Indian Health Service


The Indian Health Service (IHS), the federal health program for American Indians and Alaska Natives (AI/AN), does not recognize professional counselors as health care providers on par with social workers and psychologists. Among other problems, counselors are not eligible for funding through the IHS scholarship program, a key IHS provider recruitment tool.


NBCC works with Native American counselors to open the IHS scholarship program to counselors. IHS surveys facilities about the need for counselors and receives positive responses. IHS is internally discussing the addition in the next funding cycle.


NBCC pursues appropriations language to finance increased mental health services in Native American communities through the Mental Health Facilitator.


NBCC continues to collaborate with IHS and Congress regarding the scholarship program and MHF.


NBCC participates in a conference call discussing use of the MHF in Indian country.


NBCC participates in a conference call hosted by IHS to continue the discussion about increasing recognition and employment of counselors.


NBCC meets with the IHS Director of the Division of Behavioral Health to discuss counselor employment and participation in the scholarship program. IHS indicates that there is no legal restriction on the use of counselors, so there is no need to pass legislation. IHS agrees to work with NBCC to increase recognition and employment of counselors.


NBCC meets with congressional offices to promote legislation to list counselors as eligible mental health professions under the IHS.

NBCC decided to take action on this issue after the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) inspector general’s office released a report in September 2011 showing a shortage of mental health professionals in AI/AN communities and a lack of distinction between professional counselors and unlicensed practitioners. NBCC is working with Congress and IHS to provide the AI/AN population with increased access to counselors and mental health services, including initiatives to increase recruitment of counselors in IHS through the scholarship program and increasing access to mental health services through the Mental Health Facilitator.

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