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There’s No Place for Government Censorship in Counseling Sessions

Government officials are using counselors to impose the state’s views about gender ideology on clients.
Rachel Rouleau
Written by
Counselor Brian Tingley is seen sitting at his desk

Americans are facing levels of depression higher than ever before. A new Gallup poll shows that almost a third of U.S. adults have faced depression at some point in their lives—a 10 percent increase from 2015. Following the global pandemic, increased divisiveness, and rising inflation, Americans are struggling with loneliness, anxiety, and higher levels of hopelessness. So it is essential to have quality counselors and psychologists who can talk with people about how to work through these emotional struggles, no matter the topic.

Unfortunately, some state and local governments are censoring the speech of mental-health professionals and their conversations with clients. Why? So the government can impose its own views regarding gender ideology on both the counselors and their clients.

Bottom line: the government shouldn’t censor a counselor’s speech.

Unfortunately, too many mental-health professionals and their clients are experiencing this dilemma. State and local governments are stepping into the privacy of counseling offices and enacting unconstitutional laws that censor the speech of mental-health professionals, preventing them from talking and sharing with their clients about certain topics and viewpoints when discussing their pain and meeting the goals they voluntarily set for themselves.

For example, in some states and local municipalities, if a client is dealing with feelings of gender dysphoria, mental-health professionals are legally prohibited from talking with him or her about aligning their feelings with the objective reality of their body yet are free to talk about pursuing a trans identity. Counselors could violate the law—and lose their professional license—simply by having conversations about ideas the government does not like and wants to suppress.

These laws violate freedom of speech. The government has no business censoring conversations between clients and counselors.

This is the exact situation Washington counselor Brian Tingley is facing. Brian has been a practicing counselor for over 20 years. He works with children, adults, and couples dealing with marital and family conflicts, sexual-orientation and gender-identity struggles, depression, anger, and stress management. He only works with clients who voluntarily seek his counseling—to help them work through their deeply personal issues. But Washington’s counselor censorship law keeps him from helping these clients. What’s more, the law threatens Brian with fines of up to $5,000 per violation, suspension from practice, and even permanent loss of his license if he violates the law.

That is wrong. Government officials are using counselors as tools to impose the state’s views on clients.

Brian is not alone in this battle. Kaley Chiles, a licensed professional counselor in Colorado, is also in danger of losing her license if she counsels her clients according to her deeply held religious beliefs. Kaley sees her work as an outpouring of her Christian faith, and numerous clients come to her because she shares their own Christian beliefs and worldview. But because of Colorado’s counseling censorship law, if Kaley talks to her clients about overcoming feelings of gender dysphoria, she could face penalties and even a complete revocation of her license.

The fact is, the government does not get to censor speech it disagrees with. And it cannot silence counselors to promote its own ideologies.

While these laws are incredibly damaging to the mental-health professionals that they silence, the real victims are the clients. Clients who experience feelings of gender dysphoria will not be able to talk about aligning their minds with their bodies in private discussions with their mental-health professional. The government is stepping into the counseling room and telling clients that there are goals they are allowed to seek and goals they are not.

The U.S. Supreme Court has recognized that “the people lose when the government is the one deciding which ideas should prevail.” The government must respect the freedom to discuss beliefs about human sexuality and the possibility of change that are shared by many.

At Alliance Defending Freedom, we want to ensure that counselors and clients have the freedom to speak. We have created a resource for both counselors and clients to use in evaluating their rights and where the government is infringing them. If you have questions or if your rights were violated, please contact ADF today.

Rachel Csutoros
Rachel Rouleau
Legal Counsel
Rachel Rouleau serves as legal counsel for the Center for Conscience Initiatives with Alliance Defending Freedom.