If you grew up in the 80’s, you no doubt remember the cartoons that aired every Saturday morning. One of the more popular ones was “G.I. Joe”. At the end of every episode was a segment similar to a public service announcement wherein a child encounters a problem and just before the child is about to do something dangerous or foolish, a G.I. Joe character shows up and gives the child advice (such as don’t talk to strangers or don’t steal). The segment always ended with the words “and knowing is half the battle”. You could say the same thing about licensing board complaints.
Licensing board complaints can happen at any time with any client, and you need to know how the complaint process works and what to do to respond appropriately. About one in every four psychologists will be the subject of a complaint during his or her career, so the risk is very real. Allegations can range from inappropriate relationships to dissatisfaction with treatment. While there is no way to completely prevent a licensing complaint, there are steps you can take that may minimize the likelihood of a complaint and make it easier to defend against a complaint should one be filed.
Here are five things you can do to help prevent a licensing board complaint or strengthen your ability to respond to a complaint:
1. Know the rules - Do you know your state’s regulations, statutes, etc. that govern the practice of psychotherapy or that otherwise impact you as a provider? Knowing the rules can guide you to better practices and better risk management, and not knowing the rules is not a defense if you end up violating them.
2. Appropriate Documentation - If you didn’t document it, it didn’t happen. Your records are evidence of what occurred, why a treatment plan was chosen, and a history of the psychologist/client relationship, so make sure you’re appropriately thorough with every client, not just the ones you believe are high risk. However, do be aware that documentation becomes even more vital in high risk situations, so be especially thorough in those circumstances.
3. Truly informed consent - Does your client truly understand the purpose, goals, confidentiality, billing, and other important components of therapy? This needs to be spelled out before the first session begins, or it could spell big trouble.
4. Boundaries - This includes APA ethics code standards and a lot more. You need to establish and maintain appropriate boundaries with every client. Is hugging a client okay? What about gifts? You need to decide what boundaries exist in your practice, include them in consent forms, and stick to them.
5. Consultation - Nobody knows everything, and nobody is perfect. You can greatly benefit from another psychologist’s or expert’s perspective and experience, so don’t be afraid to reach out for advice. It is the best way to understand the standards of care in the profession – what would a reasonable psychologist in your position do? That’s why The Trust offers our Advocate service free to our insureds.
These five tips are just brief suggestions. For more details and an in-depth discussion, check out The Trust’s webinar “Preventing and Responding to Licensing Board Complaints” featuring one of our risk management consultants, Julie Jacobs, Psy.D., J.D., which is available online for CE credit by clicking HERE.
You may never face a licensing board complaint but if you do, you need to know what it is, how it works, and what to expect because “knowing is half the battle”. The other half is actually doing what you know. Acting now can better protect your practice and career for years to come.