As landmark California law heads to court, few support reparative therapy for minors

SB1172 would prevent licensed therapists from trying to change the sexual orientation of minors.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

JudgesTools IconTwo lawsuits (Pickup v Brown and Welch v Brown) have sought to stop the implementation of SB1172, California’s landmark bill passed last year that outlaws the practice of reparative therapy on minors. Though one of these suits did lead to an injunction preventing 1172 from taking effect until the legal challenges could be sorted out, things aren’t looking good for those who would like it to remain legal for licensed therapists to try to turn gay kids straight.

Here is a list of all those who have filed amicus (“friend of the court”) briefs in support of SB1172, as of the February 10 listing on the federal appeals court’s web page for this case. I’ve put the major professional mental health associations in bold. (Full disclosure: I’m on the AAMFT-CA Board of Directors, and represented the organization in a lot of work on SB1172 and the brief onto which AAMFT-CA signed.)

American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy – California Division
American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California
Rt. Rev. Marc Handley Andrus, Episcopal Bishop of California
California Council of Churches
California Faith for Equality
California Network of Metropolitan Community Churches
California Psychological Association
Children’s Law Center of California
City and County of San Francisco
Dependency Legal Group of San Diego
Dr. Jack Drescher
East Bay Children’s Law Offices
Equality California
First Amendment Scholars
Health Law Scholars
Justice and Witness Ministries
The LGBTQ-Affirmative Therapist Guild of Utah
Legal Advocates for Children and Youth
Legal Services for Children
Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center
Los Angeles Youth Network
National Association of Social Workers
National Association of Social Workers – California Chapter

Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays
Public Counsel
St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation
Survivors of Sexual Orientation Change Efforts
The Trevor Project
Truth Wins Out
Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry California
United Church of Christ

Quite a list, eh? Lawyers, scholars, local government, mental health professionals, churches, and advocacy groups, all on the same side. And here is a list of all those who have filed amicus briefs in support of using therapy to try to turn gay kids straight, and asking that the law be struck down:

National Legal Foundation

While the points of emphasis are a bit different from one brief to the next, those briefs in support of SB1172 make a number of compelling arguments. The restriction on reparative therapy isn’t unique, as California already restricts a variety of health care practices; the legislature made a well-informed decision in rejecting the practice of reparative therapy among minors; reparative therapists can’t claim free speech as a defense here, since many professional restrictions are by their nature restrictions on speech (like the rules requiring therapists to maintain confidentiality for their clients); and on and on. Basically every argument made by those who support reparative therapy gets demolished. They’re interesting reading, and a good preview of the legal arguments on both sides.

The two cases will be heard together in April at the US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Obviously, the number of groups on either side of the issue will not decide the case, but the level of consensus here at least says something about just how far on the fringes reparative therapy has become.

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Julea Ward wins court ruling, while legislation bearing her name advances

Her religious discrimination suit is returned to a federal jury. Meanwhile, a proposed law in Michigan would allow students to refuse to treat any client they chose, out of any genuine religious or moral belief.

EMUstudentCenterYpsilantiMIJulea Ward has enjoyed two big victories so far this year.

For the first time, she won a court ruling in her case against Eastern Michigan University, which had disciplined her for refusing to provide counseling services to a gay client as part of her graduate practicum training. Just weeks later, legislation bearing her name moved forward in the Michigan legislature despite protests from universities and professional associations that the Julea Ward Freedom of Conscience Act would make it harder to effectively train mental health professionals.

In the court case, Ward’s victory was limited but it does keep her case alive. While not making a determination of the merits of the case, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Ward should have the opportunity to argue that her religious beliefs were used against her, according to the Associated Press. The case will be returned to a Detroit-based federal jury.

In the Michigan legislature, the House Education Committee advanced HB5040, the bill bearing Ward’s name. According to the Holland Sentinel, the bill would “prohibit religious discrimination against students who are studying counseling, social work, and psychology.” That description seems a bit narrower to me than the bill itself, which goes beyond just prohibiting discrimination: it actually prohibits universities from any disciplinary actions against students who refuse to treat clients based on “a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction of the student, if the student refers the client to a counselor who will provide the counseling or services.”
You can keep up with the bill’s progress here: HB5040.

