EMU Lawsuit Dismissed

The Detroit News is reporting that the lawsuit brought against Eastern Michigan University by Julea Ward has been dismissed by District Judge George Caram Steeh. You’ll recall that Ward reportedly had a value conflict with a client’s same-sex behavior in that she did not believe she should affirm it. Apparently her supervisor asked her to make a referral to another counselor who did not experience that value conflict. She was then required to participate in a program that would remediate her Christian value system. When Ward refused, she was dismissed from the counseling program.

The news story on the opinion suggests that the judge cited the program’s commitment to the ACA Code of Ethics for accreditation purposes as significant. Also important was the requirement that students provide counseling services to clients “without imposing their personal values.” More from the opinion as reported by the Detroit News:

“In the case of Ms. Ward, the university determined that she would never change her behavior and would consistently refuse to counsel clients on matters with which she was personally opposed due to her religious beliefs — including homosexual relationships.”

One other line from the opinion was that Ward’s “refusal to attempt learning to counsel all clients within their own value systems is a failure to complete an academic requirement of the program.”

In a previous post I covered the lawsuit and discussed the issue of making appropriate referrals in counseling. In some ways the opinion raises more questions than answers. For instance,  When are referrals appropriate?  What I shared at that time was that counselors make referrals when they are asked to work outside of their competence as determined by education, training, and supervised clinical experience. I also noted that value conflicts are generally understood as inevitable in mental health service delivery. Most of these conflicts are worked through, and services are provided uninterrupted. However, from time to time value conflicts may be so great that a referral is worth considering:

A politically liberal counselor will meet with a client with strong conservative views; a gay counselor will meet with an Evangelical Christian client; a Catholic counselor will meet with a woman deciding on abortion; an atheist will meet with a devout Muslim. The question is, At what point does a counselor make a referral when a value conflict arises? The major mental health organization’s ethics codes each tend to stress respect for differences – these are often identified as differences due to age, gender, sexual orientation, religion, socioeconomic status, and so on. Showing respect for these differences can mean different things in counseling, but it at least means being aware of how these factors impact the client and their presenting concern. It often also mean taking these factors into consideration in assessment, case conceptualization, and treatment planning.

So the question that remains and that does not appear to be answered in this ruling is:  At what point does a counselor make a referral when a value conflict arises? Or perhaps some people will believe that the answer can be found in this ruling. Perhaps some will hold that value conflicts are not a sufficient reason to make a referral. If so, that would have ramifications that extend far beyond this discussion of same-sex behavior. Value conflicts can cut across the board.

An important question that was apparently being raised by Michican lawmakers has to do with protecting conventionally religious students in such programs. It will be interesting to see where the ruling yesterday takes that discussion.

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