Thursday, August 21, 2014

Some rural states allowing pastoral counselors to become licensed mental health providers

Six states with large rural populations—Arkansas, Kentucky Maine, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Tennessee—are using religion to help people with mental health problems, Michael Ollove reports for Stateline. All six states have passed laws allowing pastoral counselors to become licensed mental health counselors. Proposed laws in other states, such as Pennsylvania and New York, failed to pass. (Lexington Herald-Leader photo by Jack Brammer: Kentucky pastoral counselor Glenn D. Williams)

Kentucky, the most recent state to pass the law, has 20 licensed pastoral counselors, Ollove writes. Kathy Milans, a pastoral counselor and chairman of the Kentucky Board of Licensure for Pastoral Counselors, "said many pastoral counselors wanted the new law so they would be on an equal footing with other mental health professionals." She told Ollove, “It just moved us up a notch professionally. All the other helping professions had that license after their names, and we did not.”

The Kentucky law was spearheaded by State Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr (R-Lexington), who said "boosting the number of mental health providers, particularly in rural areas, was a major motivation," Ollove writes. She told him, "Of course, any parishioner can now go and seek advice from his or her pastor, but we are talking about a professional degree."

And the need is great, especially in Kentucky, which has one of the nation's lowest per capita number of psychologists and mental health counselors, Ollove writes. A study by the Health Resources and Services Administration found that 89.3 million Americans live "in federally-designated Mental Health Professional Shortage Areas, compared to 55.3 million Americans living in primary-care shortage areas and 44.6 million in dental health shortage areas. A Kaiser Family Foundation analysis found that the current mental health workforce is only able to meet about half of the nation’s demand for behavioral health services." (Read more)

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