Grassroots Efforts Grow After Counseling Law

Posted at 10:42 PM, May 06, 2016

A week after the controversial counseling bill became law, licensed therapist Dr. Dianne Bradley has already heard from concerned clients.

"One client had asked the question 'am I supposed to tell you what my beliefs are so you can see if we can work together or not?'" she said.

That fear and misconception are a big part of Bradley's problem with the new law, which allows licensed therapists to turn away clients based on religious beliefs.

"Those are the people we really worry about, that they might hesitate to come to counseling or therapy now," she said.

That's why she added her name to a growing list of hundreds of professionals pledging to counsel unconditionally, no matter the beliefs, sexual orientation or life choices of their clients.

"If they can't access us or if they feel that they would be rejected than we increase the likelihood of those people doing harm to themselves or others," she said. She's also a part of a group of therapists and Nashville music industry members hoping to educate the public on what therapists actually do.

But supporters of the law say it's to protect the therapists who may have religious beliefs that conflict with working with certain patients. And they point out the law requires therapists refer the patient to someone else if they don't want to work with them.

"No one is going to have a door slammed in their face, no one is not going to be able to get the counseling that they need," said bill sponsor Sen. Jack Johnson (R, Franklin).

Dr. Bradley says she's religious. But it's not a problem that some of her clients are gay.

"They're dealing with relationship issues, anxiety, depression or job loss," she said, "they're dealing with things that people deal with."

And she has a message for anyone struggling:

"There are many more of us that are open for business than not."

She says that's part of the cardinal rule of counseling: do not do more harm than good.

Bradley says Governor Haslam called her to ask a few questions before signing the bill. After he signed it he said his number one reason was that the bill does not apply if someone is in imminent danger of harming themselves or others.