Vincentia Paul-Constantin, PhD, NCC, LPC, is a fierce advocate for the counseling profession and the counselors in the U.S. Virgin Islands. In early 2022, Dr. Paul-Constantin, Chair of the Board of Licensed Professional Counselors and Examiners, in the Virgin Islands, reached out to NBCC to gain support for Bill No. 34-0190. This bill would amend the act established by the board in 2016, Title 27 Virgin Islands Code, Chapter 4A, relating to the practice of professional counseling.
The proposed legislation would strengthen the laws and rules that regulate mental health counselors, marriage and family therapists, and substance abuse counselors. It would improve educational requirements, increase the number of approved supervisors, and increase the number of licensed providers in the Virgin Islands. Additionally, the requirement of criminal background checks and continuing education for recertification would serve as a key public protection.
“The mental health services system in the Territory has been under duress for years,” says Dr. Paul-Constantin, “with both the current and immediate past governors declaring states of emergency around mental health, limited-service availability (particularly for low-income clients), lack of specialized providers, low rates of health insurance, and social/cultural stigma, which are all factors contributing to such challenges.”
The proposed amendment also would further define the scope of practice for the professional counselor and establish educational and experiential requirements that are on par with national standards, therefore allowing the Virgin Islands to participate in equal measure with other jurisdictions in terms of licensure reciprocity and portability.
By passing Bill No 34-0190, Virgin Islanders would have an opportunity to choose a practitioner whom they believe fits their presenting needs.
“The most salient of all of these would be the right of Virgin Islanders to be educated, trained, and supervised ‘at home’ without the need to travel to the continental United States,” says Dr. Paul-Constantin. “It is disheartening and unfair to those who may not have the resources or those who choose to remain at home in the Virgin Islands to not be afforded the opportunity to meet the needs of their community.”
The Virgin Islands Board of Psychology Examiners has opposed the proposed amendment. Psychologists on the islands have challenged the bill by questioning the educational and experiential requirements needed to administer and interpret assessments.
“The bill’s intention and meaning have been misrepresented and misconstrued through the assertion that counselors are trying to conduct psychological evaluations that are out of the scope of practice, resulting in potential harm to the public,” Dr. Paul-Constantin explains. “Additionally, the premise is made that the Virgin Islands have adequate providers to meet the needs of our diverse populations, none of which is accurate.”
Unfortunately, this is familiar territory, as licensure boards on the mainland have often been forced to fight for licensure laws that enable them to practice at the level in which they were trained. A few states are still fighting to protect their scope of practice laws and the ability to administer and interpret assessments for which they were appropriately trained.
The NBCC Government and Legislative Affairs team has provided multiple levels of support to pass the needed amendments by participating in several strategic planning meetings with Dr. Paul-Constantin and submitting to the Senators, Policy Advisors, and Governor Albert Bryan, Jr., a formal letter of support clearly outlining the rigorous educational and training standards of counselors. In addition, a campaign was created in our Grassroots Action Center to educate all NCCs on these important issues and enable them to sign a petition to demonstrate their support for counselors in the Virgin Islands. Additionally, Dr. Paul-Constantin was featured on a local Virgin Islands radio broadcast to educate the public and to garner grassroots community support to advocate for the bill, and Dr. Brenden Hargett, Director of Ethics and Dr. Kylie Dotson-Blake, CEO and President of NBCC and Affiliates participated and offered support during the broadcast.
Currently the bill has been sent back to the legislative committee and a special interest hearing will take place in the future. Although this has delayed the passage of the bill, Dr. Paul-Constantin and NBCC will continue our efforts to engage national and local advocates in support of the amendment.
“As a Virgin Islander,” Dr. Paul-Constantin says, “I understand the power of diversity and representation (ethnic, linguistic, etc.) in the counseling profession. The Virgin Islands population is firmly rooted in Caribbean beliefs, traditions, and practices, yet with the privileges of being an American Territory. As such, the diversity presents a challenge that must be supported if we are to meet the behavioral health of the locals.”
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