After spending thousands of hours training to become a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) in Texas, you are now hard at work, building your career. You have dedicated your professional life to helping families stay together and work through their problems. However, when someone files a complaint against you, your license suddenly may be in question. Here’s what you need to know about dealing with a complaint to the Texas Behavioral Health Executive Council (BHEC).
The Texas legislature created BHEC in 2020 to serve as an umbrella agency for the following licensed professionals:
- Marriage and Family Therapists
- Professional Counselors
- Social Workers
BHEC serves as the licensing and regulatory agency in Texas for these professions. As a result, BHEC receives and processes complaints from clients and other interested persons about marriage and family therapists and other behavioral health professionals.
Common Reasons for Complaints Against Therapists
Although there are various reasons that people file complaints against a therapist, many complaints relate to allegations about:
- Breaching patient confidentiality
- False or deceptive advertising practices
- Inappropriate relationships with patients
- Generally, unprofessional or inappropriate conduct
- Failing to maintain adequate records or other necessary paperwork
- Failing to report abuse to minors when required
- Engaging in criminal activity
- Participating in insurance or Medicaid fraud
22 Tex. Admin. Code §§801.41 et seq. sets forth the Rules of Practice for Marriage and Family Therapists. These rules address many different subject areas in detail, including sexual misconduct, drug and alcohol abuse, recordkeeping, advertising, and relationships with clients. The object of these rules is to protect patients, therapists, and the public.
The BHEC Complaint Process
When Texas BHEC receive a complaint about you, they will examine it to determine:
- If you have violated any state or federal laws or rules that apply to your profession
- Whether you are a licensee under their jurisdiction, and
- Whether the activities or services involved are exempt from the Council’s jurisdiction
The Council does not investigate all complaints that they receive. For example, if the complaint does not provide sufficient information to identify the source or the name of the person who made the complaint, or if it has been more than five years since the date of termination of the therapist’s services, BHEC may elect not to investigate. Likewise, BHEC will not investigate complaints of sexual misconduct unless they receive them within seven years of the date of termination of services or within five years of the patient turning 18, whichever is later.
The Enforcement Division of BHEC prioritizes the investigation of complaints as follows:
- Cases involving imminent harm to the public or a member of the public
- Cases involving sexual misconduct
- Cases involving applicants for licensure
- Cases involving all other violations of state and federal law
If BHEC determines that a complaint is within its jurisdiction, they will notify you of the complaint. They also will allow you to respond to the allegations within the complaint within 30 days. Meanwhile, they will conduct their investigation into the complaint as warranted.
Probable Cause Determination
Following the investigation, if BHEC determines there is no probable cause for the complaint, they will forward it to legal counsel. If legal counsel agrees that there is no probable cause to support the complaint, it will go to the BHEC Executive Director for dismissal.
However, if BHEC determines there is probable cause for the complaint, the case is set for an informal conference with agency staff or a Disciplinary Review Panel. BHEC may provide you with a proposed agreed order or an offer of settlement. It is your choice to accept the findings and sanctions contained in the proposed agreed order.
If you cannot resolve the case through the informal conference process, BHEC will make an informal disposition of the complaint. This disposition may involve remanding the complaint for further investigation, dismissing the complaint, or recommending the complaint for discipline. If BHEC recommends the case for discipline and the parties cannot resolve it via a proposed agreed order, the case progresses to a hearing. These types of hearing occur before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) at the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH).
Possible Sanctions for Rules Violations
If BHEC determines that you have violated one or more of the pertinent rules, you are subject to sanctions depending on the severity and number of violations. 22 Tex. Admin. Code §801.302 classifies violations as Level 1 through Level 5, with Level 1 violations the most severe and Level 5 the least serious. For example, a Level 1 violation demonstrates gross or intentional misconduct that caused or posed a high degree of harm to the public or may require more severe punishment to deter other license holders from similar behavior. The potential sanctions for a Level 1 violation include license revocation and a possible administrative penalty ranging from $500 to $5,000.
At the other end of the spectrum, a Level 5 violation represents an inadvertent or relatively minor act of misconduct or rule violation that does not directly involve the public’s health, safety, or welfare. The sanction for a Level 5 violation is a reprimand. However, no matter the level of the violation, a license holder can receive an administrative penalty in addition to or instead of the recommended sanction.
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We Are Here to Defend You Before the BHEC
When you receive a complaint from BHEC about your work as a marriage and family therapist, you may be unsure where to turn first. Our professional license defense attorneys stand ready to represent your interests and defend you from the allegations against you. Call us today at (512) 476-5757 to reach the offices of Bertolino LLP or contact us online.