Counselors who focus on substance abuse and similar types of behavior disorders may have differing educational, experience, and certification requirements depending on the state in which they practice. Each state administers its licensing or certification program for substance abuse counselors a bit differently, with some states having a single license and others having multiple license tiers. Almost all states, whether they require licenses for substance abuse counselors or not, apply standards developed by the International Certification and Reciprocity Consortium (ICRC), an organization focusing on "the credentialing and licensing of prevention, substance use treatment, and recovery professionals."
Because states vary in how they define, register, and discipline substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors, what follows is a general overview of policies and procedures that can apply depending on where you practice. It's safe to say, however, that if you are a substance abuse or behavioral disorder counseling professional, you have devoted a substantial portion of your life to the education, training, and testing required to be able to practice in your particular state. And if a complaint is filed with your state licensing or certification board, it could mean the end of your ability to practice your profession.
This is where you need the help of an experienced professional license defense attorney. Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team have helped healthcare professionals nationwide in situations where they have been investigated and put through their state's disciplinary process as a result of a complaint filed by a client, fellow professional, or employer. If you find yourself involved in a disciplinary or ethics investigation or proceeding, don't try to navigate this complicated and unfamiliar process alone! Contact Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team today.
Types of Behavior That Can Be Subject to Discipline
As noted, each state has its own procedures for licensing or certifying substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors. They also have their own standards for disciplining them, though many states share the standards developed by the ICRC. In general, however, there are certain types of behavior that can result in a substance abuse or behavioral disorder counselor being subject to their state's professional disciplinary process. These include the following:
- Failing to protect their patient's privacy;
- Entering into a personal relationship with a patient, whether or not sexual contact is involved;
- Sexually, mentally, or physically abusing a patient;
- Taking advantage of the counselor-patient relationship for personal gain;
- Treating a patient while impaired by alcohol or drugs;
- Failing to properly and accurately document the work they do with patients.
The Disciplinary Process
Each state administers its own disciplinary process, and these processes can vary widely. Generally, however, the state licensing or certification body will take a "first look" at all complaints that are filed to determine whether or not the behavior set forth in the complaint is of the type that the state regulates. Behavior that can jeopardize the welfare of a patient is usually the kind of behavior that will be disciplined.
Assuming the complaint covers the kind of counselor behavior that may be disciplined, the state will typically begin to investigate the allegations in the complaint. This process may take months, and depending on the state, the counselor may have an opportunity during the investigation process to review some of the information uncovered and to provide their own information to the investigators.
In some states, the counselor may receive one or more reports as the investigation is proceeding and may have opportunities to respond, including by adding additional facts or by providing explanations that help the investigators understand the context of what facts they have uncovered.
Then, depending on the state, there may or may not be a formal hearing. If there is a hearing, it will typically include evidence from both sides and may include witness testimony and cross-examination, as well as arguments from both the disciplinary body and the counselor (or the counselor's attorney).
If the disciplinary body finds in favor of the counselor, the matter will typically end there. If it rules against the counselor, it will also impose some sort of disciplinary penalty. This can also vary widely and can include warning letters, training recommendations, training requirements, formal reprimands, and suspension or revocation of the counselor's license or certification. In many cases, the rulings against the counselor can be appealed, though in some cases, an appeal is only allowed where the counselor's license is suspended or revoked.
If a Formal Complaint is Filed Against You, Contact Attorney Joseph D. Lento
The disciplinary process can be a complicated and confusing one. This is why, if you are a substance abuse or behavioral disorder counselor who is involved in a disciplinary proceeding, you need the help of an attorney who has experience helping professionals defend their licenses and certifications to practice. Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team have that experience and have helped clients nationwide who are involved in disciplinary matters. They understand the process and will help you gather the information you need to respond to the allegations made against you. They will communicate with your state's disciplinary body on matters as simple as sharing information to as complicated as scheduling hearings and witness interviews.
If it's possible to negotiate a favorable resolution to the situation without having to go through a hearing, the Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team will work on your behalf to do so; but if a hearing becomes necessary, they have the experience and understanding of the laws and procedures that apply to be effective advocates for you, and for your ability to practice your profession.
If you are a substance abuse or behavioral disorder counselor and a complaint has been filed against you, don't delay – call Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team today at 888.535.3686 or through their online contact form. This is not a situation you want to face alone!