State legislators can take a simple but important step to improve access to mental health care by authorizing Texas to join the Interstate Counseling Compact — currently a group of 25 states who allow Licensed Professional Counselors (LPCs) the privilege to practice in-person and via telehealth across state lines.

Elected officials from both parties continue to call for greater access to mental health services. More than 180 of the 254 counties in Texas have been identified as mental health workforce shortage areas. By allowing Texans to work with Licensed Professional Counselors in other states, the Compact would vastly grow the number of counselors able to serve Texans — regardless of whether they live in our large cities or smaller rural communities that have long struggled with attracting mental health professionals. Joining the Compact may not eliminate that vexing challenge, but it will give rural Texans more counselors from whom to choose.

The impact could be profound for military families and others who have recently moved from another state and are looking to maintain their relationship with their professional counselor. Also, counselors who leave Texas could keep seeing clients from our state. This continuity of care would benefit the clients and the counselor. The Compact similarly helps families who have experienced a divorce that causes a spouse and children to relocate to another state, because the adults and children involved could continue to see their counselors after moving. Young adults moving off to attend college would also benefit.

How does the Compact work? Professional counselors licensed in their home state apply for a privilege to practice under the Compact. States participating in the Compact communicate and exchange information including verification of licensure and disciplinary sanctions. The State of Texas would retain the ability to regulate practice in our state.

In order to see Texas clients, participating professional counselors from other states must have a license from their home states, pass an FBI background check, comply with their home state’s continuing education requirements and have no adverse action against their license for the past two years.

The Compact is a way to vastly improve access to mental health care without a broad expansion of government or a new type of entitlement. This is probably why conservative states such as Florida, Arkansas, West Virginia and Tennessee have joined the compact, along with more centrist states such as North Carolina, Virginia and New Hampshire.

The Texas Counseling Association has identified passage of the Compact as its highest priority because professional counselors understand how much this agreement could expand access to needed mental health services from quality providers. It would be wise for Texas to join this diverse, growing coalition of states who recognize the importance of mental health care and the challenges of finding the professionals needed to deliver that care.

— Elsa Soto Leggett is the President of the Texas Counseling Association.