After dedicating a tremendous amount of time, energy, and resources to becoming a New Jersey licensed marriage and family therapist (MFT), you understand the high stakes that come with this role. As an MFT, your advice can bring about positive or negative effects in people's lives—which is why your profession is also strictly regulated.
You have earned the trust of countless clients over the years through schooling and field experience. That's why it can be so devastating to find out that someone has filed a complaint against you alleging misconduct and that your license is now under scrutiny.
The New Jersey State Board of Marriage and Family Therapy Examiners takes every allegation of wrongdoing very seriously. The Board investigates complaints of alleged misconduct and, if necessary, may take action to suspend or revoke a licensed MFT's credentials. That's why it's essential to hire an experienced New Jersey licensed defense attorney at the first sign of trouble. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and his experienced legal team have been successful in helping numerous clients with license issues, always striving to provide the best defense possible while limiting any damage inflicted on their licenses or professional careers. To discuss your case, contact the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686.
What Allegations Could Jeopardize Your License?
Marriage and family therapists are held to very high standards of ethical and professional excellence. Thus, most allegations that could put your license at risk have something to do with violating these standards. Examples include, but are not limited to:
- Relationship misconduct. Examples include engaging in an unethical romantic relationship with someone you're counseling; making inappropriate sexual advances toward clients or colleagues; or counseling someone with whom you have a pre-existing relationship (i.e., familial, financial), which is known as a "dual relationship" and can be manipulated for personal reasons.
- Fraudulent activities. Fraudulent tactics come in various shapes and forms—from overcharging patients to providing false billing information to insurance companies, all the way to making misleading advertisements.
- Substance abuse. If you struggle with substance abuse or a tendency to drink heavily, your professional license is at risk of being revoked by the Board due to possible doubts concerning your ability to counsel others.
- Misrepresenting credentials. Falsely representing your credentials could lead to a revoked license, and any attempts at therapy without the appropriate qualifications can trigger grave repercussions.
- Poor record-keeping/violating client confidence. Counselor-client confidentiality is paramount, and any breach of records or divulging of private information (accidental or otherwise) will be met with disciplinary action.
- Criminal convictions. If you are convicted of one or more crimes of moral turpitude, sexual misconduct, or violence, you may be disqualified from being a licensed MFT in New Jersey.
The License Disciplinary Process in New Jersey
In New Jersey, the disciplinary process against marriage and family therapists typically starts with a complaint being filed with the State Board of Marriage and Family Therapy Examiners. After your case is received by the board, it will progress through these different stages.
Request for Response
The disciplinary process begins with a formal notification from the Board detailing the allegations against you and permitting you time to give an articulate written response. Don't underestimate this step, as it provides you with one of the few opportunities to tell your side of the story unencumbered, supported by concrete evidence. A well-crafted response, especially when supported with backing evidence, can result in the complaint being dropped with no further action.
Following this stage, the Board will set up a Preliminary Evaluation Committee (PEC) to further examine the complaint. As part of their obligations, the PEC may assign an investigator who can gather evidence to corroborate the allegations. This may involve interviewing the complainant and any witnesses, reviewing documents, and having you provide sworn testimony, if necessary.
If the PEC has collected sufficient supporting evidence for a complaint, they may opt to offer a consent order rather than scheduling an official hearing. This agreement is basically between you and the board, wherein you comply with their disciplinary directives of your own free will. Before signing this binding agreement, it is strongly recommended that you seek an attorney's advice. It may be your best option if disciplinary action is inevitable, but an attorney can negotiate for more lenient conditions in the consent order, such as keeping your license or outlining a route for reinstatement.
If the process progresses to a hearing, the Board will file an official complaint against you and summon you before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) to explain why your license should remain valid. It is strongly advised that you have legal representation at this hearing, as it can have significant repercussions on your livelihood. After both parties have made their case, the Administrative Law Judge will render a decision, either in your favor or not. If applicable, they will also suggest disciplinary actions to the Board, up to and including suspending or revoking your license.
Why You Should Hire an Experienced Attorney as Soon as Possible
The consequences of a professional license investigation can be severe, and unlike a criminal trial, you are not guaranteed a presumption of innocence with the Board. Their first priority is to protect the public, and they can impose disciplinary action based only on a preponderance of the evidence against you. As such, it is recommended that you seek counsel from an experienced attorney who specializes in license defense--preferably as early in the process as possible. A good attorney can often negotiate a resolution during the early stages of the investigation--one that not only precludes the need for a hearing, but one that also keeps your license intact. They can also negotiate favorable terms with a consent order and if necessary, defend you vigorously at a formal hearing.
If you're a marriage and family therapist in New Jersey accused of wrongdoing, don't risk your career by facing the disciplinary process alone. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and his reputable team are committed to defending your rights, striving hard to protect both your license as well as your career. Contact the Lento Law Firm today at (888) 535-3686 to schedule a consultation.