No Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor ever wants to get notice of a complaint from the LCMHC Board. If you receive such a notice from the Board, you may be uncertain about what to do next, what the procedures are, and what the results may be. You may also be trying to decide whether you need to retain an attorney or firm to represent or assist you in responding to the complaint.
Our firm assists and represents applicants seeking licenses and licensees in defending against allegations of misconduct before the LCMHC Board. Licensees we represent include Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor Associates (LCMHCA), Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselors (LCMHC), and Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor Supervisors (LCMHCS) (hereafter, collectively, “LCMHCs” or “licensees”). Representation at the informal inquiry stage is significantly less expensive than in a formal evidentiary hearing, which is public. Therefore, the investment in protecting your LCMHC license and livelihood generally is more cost-effective in the informal inquiry stage. The earlier you get an experienced firm like ours involved, the better our chances are of helping you get a favorable or acceptable outcome.
In the sections below, we attempt to address some of the questions you may have and explain the general process, procedures, and possible results in a complaint before the LCMHC Board.
North Carolina Board of Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselors – Composition and Authority
As background, the North Carolina legislature created the North Carolina Board of Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselors to regulate the activities of persons who render counseling services to ensure the protection of the public health, safety, and welfare. The Board consists of seven members that are appointed by the Governor. At least five members of the Board are Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselors, and two are public members.
The Board is empowered to carry out the provisions of the Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselors Act (LCMHC Act), which include examining and passing on the qualifications of applicants, issuing licenses and license renewals, adopting ethical standards and examination materials, establishing standards for continuing professional counselor education, and conducting investigations and hearings as necessary to enforce the LCMHC Act.
Responding to an Inquiry and Investigation
If you received an inquiry letter from the Board, this generally means that a complaint and possibly evidence have been submitted to the Board, and the Ethics Committee has done an initial review. In other cases, the Board may initiate “staff-opened” cases where the staff has received information from various sources including renewals, government agencies, and the news media. Generally, the Board will send you an initial letter and request that you respond to the allegations. Depending on the facts of the case, an investigator for the Board may be assigned at some point in the process to gather additional information and prepare a summary report for the Ethics Committee, who makes recommendations to the Board on how to proceed.
In drafting a response, it is important for you to include all information and documentation necessary to fairly and fully respond to the allegations. However, it is equally important for you to include only the pertinent information and documentation. We help our clients make these judgments and determinations from an objective standpoint and with experience in defending LCMHC Board matters. We regularly assist clients with written responses and in dealing with the stress that typically comes with defending such matters.
After receiving the written response, the Ethics Committee may close the case without taking further action; investigate further; recommend an informal conference with the licensee; or send a Charge Letter commencing a formal hearing.
Prior to the Board commencing a formal public hearing, the Ethics Committee may determine it is appropriate to hold an informal conference. The LCMHC may agree to attend this informal conference and be represented by an attorney. At the conference, a Board member and the LCMHC meet to consider the possibility of disposing of the dispute without a hearing. One or more of the following dispositions may occur at or after an informal conference:
At the informal conference, the licensee may be offered a resolution of the case, which is followed by a proposed consent order. All matters contained in the consent order must be agreed to by the Board member and the LCMHC or other licensee and then ultimately approved by the full Board.
We help our clients evaluate and determine whether they should accept a proposed consent order, including whether to negotiate the terms, or in some cases request reconsideration of the Ethics Committee’s decision. The Board has more flexibility regarding disciplinary actions in negotiating and entering into consent orders than it does after formal hearings. This flexibility is one reason we attempt whenever possible to reach a consent order and avoid a formal hearing for clients if a matter reaches this stage of the proceedings.
If the matter is not dismissed and a settlement cannot be reached, the case will be scheduled for a formal public hearing. The Board will give the licensee a notice of hearing, which hearing is conducted by the Board members. The LCMHC has the right to present evidence in defense, including calling witnesses, introducing exhibits, making objections, cross-examining witnesses called by the Board, and making a closing argument. If they have not done so already, many LCMHCs/licensees decide that they need to retain a firm or attorney to represent them at the formal hearing stage.
Possible Discipline and Outcomes of the Public Hearing
The Board may suspend, or revoke licensure, discipline, place on probation, limit practice, or require examination, remediation, or rehabilitation of any LCMHC or other licensee on one or more of the following grounds:
The Board may, in lieu of denial, suspension, or revocation, take any of the following disciplinary actions: (1) Issue a formal reprimand or formally censure the applicant or licensee; (2) Place the applicant or licensee on probation with the appropriate conditions on the continued practice of clinical mental health counseling deemed advisable by the Board; (3) Require examination, remediation, or rehabilitation for the applicant or licensee, including care, counseling, or treatment by a professional or professionals designated or approved by the Board; (4) Require supervision of the clinical mental health counseling services provided by the applicant or licensee by a licensee designated or approved by the Board; (5) Limit or circumscribe the practice of clinical mental health counseling provided by the applicant or licensee with respect to the extent, nature, or location of the professional counseling services provided, as deemed advisable by the Board; or (6) Discipline and impose any appropriate combination of the types of disciplinary action listed above.
In addition, the Board may impose conditions of probation or restrictions on continued practice of clinical mental health counseling at the conclusion of a period of suspension or as a requirement for the restoration of a revoked or suspended license. The Board may assess costs of disciplinary action against an applicant or licensee.
Appeal of a Disciplinary Order and other Court Proceedings
An order issued by the Board imposing discipline may be appealed to Superior Court. Generally, it is much more difficult for a licensee to prevail once the matter reaches the court system on an appeal, even if s/he retains legal counsel at that point.
When considering the issue of whether an applicant or licensee is physically or mentally capable of practicing clinical mental health counseling with reasonable skill and safety with patients or clients, upon a showing of probable cause to the Board that the applicant or licensee is not capable of practicing clinical mental health counseling with reasonable skill and safety with patients or clients, the Board may petition a court to order the applicant or licensee in question to submit to a psychological evaluation by a psychologist or a physical evaluation by a physician.
If you have received a letter from the Board staff or have a pending formal hearing, you should consider retaining a firm like ours that has experience representing applicants, LCMHCs and other licensees before the North Carolina Board of Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselors. Disciplinary action could have a significant and permanent impact on your license in NC and other states, which also can substantially affect you financially and personally. Hiring an experienced law firm can be an investment in your professional future as a LCMHC. Our general explanation of board procedures has a more detailed discussion of how we may be able to assist you in informal proceedings and formal proceedings.