Counselor fights state rule that prevents her from helping addicts

 March 30, 2024

This story was originally published by the WND News Center.

Patients often feel most comfortable having surgeries by doctors who have done the procedure many times.

Those wanting car repairs done right often go to shops where those repairs are everyday occurrences.

In short, consumers often seek out those with experience in specific areas when they have an issue in their own lives that must be handled.

In counseling, too, sometimes the best advice comes from those who have had, and dealt with, certain issues.

But in the state of Virginia, a law bans counselors from working with patients if they have had certain problems in their own lives.

That issue is being highlighted now by the Institute for Justice, which is working with counselor Melissa Brown.

She "made some mistakes during her years struggling with addiction in her teens and twenties. After a conviction for robbery in 2002, she turned her life around and became a state-certified counselor to help others suffering from addiction," the IJ reported.

Then she found out she was banned from working with patients under Virginia law.

The IJ explained, "Her firsthand experience makes her particularly well-suited to guide others through recovery. That is why today, Melissa is partnering with the Institute for Justice (IJ) to file a lawsuit challenging this permanent-punishment law preventing her from working in substance abuse counseling."

She said, in a statement released by her legal team, "The justice system makes sure that we pay for our choices, even if those choices stemmed from addiction or a mental health crisis. But once we serve our time and pay our debts, we should be able to come back to society and help people who are suffering in those shoes today. But Virginia’s law says that people can’t rehabilitate."

Her offense was the theft of a purse in 2001, to fund a drug habit.

She subsequently quit using, earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology, and began working as a substance abuse counselor to help people struggling with heroin, the IJ said.

She now works in marketing and operations for a rehab center but wants to return to helping patients.

The IJ said, "People like Melissa who have overcome addiction are often the best suited to help others overcome addiction. But Virginia permanently punishes them because of their old lives. State law bans people with convictions for any of 176 'barrier crimes' from being employed in a 'direct care' position, which includes both substance abuse counselors and their direct supervisors."

"Banning Melissa from working doesn’t protect the public, it just deprives people battling addiction of a qualified counselor," said IJ lawyer Andrew Ward.

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