Protect Your License & Reputation:  Rules for Advertising Therapy

There are a few important rules to follow when advertising so that you are in compliance with your licensing board’s requirements.  We will use California as an example, as following the rules set forth by the California Board of Behavioral Sciences will protect you in all other states as well.  You may also want to look up your own state’s licensing boards recommendations as a precaution.

Definition of “Advertising”: Advertising includes, but is not limited to, any public communication (including, but not limited to mail, television, radio, motion picture, newspaper, book, list or directory of healing arts practitioners, Internet, or other electronic communication), the issuance of any card, sign, or device to any person, or the causing, permitting, or allowing of any sign or marking on, or in, any building or structure, or in any newspaper or magazine or in any directory, or any printed matter whatsoever, with or without any limiting qualification. For more information, see Section 651 of the Business and Professions Code.

Licensees and registrants must include all of the following information in any advertisement: 

  1. Your full name, as filed with the Board; and 
  2. Your license or registration number; and 
  3. Your complete title, or an abbreviation deemed acceptable by the Board.

Unprofessional Conduct in Advertising 

The following are considered unprofessional conduct : 

  • Advertising in a manner that is false, fraudulent, misleading or deceptive. 
  • Misrepresentation as to the type or status of a license or registration, or otherwise misrepresenting education, professional qualifications, or professional affiliations.

Ethical concerns 

  • Offering payment, incentives or discounts for referrals from colleagues or clients.
  • Misrepresenting ones credentials (academics, experience, or licensure level) to increase one’s appeal to the public or to colleagues.
  • The use of testimonials to market one’s services.
  1. Offering Payment, Incentives or Discounts for Referrals:
  • The ACA Code of Ethics states in code A.10.b Unacceptable Business Practices- Counselors do not participate in fee splitting, nor do they give or receive commissions, rebates, or any other form of remuneration when referring clients for professional services.
  • The NASW Code of Ethics states in code 2.06 (c) Referral for Services- Social workers are prohibited from giving or receiving payment for a referral when not professional service is provided by the referring social worker.
  • The AAMFT Code of Ethics states in code 8.1 Financial Integrity- Marriage and Family therapists do not offer or accept kickbacks, rebates, bonuses or other remuneration for referrals. Fee-for service arrangements are not prohibited.

Beware that if you offer Coaching or business consulting, even though it is a different professional capacity, you may still be viewed by your clients and potential clients as a licensed therapist, and should follow those ethical requirements.

  1. Misrepresenting One’s Credentials
  • The AAMFT Code of Ethics states in codes9.5 Educational Credentials- Marriage and family therapists claim degrees for their clinical services only if those degrees demonstrate training and education in marriage and family therapy or related fields. 9.8 Correction of Misinformation- Marriage and family therapists correct, wherever possible, false, misleading, or inaccurate information and representations made by others concerning the therapist’s qualifications, services, or products.
  • The ACA Code of Ethics states in code C.4.d.Implying Doctoral-Level Competence– Counselors clearly state their highest earned degree in counseling or a closely related field. Counselors do not imply doctoral-level competence when possessing a master’s degree in counseling or a related field by referring to themselves as “Dr.” in a counseling context when their doctorate is not in counseling or a related field. Counselors do not use “ABD” (all but dissertation) or other such terms to imply competency.
  • The NASW Code of Ethics states in code 4.06 (c) Misrepresentation Social workers should ensure that their representations to clients, agencies, and the public of professional qualifications, credentials, education, competence, affiliations, services provided, or results to be achieved are accurate. Social workers should claim only those relevant professional credentials they actually possess and take steps to correct any inaccuracies or misrepresentations of their credentials by others.

Reference to academic credentials is permitted in your advertisement as long as your degree is earned (not an honorary degree or conferred without actual study) and representations and statements made about your degree are not misleading.

Always represent your credentials properly.   Here are the proper uses of Therapy License Titles in Advertisements according to the California BBS:

  1. The Use of Testimonials to Market Therapy Services
  • The NASW Code of Ethics states in code4.07 (b) Solicitations- Social workers should not engage in solicitation of testimonial endorsements (including solicitation of consent to use a client’s prior statement as a testimonial endorsement) from current clients or from other people who, because of their particular circumstances, are vulnerable to undue influence.
  • The ACA Code of Ethics states in code C.3.b. TestimonialsCounselors who use testimonials do not solicit them from current clients, former clients, or any other persons who may be vulnerable to undue influence. Counselors discuss with clients the implications of and obtain permission for the use of any testimonial.

The key is to not solicit testimonials from your clients.  The MyTherapyNet.com system offers people the ability to “review” you, and give you up to 5 stars.  Since you are not soliciting the review, you may have them on your profile.

Additional Requirements

Additional Requirement for Registrants: If you are a registered associate, your advertisement must also include the name of your employer or the name of the entity for which you volunteer. If you are an AMFT, you must also state in the advertisement that you are supervised by a licensed person. 

Requirements for MFT Trainees: Any advertisement by or on behalf of an MFT Trainee shall include all of the following: 

  • That he or she is a “marriage and family therapist trainee” 
  • The name of his or her employer 
  • That he or she is supervised by a licensed person

Use of the Terms “Psychotherapy” or “Psychotherapist”: Use of these terms is permissible as long as your advertisement contains all of the information required by law, as listed above. 

References

California Board of Behavioral Sciences. Licensee and Registrant Advertising Requirements  Retrieved from https://www.bbs.ca.gov/pdf/publications/adv_guide.pdf

American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy (2012, July). Code of Ethics. Alexandria, VA: Author. Retrieved from https://www.aamft.org/iMIS15/AAMFT/Content/legal_ethics/code_of_ethics.aspx

American Counseling Association (2014). ACA Code of Ethics. Alexandria, VA: Author. Retrieved from http://www.counseling.org/resources/aca-code-of-ethics.pdf

Doverspike, W.F. (2008). Risk Management: Clinical, Ethical, and Legal Guidelines for Successful Practice. Sarasota, FL: Professional Resource Press, Inc.

National Association of Social Workers. (approved 1996, revised 2008). Code of Ethics of the National Association of Social Workers.  Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from http://www.socialworkers.org/pubs/code/default.asp