How to Avoid Losing Your License — Several Easy Steps
By Brian Carnahan and Tracey Hosom
Licensed mental health professionals must address new and emerging issues with regularity. Unfortunately, not every situation has a clear and compelling answer. During such situations, and in dealing with day-to-day issues, a license can be at risk. Avoiding the loss of one's license, and minimizing discipline, is possible if the professional takes the following steps, each of which has been developed based on the Ohio Counselor, Social Worker & Marriage and Family Therapist (CSWMFT) Board's most common violations:
• Do not violate boundaries through inappropriate relationships by losing sight of your role and responsibilities as a professional. Examples include romantic relationships, friendships, or other involvement, including social media activity, extending beyond the therapeutic relationship. Although the Ohio CSWMFT Board has time limitations—five years posttermination—on sexual relationships only, any posttermination social relationship must be in the best interest of the client, with "careful consideration to ensure that impaired judgment or exploitation is not involved." Remember that if you develop a friendship with a former client, they will lose you as a resource for any future counseling needs.
• Maintain client records and case notes. It is easy to get behind, but to ensure continuity of care, best practice standards dictate records be kept timely and accurate. Maintaining client records is an important aspect of treatment. Do not ignore agency or company policies and procedures (eg, if the expectation is that your records are submitted daily, ensure that they are).
• Recognize the scope of practice and do not work outside of your established areas of expertise by failing to recognize your own limitations as well as those that may be imposed by law or rule. While you are developing new competencies, seek supervision, training, and education. If you have a question about services you are required to perform that you think do not fall under the scope of your license practice areas, seek consultation and clarification.
• Fulfill continuing education requirements. Many disciplinary actions and even license revocations in Ohio involve failure to obtain continuing education, and falsification of the renewal application to indicate the hours have been obtained. It is simple; do not renew if you have not earned the necessary approved hours. In addition, be sure to renew on a timely basis. If you are practicing, the license renewal must be submitted prior to your current expiration date. Be sure to respond to license audit requests.
• When in doubt, do not act without asking. Anyone who has been practicing for a few years and has a great deal of experience may find themselves comfortable in most, if not all, situations. Remember, you are maintaining the best practice standards if you regularly consult with peers and seek supervision. This holds true for newly licensed professionals as well as seasoned clinicians.
If, like most professionals who have invested time, effort, and money into developing a career, you do not want to lose your license, some additional considerations include the following:
• It seems obvious, but do not let your heart overrule your head. If it seems wrong, it probably is wrong. It is never too soon or too late to step back and reassess the situation. As the licensed professional, you are expected to know what is correct and what is not.
• Work closely with your supervisor and peers. Rely on this support network when you are uncertain of how to move forward with a particular issue.
• Attend regular training. Ethics training is particularly important.
• Join professional organizations. Attend conferences and meetings to ensure you are up to date on legal and ethical issues, and establish a professional network to support you when you have questions.
• If you are uncertain in any situation, seek legal advice or call your licensing board. Remember, the board cannot render a legal opinion, but can advise licensees on the laws and rules, and offer some insight from the enforcement perspective.
Discipline or loss of your license can result when you act in ways that clearly imperil your license. Are the benefits from taking inappropriate actions worth the loss of your career and reputation? Chances are that you have chosen this career path because you want to help people; maintaining appropriate practice standards not only protects your license but also helps prevent professional burnout, which can lead to poor decisions.
— Brian Carnahan is executive director of the State of Ohio Counselor, Social Worker, & Marriage and Family Therapist Board.
— Tracey Hosom is an investigator with the State of Ohio Counselor, Social Worker, & Marriage and Family Therapist Board.