My vision of a possible future of licensure for professional counselors, either as employees for mental health agencies or as private practitioners, emerged slowly. It began during the last half of the 1970’s when I was a doctoral student at MS State University (MSU) in the Department of Counselor Education, and worked as a Psychological Associate at Weems Mental Health Center in Meridian. I can remember feeling confused, mystified and angry as I realized that despite my education, fancy title and perceived level of competence, someone else with a License to practice had to sign off on my work before the Center was paid… It was at that point that I learned about third party payments, and that some insurance companies paid for their clients’ counseling services, but only under certain conditions.
In 1979, with my doctorate in hand, I was offered a full time position at Weems, and MSU offered me the opportunity to teach counseling courses on an adjunct basis. I was also interested in eventually going into private practice as a counselor. By this time I realized that I must have a license in order to earn a decent living, and to gain credibility as a Professional Counselor. I applied for a license in Counseling Psychology, but was turned down. This was not a big surprise, but I didn’t like it. I was not particularly interested in pursuing a license in my minor area of study, Educational Psychology.
I immediately began to think that almost everyone with a professional background and goals similar to my own must be encountering problems in their counseling practices. The primary problems seemed to me to be the lack of a MS Law which would provide for a State Licensing Board for Professional Counselors and a protected title such as “Licensed Professional Counselor” (LPC) for its Licensees.
Two main jobs of such a Board would be to regulate the practice of professional counseling by LPCs in MS, and to distribute Licenses according to set minimum standards of education, experience, and supervision. Only with a Title and License would it seem possible to gain access to third party payments on a large scale, thus increasing our value to potential employers, and/or our ability to make a living in private practice.
After examining some licensing Bills, and Laws, even in other professions, from MS and other States, I decided in 1982 to try writing a Counselor Licensure Bill, and I did. It took some time. Upon reading the Bill, my Senator agreed to have it put into MS form, and he did. He agreed to sponsor the Bill in the Senate, and later my Representative agreed to sponsor it in the House.
Prior to Fall Conference, 1982, I was invited to an MCA Board meeting, and at their direction I helped in introducing the Licensure Bill to each Division, Region, and Interest group during Fall Conference. During the Conference’s Annual business meeting, members voted to support the Licensure Bill.
It took three years, (1983 -1985) of intensive legislative effort by members of MLPCA, then known as the Mississippi Clinical Mental Health Counselors Association (MCMHCA), and MCA, to get the Professional Counselor Licensure Bill passed by the Legislature and signed into Law by the Governor. The Law became effective on July 1, 1985. By 1986, the Governor had appointed and licensed the first Board members of the Mississippi State Board of Examiners for Licensed Professional Counselors and the first applications were taken. This one momentous event was the beginning of the pendulum swing in favor of counselors and students who were interested in majoring in the area of Counselor Education. It was the foundation, the professional designation, within which MLPCA and MCA members would work later toward inclusion of LPCs in third party payments. It has been a hard fight, with some successes already achieved.
All through my years of teaching, especially early on, I got one recurring question from my students, the gist of which was: “Why should I get my degree in Counselor Education when I can major in Social Work or Psychology, attain a License in the field, have greater employment opportunities and potentially earn more money?” That was a difficult question to answer because the students were right. Future possibilities had to be discussed. As a result of this, at that time realistic situation, several students were lost to other fields of study.
None of the changes that have occurred since the advent of the LPC License have occurred in a vacuum. Changes such as the inclusion of LPCs in the Freedom of Choice Bill in 1992 and removal of its sunset clause in 1994 have come about due to the continuing Legislative efforts and skillful leadership of members of MLPCA. I remember the excitement in the year 2000 when after a long fight LPCs were finally included in the State and Public School Employee Health Insurance Plan. Both of these moves opened up possibilities for thousands of clients to choose LPCs for counseling, and for Counselors to receive insurance reimbursements from their client’s insurance companies.
Let the Counselor beware! Just because a Bill is passed, or a Board opens the way for LPCs to receive insurance reimbursement for counseling services rendered, does not mean that it will always remain that way. Politics change. Opportunities change. Corporations change. Right now, for example, TriSpan is questioning the ability and training of LPCs to provide psychotherapy. If we do not advocate successfully for ourselves in this matter, thousands of Mississippi MEDICARE and Medicaid residents will no longer have access to our services. This is a potential major disservice to these people and to LPCs credibility and income.
You can help. You can lead. Join the Mississippi Counseling Political Action Committee (MCPAC). Take advantage of every opportunity for Legislative training offered by MLPCA. Attend MCA Day at the Capitol. Let your Senator and Representative know where you stand on those LPC issues which affect your ability to make a living.
Above all, network, build bridges, and have fun!
Suzanne Phillips, EdD, LPC