Studying...All I’ve ever wanted to do is help people.

When I was in kindergarten, I wanted to be a teacher.

After I was affected by mental illness, I wanted to help others like me.

I told my therapist in 2008 that I wanted to be a counselor. She looked at me with concern and said, “I thought you wanted to be a teacher?”

This discouraged me from the get-go. It was like she knew something I didn’t know. There was caution in her words.

I was offended, and like a balloon, deflated and decided it was a bad idea.

I continued with my teaching and writing plan. I had months of depression on and off where I did not work.

I did some soul-searching and decided I would continue to look into counseling.

It was pulling me.

I got into a Master’s program in Mental Health Counseling in 2010.

It was a mostly-online program, with several internships, residencies, and other face-to-face elements. The student body was from all over the country.

I was accepted, and the admissions counselor knew I had bipolar. I started and continued through the program with excellent grades for months.

Planning the future, I began reviewing the Florida licensing requirements.

The application asks if you have ever been hospitalized, or if you take medication for a diagnosable mental illness.

That would be me. My mind started racing. Well, what’s the “penalty” for answering this question affirmatively?

I went to the university counseling program director for answers. He told me that I might have to go through some “minor special provisions” for having the disorder, but they are nothing that should make me discontinue from the program.

In short, I would be fine. I would be singled out, but fine.

I felt uneasy, as he was from Mississippi and had no idea what the licensing requirements were in Florida. I continued through the program, doing wonderfully, loving it.

I attended an out-of-state residency in Houston, Texas in 2011 that cost me thousands of dollars.

When the licensing requirements were brought up again in class in late 2011, I started to get nervous.

What if I was spending all of this money, devoting all this time, and there were consequences for having bipolar disorder?

I got scared. I got manic. I started researching day and night.

I wasn’t sleeping, because I knew something wasn’t right.

I researched the language of the licensing extensively. I contacted the Florida licensing board, and eventually, the Florida PRN program, which is the “resource network” for practicing clinicians who have drug issues or mental illness.

It is also known as the “Impaired Practitioner’s Program”.

Basically, the Florida counseling licensing board operates under the assumption that Bipolar I is in itself a constant risk of impairment.

If you are impaired, you are a potential risk to your clients.

You can’t practice like that.

One of the PRN officers told me that with a diagnosis of Bipolar I, I would first, have to be evaluated by a state of Florida approved psychiatrist which would provide information about me to the board throughout my entire career.

I would have to attend a weekly support group for my entire career as well. I would get randomly drug tested during the work day (even though bipolar has nothing to do with drug abuse or use).

I would attend mandated doctor’s appointments which would be reported to the state, and if that’s not enough, I would be singled out by my employer as someone that could, in essence, be too impaired to work at any moment.

The board would require that my employer submit periodic statements about my behavior.

The Florida board can revoke your license if you are an impaired practitioner who they deem is unfit to practice.

How about spending $60,000 on a degree and then get your career taken away from you?

Not something I’m going to risk.

So now, I’m over $20,000 in debt even though my university told me I was a fantastic student, enough to be in the national counseling honor society.

My naïve assumption that I could be regarded as a counselor with equal opportunity in the state of Florida in the face of my mental illness is completely wrong.

I had so many people encourage me, even my therapist.

I guess she didn’t really examine the licensing requirements that well, either.

What I’m trying to say is that I just I don’t feel right being examined, watched, and judged by my state licensing board for doing absolutely nothing wrong.

I know of therapists in other states that practice with a bipolar diagnosis. I don’t know how things work in their state, but I think Florida is losing out on a lot of people that would be great counselors.

People with actual experience and deep empathy.

Either that, or all of their counselors with mental illness are actively participating in a program that watches them like hawks for having done nothing wrong.

I don’t like being in the same “network” as the doctors and other clinicians that have abused drugs on the job. That’s not me at all, and I don’t deserve discrimination based on a label.

They’re trying to protect the public, but it doesn’t feel good, no matter what the reasoning is.

Are you a clinician with bipolar in Florida, or state other than Florida? What were your licensing experiences like?

If you are not a clinician, what do you think about the state of Florida’s operating procedures? 


Photo Credit: Francois de Halleux via Compfight