New bill could provide NJ residents with more mental health services

Residents in New Jersey could see an expansion of mental health services after the Assembly Health Committee cleared a new bill on Monday.

According to NJSpotlightnews, State lawmakers seek to enter New Jersey into the interstate Counseling Compact, an agreement that would allow a compact healthcare member to practice in other member states “without the need for multiple licenses.”

“This allows people to continue with their current therapist instead of having to transition to a new therapist when they leave the state,” said Beth Fier, a volunteer with the New Jersey Counseling Association. “That really becomes important for students heading off to college. We think it may also be really beneficial for service members and their families as they’re relocated.”

This measure is in response to the recent shortage of professional counseling services, that leaves NJ residents to face long wait times. According to New Jersey’s Mental Health Association, outpatient mental health treatment wait times can exceed 12 weeks, while waiting time for clinical appointments can exceed 22 weeks.

As of June 2023, around 572 unoccupied mental health positions were recorded by the state Association of Mental Health and Addiction Agencies.

Currently, thirty states are members of the compact. For Isabel Eliassen, a policy analyst with The Council of State Governments in Kentucky, this will hopefully streamline the process of approving counselors.

“Sometimes, it’s just logistically really difficult to get that license and the goal of the compact is to reduce those barriers for counselors so they can spend more time in doing the actual counseling and less time on these frustrating administrative tasks,” said Eliassen.

For many lawmakers like Democratic  Assemblyman Anthony Verrelli, one of the Bill’s primary sponsors, this bill “will save lives.”

“The bottom line is that this expansion will not only help with access to care, it will help reduce suicides and drug overdoses,” said Verrelli. “It will save lives.”

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