will be without a therapist and some of them are in crisis."

Blundo said counselors have helped save "countless lives" in their efforts. Now, their lives will be "turned upside down."

"We're out there doing this kind of work everyday. So we are the front line and to take that away makes no sense whatsoever," he said.

In response to the threat, a Republican representative in the House has introduced a bill that would preserve the scope of the profession and how they operate. Professionals are urging residents to contact their representatives to support counselors. The bill is titled HB 4325.