More mental health help may be on the way to Arizona after Governor Katie Hobbs signed a new law allowing certain counselors from other states to see Arizona patients.

Hobbs signed Senate Bill 1173, letting Arizona join the Counseling Compact Commission. The compact allows counselors, who are licensed in other states, to be able to practice in Arizona, either by moving to the state or over telehealth.

The Counseling Compact Commission has more than 30 states as part of its initiative to let counselors work across state lines, which Steven Sheets, the President and CEO of Southwest Behavioral and Health Services, says will be helpful.

I believe the bill, the Counseling Compact bill opens doors and avenues that we have never seen before in our state, Sheets said.

His organization has been short on licensed counselors, and the demand for those professionals has skyrocketed since the pandemic.

This new law will make it easier for counselors to work in other states without having to go through the headache of applying for a new license elsewhere. However, only people with licenses in states that are part of the compact will be allowed to work in other partnering compact states.

Every individual that’s licensed in a compact state is eligible but needs to actually apply for the privilege to a practice in another member state, Sheets said.

Republican State Senator David Gowan sponsored the bill, saying that health professionals went to him about the need. Gowan said this new law will be helpful for rural areas as well, as they may not have the staffing to help their residents.

This is going to allow us to enhance that and help treat others who really need it, especially since the pandemic, Gowan said. And, we’re seeing what’s happening on the street out here. I think this law here will allow us to get more enhancement of professional help.

The new law could also potentially help schools, where Arizona is ranked last in the nation for student-to-counselor ratio, according to the American School Counseling Association.

The association said the ideal ratio is one counselor to every 250 students. Arizona has improved from years past, but this last school year, there were 667 students to one counselor, still ranking last in the country.

Anything we can do to increase counselors for students is fantastic. But I think we also need to address the bigger issue, which is the fact that we have a large number of young people who are struggling. So, I think we need to take an all-hands-on-deck approach, said Elizabeth Anthony, a professor at Arizona State Universitys School of Social Work.

Time will tell if the compact will help.

Mesa Public Schools and Chandler Unified School District, two of the largest districts in the state, say they are grateful the bill has passed and that it may be able to help.

Like most districts across Arizona, Mesa Public Schools continues to have school counseling vacancies. Senate Bill 1173 will help fulfill this need. We are grateful for the state’s recognition of the important work counselors provide our students, MPS sent in a statement.

Chandler Unified also sent the following statement:

Chandler Unified School District is committed to continuing to raise awareness and addressing the needs of our youth including their mental health. In CUSD, we are fortunate to have a robust counseling and social services team starting at the district level. Every CUSD school has a counselor totaling 100 school counselors district-wide, and we have more than 20 social workers. Additionally, we have strong community partnerships with agencies allowing us to place therapists at school sites as an additional level of care. Of course, as with many matters in public education, CUSD would welcome any additional support that could be provided as it benefits our students, families, staff, and schools.

In the meantime, another similar bill, Senate Bill 1036, is going through the legislature to have Arizona join a social worker compact. Some Valley schools, including Apache Junction Unified and Dysart Unified, cut social workers from their district next year because of federal COVID funds ending.