By Michelle E. Missigman, J.D., Attorney, The Health Law Firm

What is a Licensure Complaint?

A licensure complaint against a professional counselor, mental health counselor, or other psychotherapist is usually initiated by the filing of a complaint with the professional board or other regulatory authority.  Although some states authorize the licensing board to investigate and resolve such complaints, in other states, there may be an “umbrella” agency that receives them and investigates them.  For example, in Florida, the Florida Department of Health (or “DOH”) will receive and investigate complaints. In Colorado, the Division of Regulatory Agencies (or “DORA”). In Washington, D.C., the D.C. Department of Health (or “DC Health”), receives and investigates them.
Regardless, you will receive written notification, usually via U.S. mail, that an investigation has been opened against you.  This is a major reason that you must keep your physical address and e-mail address up to date with all states in which you are licensed and with all certification boards at all times.

Regardless, the appropriate government regulatory authority will open and conduct an investigation into whatever complaint is filed.

What to Do When Notified of an Investigation.

If you are notified that you are under investigation, it is crucial that you immediately obtain an experienced healthcare attorney to represent you and that you notify your professional liability insurer about the complaint.  In most cases, your professional liability insurance will include coverage for defense legal fees involved in defending a case against her license.
It is important that you do not speak with an investigator until you consult with an attorney.  The decision on whether or not to make a statement or respond to questions from the investigator will depend on state law and the circumstances of the case. In some states, there is no obligation to cooperate with such an investigation. This is why it is so important to consult with an experienced attorney first.
When the investigation is completed, you may have the right to obtain a copy of the investigation and/or file a rebuttal to it. Again, this will depend on state law. In Florida, you do have such a right and it is usually crucial to do this. In many cases, a detailed, well-documented rebuttal statement may result in a dismissal of the case.
Ultimately, there will be a screening by the licensure board or a committee of the licensure board. It may make a finding that the complaint is meritless or that there is no probable cause to suspect that an actual offense has been committed. This will usually result in a dismissal of the case would no further action is required.

However, if the licensing authority does find the allegations that launched the investigation to be accurate, it may recommend that formal administrative charges be filed and that disciplinary action be undertaken. At this point, you will have the opportunity for a hearing in order to contest the facts and circumstances surrounding the complaint and to show that you are not guilty of any violations.

Who Can Make a Complaint?

A complaint can be filed against a counselor by a current or former client, a member of a client’s family or social circle, a colleague, a present or past employer, a law enforcement authority, a health insurer, the Medicaid Program, or another regulatory agency.  In effect, a complaint can be filed by anyone. In many instances, the licensing authority will be notified by receiving an arrest record or receiving a newspaper report or other media report. However, most complaints are filed by disgruntled patients and competitors of the psychotherapist.

What Are the Top Reasons that Professional Counselors Receive Complaints?

According to a national professional liability insurance company that insures psychotherapists,
the following are the most frequent grounds for licensing board complaints against counselors:
1. Sexual Misconduct,
2. Failure to Maintain Minimal Professional Standards,
3. Breach of Confidentiality,
4. Reporting to Third Parties, and
5. Failure to Practice Within Boundaries of Competence.

Source:  Healthcare Providers Insurance Organization (HPSO) Counselor Liability Claim Report.

How Can I Avoid Receiving Discipline from my Licensing Board?

As the average number of complaints against psychotherapists continues to rise, it is imperative that counselors document their clinical case notes appropriately and keep their client relationships professional at all times.  When the boundaries between counselor and client begin breaking down, it becomes impossible to tell what information the counselor should document and/or keep confidential.
Not having a record of client interaction places the counselor in a difficult position should they receive a board complaint.  Without documentation of the counselor’s decision-making based on what the client did or said, the counselor will have no record to support them during an investigation.  It becomes a case of the counselor’s word against the word of a disgruntled client.  Properly maintaining clinical case notes is not only a crucial part of the counselor’s obligation to their client, but it also serves as crucial supporting evidence during a board investigation.

For more information on how our firm can help defend you and your mental health counselor’s license, click here to read one of our prior blogs.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced Investigations of Mental Health Counselors, Psychologists, Social Workers, and Family Therapists.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm provide legal representation to mental health counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, and family therapists in Department of Health (DOH) investigations, Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA) investigations, board hearings, FBI investigations, and other types of investigations of health professionals and providers. We also defend health professionals and health facilities in general litigation matters and business litigation matters.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or Toll-Free: (888) 331-6620 and visit our website at

About the Author: Michelle E. Missigman is an attorney at The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Avenue, Suite 1000, Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620 or Toll-Free: (888) 331-6620.

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