Indiana ranks among the worst states in the nation when it comes to addressing mental-health needs, but professionals at this year’s Indiana Counseling Association conference will hear how new state legislation could begin to improve that situation next month.

The conference provides an opportunity for professionals such as social workers and addictions, marriage and mental-health counselors to get to know their Indiana colleagues a little better and to pick up some of the 30 continuing-education credits required for their license renewals every two years.

This year’s conference will take place from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. June 8 at the Courtyard by Marriott, 1150 S. Harrison St. in Fort Wayne. A pre-conference ethics workshop is scheduled for 6-9 p.m. June 7 at the same location.

David Kaplan, chief professional officer of the American Counseling Association, will handle the ethics workshop and provide the conference keynote address. More than 150 professionals are expected to attend the events.

“We’ve had some good things happen in our laws here recently,” said Dale Wayman, the association’s executive director. “We have been trying to change the laws so we can provide more services.”

Improvement is needed because Indiana placed 48th in a 2017 ranking of the states and the District of Columbia released this year by Mental Health America, a national nonprofit group that advocates for addressing mental-health needs.

“A high overall ranking indicates lower prevalence of mental illness and higher rates of access to care. A low overall ranking indicates higher prevalence of mental illness and lower rates of access to care,” the group explained on its website presenting the comparisons.

Only four states had a greater prevalence of psychological conditions including chemical dependence, suicidal thoughts, major depressive episodes and any type of mental illness, according to the group’s most recent rankings.

Among the changes put in place this year through legislation addressing mental health needs in Indiana is license reciprocity with all other states.

“If you’re licensed for two-plus years in another state and haven’t had any troubles with that, we will take you here,” Wayman said. “The state will let you be licensed here, so we can get more providers.”

In the past, newcomers to the profession who had just earned bachelor’s degrees in related fields had to pass state licensing tests before they could work at a community mental health center. But starting July 1, those newcomers will be able to work for up to a year at a center with a temporary license, Wayman said.

The state also has reduced its requirement that students complete 1,000 hours of training and internship to earn a bachelor’s degree in a counseling program, he said.

Starting July 1, “that will come down to 700 hours, which is normal for almost every state in the United States for this position,” he said. “So that gets them graduating one semester earlier and also saves them one semester of tuition, so that should help as well.”

The path to working independently as a counselor also has become a little easier in terms of gaining the two years of supervised full-time experience that requires. Soon, half of the supervision will be able to take place via video conferencing technology, especially for counseling in rural areas.

More than 30 Indiana counties do not have a primary mental-health professional, and using video technology to fulfill half of the supervision required for that status will make it easier for counselors serving rural areas to earn it.

The opioid crisis has created more work for counselors. And while the conference will not offer any workshop focused solely on opioid addiction, every session at the conference will be presented in the context of how the subject relates to addiction, ethics and multiculturalism, Wayman said.

The emotional and psychological impact of school shootings and the need they create for counseling has received a lot of media attention, and one of the workshops at the conference will deal with the impact the profession has seen from the use of social media.

“These shooters are often bullied by social media,” Wayman said.

Some of the other workshops likely to be of interest at the conference will look at psychiatric hospitalization, administrative supervision, interfacing with school counselors and addressing particular needs of immigrant populations, he said.

The association plans to hold its conference in Fort Wayne next year as well as this year in keeping with a plan to rotate its location every two years, scheduling it in northern, central and southern Indiana communities, Wayman said.

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