Last updated: July 14. 2014 2:55PM - 626 Views

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ST. MATTHEWS (AP) — Kentucky is set to become the sixth state to license pastoral counselors to help people with issues such as marital difficulties, addictions and depression.

A law allowing the licensing goes into effect Tuesday and is expected to cover about 30 pastors who also work as mental and behavioral health counselors across the state. They will be called Kentucky licensed pastoral counselors, and their work will be covered by insurance policies for those who desire faith-based mental health services.

The other states licensing pastoral counselors are Arkansas, Maine, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Tennessee.

The legislation, Senate Bill 61, and more than 100 other new laws approved by state lawmakers and Gov. Steve Beshear take effect Tuesday.

For Glenn. D. Williams of St. Matthews, who is chair of the Kentucky Association of Pastoral Counselors and works at St. Matthews Pastoral Counseling in Jefferson County, the new law would help increase the number of mental health providers in Kentucky and provide wage increases for them.

Though he is labeled a faith-based counselor, Williams said his clients included agnostics, atheists and people of different religions. He said it was not his intention to get his clients to join St. Matthews Baptist Church, which provides space for the counseling offices and funding for low-income clients.

“I have never had that conversation with a client,” he said.

State Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr, R-Lexington, pushed the measure through the General Assembly, saying it provides an opportunity for better mental health counseling.

“This will help Kentucky’s shortage of mental and behavioral health service providers, which has been augmented by the federal Affordable Care Act’s requirement that Medicaid and insurance companies on the health exchange offer mental and behavioral health benefits,” Kerr said.

Under SB 61, pastoral counselors must hold a master of pastoral counseling degree, in addition to the same qualifications as other licensed counselors, Kerr said. Those requirements include a master’s degree in counseling, 1,375 hours of supervised practice, and 250 hours of clinical work and supervision. They also must pass a written board exam.

“Of course, any parishioner can now go and seek advice from his or her pastor, but we are talking about a professional degree,” Kerr told the Lexington Herald-Leader (http://bit.ly/1n1tvz8).

The chairman of the Kentucky Board of Licensed Professional Counselors, Martin Cortez Wesley, said he’ll take a wait-and-see approach to the new law. Wesley is concerned the public will confuse licensed professional counselors with licensed pastoral counselors.

“Our term is commonly used throughout the country for professional counselors and not pastoral counselors,” said Wesley, dean of the School of Counseling at the University of Cumberlands. “There are about 2,000 of us and about 30 of them. We do not want the desire of a very few to trump the current practice of thousands of our licensees.”

Williams said he doesn’t always use the Bible and prayer in treating people — that’s up to the client — and recent surveys show that 90 percent of Americans consider religion very or fairly important.

“The consideration of a client’s religion is increasingly seen as a vital component of therapeutic assessment and intervention in addressing mental and behavioral problems,” he said.

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