I wrote about Ward’s case for Family Therapy Magazine a couple of months ago (full article: Can a religious therapist refuse to treat gay and lesbian clients?). She described the events that led to her lawsuit in this video for the Christian-based legal organization that is defending her:

I’ll be writing more about HB5040 and other “conscience clause” legislation in the near future. In the meantime, the Pew Research Center offers a fascinating legal history of conscience issues in health care.

Update: About a week after this post was initially published, I posted another piece about conscience clause legislation.

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MFT student alleges racial discrimination kept her from degree

A former MFT student at Southern Mississippi has sued the university, claiming their discrimination made it impossible for her to complete her practicum hours.

JudgesTools IconAccording to a report in Monday’s Hattiesburg American, former MFT student Maria Salcido has sued the University of Southern Mississippi over alleged racial discrimination. Salcido, who is Hispanic, alleges that she was told by faculty that she needed to secure a practicum working with Hispanic clients, and that the program then failed to find her such a placement. Salcido left the program in 2009 and moved to Wisconsin, though it is unclear from the newspaper report whether she left the program voluntarily or was kicked out.

Salcido appears to have completed all the rest of her academic coursework; the report indicates that both sides agree she only needs to complete the practicum to complete her masters degree. Salcido is seeking compensation, punitive damages, and the opportunity to finish her degree.

The newspaper attempted to reach the university’s lawyer for a response, but had not been successful as of Monday. According to a response the university filed in court, the university and its employees consistently acted legally and properly within their professional roles, and Salcido’s claims of racial discrimination are not accurate.

The case is currently at the District Court level as Salcido v Southern Mississippi et al. I’ll be keeping an eye out for more information as the case progresses.

Update: Salcido’s case was dismissed.

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In “Gap Exam” and supervision rulings, California licensing board says MFTs and LPCCs are different

In a unanimous vote, the California Board of Behavioral Sciences (BBS) today determined that a Gap Exam will be necessary for marriage and family therapists (MFTs) seeking licensure as professional clinical counselors (LPCCs). A separate ruling on supervision has similar themes.                                            

JudgesTools IconThe “Gap Exam” for currently-licensed MFTs seeking to grandparent into LPCC licensure will be shorter than regular licensing exams, and will focus on the differences in practice between MFT and LPCC.

In a separate vote, the BBS also agreed to move forward with a legislative proposal that would require LPCCs to complete additional coursework and experience in couple and family work in order to supervise MFT interns and trainees.


Gap Exam

Today’s vote was the fourth the Board has taken on the Gap Exam issue, which has become controversial because of its broader implications about the distinctiveness of the professions. (For some of the history, see “CAMFT sues California licensing board” and “Ruling mixed in CAMFT-BBS gap exam lawsuit.” Full disclosure: I resigned CAMFT membership in response to their actions on this issue.) Earlier votes had been set aside for a variety of reasons; the most recent prior vote was set aside after CAMFT sued the BBS, and won on their argument that the BBS had not first consulted with the state’s Office of Professional Examination Services, as required in the law. The court ordered the BBS to set aside its prior vote and do the required consultation.

In that required consultation, OPES said they believed a Gap Exam was indeed necessary (last pages of PDF), and the BBS today voted to move forward with the Gap Exam. The exam development process will start immediately. Today’s hopefully-final vote supports the notion that while mental health professions have much in common, there are still meaningful differences between the practices of the specific professions.



Similar themes arose in discussion on supervision in mental health care. In current law, LPCCs must complete additional coursework and experience to be able to legally assess or treat couples and families. The question at hand was whether LPCCs who had not met those requirements should be able to supervise MFT trainees and interns who would be providing direct services to couples and families.

I argued the AAMFT-CA perspective, that one should not be legally able to supervise an activity that is outside of one’s own scope of practice. The BBS voted in agreement. Unlike the exam ruling, however, this vote was by no means a final determination. It merely moves forward proposed legislation that would allow LPCCs to supervise MFTs only if the supervisor has completed those additional requirements. The proposal still must go through the legislature and be signed by the Governor to become effective. CAMFT indicated they will oppose that provision during the legislative process. If CAMFT moves to simply kill the proposal, and is successful in doing so, LPCCs will be left with what is in current law — which prevents them from supervising MFT interns or trainees at all.