Students Need Trained Counselors, Not Chaplains

As a Licensed Professional Counselor in Texas, I’m speaking out against HB 3614.

By Elizabeth Ledford (she/her), MS, LPC

*Content warning: This blog touches on issues like disordered eating, self-harm, and suicide.

*Note: Correction made on 4/28 to distinguish between Board Certified chaplains and non- Board Certified chaplains.

I am a Licensed Professional Counselor in the state of Texas. Before going into private practice, I served as a counseling intern at Communities in Schools of North Texas and as a program therapist at the Eating Recovery Center. While I work with people of all ages, my main area of expertise is working with adolescent and young adult clients. I especially have a heart for clients who are navigating and processing their sexual orientation and gender identity. 

I am speaking out against HB 3614, which would allow schools to replace their Professional School Counselors with chaplains. 

Let me be clear: I have no issue with people of faith serving as counselors. I do have a problem with legislation that would replace qualified professional counselors with people who lack the ethical guidelines and training to do so.

HB 3614 requires no credentials, experience, or training for chaplains hired by school districts. No credentials, experience, or training… to work with children, one-on-one, in incredibly vulnerable situations.

In my private practice, I regularly counsel young people dealing with serious matters like anxiety, depression, identity, self-harm, suicidal ideation, body image issues, disordered eating, and crises. I went through a 60-hour master’s program — and 3,000 hours of supervised practice — to get my license to provide counsel to children. On top of that, I’m required to maintain yearly continuing education credits. Chaplains aren’t required to do any of that. This begs the question: Are they equipped to support students dealing with these and other issues?

On the academic and career side, chaplains do not have the training and experience in working with students that the state requires of school counselors. Professional school counselors meet rigorous training and educational demands before receiving their State Board for Educator Certification. The Common Qualifications and Competencies published by the Board of Chaplaincy Certification, on the other hand, includes no training on graduation requirements, career pathways, academic procedures, or IDEA and FERPA requirements. Knowing this, are chaplains adequately prepared to help students successfully chart out their college or career goals?

Lastly, counselors are ethically required not to impose their values on their clients. In HB 3614’s scenario, the clients are children. Here’s an excerpt from the ACA Code of Ethics: “Counselors are aware of — and avoid imposing — their own values, attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. Counselors respect the diversity of clients… and seek training in areas in which they are at risk of imposing their values onto clients, especially when the counselor’s values are inconsistent with the client’s goals or are discriminatory in nature.” Board Certified chaplains have set standards as part of their certification and should not be imposing their religion on others. However, there are, for example, pastors who call themselves chaplains that do not follow the same guidelines, and it’s scary to think they may be in a school setting handling school counselor duties.

Would they be adequately prepared to support an LGBTQIA+ student? A student who struggles with self-harm urges or behaviors? A student who is actively in crisis? A student who has made a suicidal outcry? HB 3614 does not mandate the type of training or oversight needed for a chaplain to be prepared to do any of that.

For these reasons and more, I oppose HB 3614. Texas students deserve quality and effective mental health care, academic guidance, and career planning with a safe, highly trained counselor who won’t put their personal or religious values above those they serve.

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