Dr. Helen

Should Therapists Be Able to Refuse Service Based on Religious Objections?

A new bill in Tennessee would allow therapists to refuse service to clients for religious reasons:

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam says he is deciding whether to sign legislation that would allow therapists to refuse service based on religious objections.

In an interview with NPR’s Morning Edition, he said he is “talking to a lot of folks to get some input” on the bill and that he had boiled his thinking down to this central question: whether therapists could truly leave their values out of their work.

On one hand, he points out that the American Counseling Association “says you should always counsel from a valueless position. In other words, you don’t put your own values into the conversation; you’re there to help.”

But, he added, “I personally wonder … regardless of whether you’re a religious person or not, everybody comes into every conversation with a particular worldview and things that you believe are right or wrong. The question is can you counsel from a totally non-value-based position?”

The bill was approved by Tennessee lawmakers in April and would stipulate that licensed counselors not be punished if they refer clients to other therapists over “sincerely held principles,” as Nashville Public Radio has reported. LGBT advocates say the bill would make it harder for gays and lesbians to get counseling.

Beyond the law, ethically, if a therapist feels they cannot work with a patient, it is best to refer them to someone who can. And no therapist should be punished for referring a client to another therapist who they think can be more objective.

What do readers think? Should therapists be able to refuse treatment to someone for religious reasons?