Mental health counselors score big win in Albany | local businesses

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Legislation could boost access to mental health care

Antoinette Steinbarth has been fighting for this for more than a decade. She has included trips to Albany and many conversations with major players to get her support.

Then, in the most recent legislative session in Albany, it finally happened.

A bill was passed that expands the scope of practice for licensed mental health counselors, licensed marriage and family therapists, and licensed psychoanalysts, creating a path for those professionals to eventually diagnose patients for themselves without the supervision of a psychiatrist or clinical social worker in certain settings. Governor Kathy Hochul signed it into law on June 24.

“For me, it’s a relief,” said Steinbarth, a licensed mental health counselor and program director for crisis centers at Spectrum Health & Human Services. “I am happy, because the reality is that we are trained.”

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Spectrum Health, BestSelf Behavioral Health and many other mental health treatment providers are applauding the legislation, which should expand the pool of professionals who can diagnose a new patient. New York was one of the last states where licensed mental health counselors, who need a master’s level or higher credentials, did not have the authority to diagnose.

Here’s why they say this law is a big deal:

For Steinbarth and Brittany Derry, clinical director of Spectrum Health, what the legislation really does is validate the position of a licensed mental health counselor.

The legislation aligns the diagnostic privilege requirements for licensed mental health counselors with those for licensed clinical social workers.

And as long as the counselors meet the education and experience requirements set out in the legislation, they are authorized to diagnose without the need for supervision. Those requirements for diagnostic privilege include completing a master’s degree of 60 semester hours or higher, including 12 semester hours of clinical coursework, and completion of at least 2000 hours of supervised direct client contact.

“It allows us to be on an equal footing with their licensed clinical social workers, where they were often seen above us, despite the extensive training we had to go through to become licensed mental health counselors,” Derry said.

Spectrum Health South Buffalo

A Spectrum Health & Human Services location in South Buffalo.

Courtesy of Spectrum Health

The legislation aims to address a couple of key issues, namely the increased need for mental health services at a time when the industry is experiencing critical workforce challenges.

By increasing the number of licensed mental health professionals authorized to diagnose, the legislation reasons that should help meet the high demand for services by allowing providers to treat more patients.

“We are grateful that the Legislature and Governor have recognized the valuable role that licensed mental health counselors and other experienced mental health professionals play in treating people experiencing behavioral health issues such as mental illness and addictions” said BestSelf President and CEO Elizabeth Woike-Ganga. in a sentence. “These changes to the scope of practice for these professionals will improve access to vital care in our community.”

While the legislation validates the title of licensed mental health counselor and could help with the influx of patients, officials say more is needed to help attract people to the field.

A major hurdle remains adequate pay for physicians in the field, said Brandy Vandermark-Murray, a licensed mental health counselor and senior vice president of operations for Horizon Health Services.

“Reimbursement rates and funding are not enough to keep staff, and many employees leave community mental health due to the challenges of the job and lack of adequate compensation, despite providers working hard to advocate for more funding to retain qualified staff,” he said.

Various versions of the bill had been introduced in previous legislative sessions over the past decade, but it took until 2022 to pass and sign.

At least one reason, according to Shannon Hodges, is that associations representing clinical social workers have long opposed licensed mental health counselors getting diagnostic privileges because they feared it would cost their clients their jobs. members.

“That’s a misconception, because there’s more work than even counselors, social workers and the rest of them combined can do,” said Hodges, a professor of clinical mental health counseling at Niagara University.

Hodges, who gets calls every month from providers looking to recruit graduates, believes the legislation can shorten waiting lists for services while improving quality of care.

“The other thing to remember is that New York was one of the last states to do this,” he said. “New York has often been one of the last states to change. So it will definitely improve access, which will improve the quality of mental health care.”

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