In Tennessee, licensed counselors can provide therapy via video. However, counselors working towards a full license can’t. Those counselors normally provide therapy in person, under some supervision from a licensed counselor.
Laura Anderson, a licensed marital and family therapist in Nashville, wrote a letter telling Lee that this restriction is preventing people from getting access to care. She shared the letter in a Facebook group for therapists in Middle Tennessee and encouraged them to contact the governor as well.
“This statute was originally designed to protect the public. However, in this case the statue in question does the contrary as it prevents many people from being able to access the care they need,” Anderson wrote in the letter.
Gillum Ferguson, a spokesperson for Lee, said the Governor’s office is looking into some solutions. Anderson said she has spoken to other state officials who are also working on a solution.
“It's definitely something we want to look at. We want to look at any way we can provide flexibility to folks to be able to get the services they need,” Ferguson said on Monday morning.
In her letter, Anderson wrote that the restriction is putting some therapists in an ethical bind. The code of ethics that therapists follow prohibits “client abandonment.” In some cases, therapists have to choose between following the letter of the law and caring for patients.
George Davis, a lawyer and psychologist in Brentwood who teaches ethics for a counseling program at Vanderbilt, said he would advise therapists to provide care right now.
“If I'm having to advise a potential client who's a mental health professional, I think right now we can err on the side of providing services,” he said. “I think that makes sense. There's a lot of people with a lot of anxiety, a lot of fear, obsessiveness over this virus and they need help.”
Last week, a representative from the Tennessee Department of Health told the Refuge Center, a counseling center in Franklin, that 12 therapists, or about 20% of the counseling staff, would not be allowed to use telehealth.
Executive Director Amy Alexander said 150 to 200 clients lost access to care because they were not comfortable coming into the physical offices. The Refuge Center is still providing a limited number of in-person therapy sessions for people who don’t have access or feel uncomfortable using video conferencing software.
So far, the Tennessee Department of Health has reported more than 1,800 cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus in Tenenssee. In reality, the virus has likely infected far more people. Backlogs at laboratories and a lack of supplies have made it harder to identify every case of the disease. More than 140 people have been hospitalized and 13 people have died from the disease.