As a psychologist, you use your education, knowledge, and experience to help your patients or clients to the best of your ability. However, you also are a licensed professional in Texas who must follow all professional and ethical standards that apply to your practice. Therefore, your license may be at risk when a current or former patient or client complains about your services. In this situation, you should protect your license by enlisting the help of an experienced psychologist license defense lawyer.
Licensing of Psychologists in Texas
The Texas State Board of Examiners of Psychologists (the Board), a division of the Texas Behavioral Health Executive Council (the Council), establishes the licensure qualifications and ethical standards for psychologists in Texas. This Board oversees the licensing of three different types of psychologists: Licensed Psychologists (LPs), Licensed Psychological Associates (LPAs), and Licensed Specialists in School Psychology (LSSPs). The Council also oversees all complaints and disciplinary action concerning psychologists.
Grounds for Disciplinary Action Against Psychologists
Under Tex. Occ. Code § 501.401, the Council must take disciplinary action against psychologists who engage in any of the following actions:
- Violates any law or rule applicable to psychologists;
- Is convicted of a felony, a crime that would be a felony under Texas law, or any crime of moral turpitude;
- Uses drugs or alcohol to a degree that it affects their professional competence;
- Engages in fraud or deceit related to their services provided as a psychologist;
- Practices psychology without a license and without an exemption to do so;
- Aids or abets another in practicing psychology without a license in representing that the person is licensed;
- Represents that a person is licensed to practice psychology when they are not; or
- Commits an act for which liability exists under Chapter 81 of the Civil Practice and Remedies Code.
Complaints Against Psychologists
The Council considers complaints to be timely if made within five years of the incident that is the subject of the complaint, except if the incident involves sexual misconduct, in which case the complaint is timely if made within seven years of the incident.
22 Tex. Admin. Code § 884.3 sets forth specific requirements for complaints concerning court-ordered evaluations. Likewise, 22 Tex. Admin. Code § 884.4 provides special requirements for complaints concerning court-ordered therapy or visitation facilitator services, and 22 Tex. Admin. Code § 884.5 governs complaints involving court orders or education law.
When the Council receives a complaint against a psychologist, it ranks the complaint under 22 Tex. Admin. Code § 884.10 in order of priority, from highest to lowest:
- cases involving a probability of imminent physical harm to the public or a member of the public;
- cases involving sexual misconduct;
- cases involving applicants for licensure; and
- cases involving all other violations of state or federal law.
The Council first decides whether it has jurisdiction over the complaint and, if so, whether the complaint states an allegation that, if true, would violate a rule or law that governs psychologists. If the Council finds that it has jurisdiction over a complaint that involves such a violation, it assigns an investigator to the complaint and notifies the psychologist of the complaint. Following the investigation, the investigator completes an investigative report for review by the Enforcement Division Manager and legal counsel for a probable cause determination.
If probable cause exists that a rule or law violation occurred, the case is referred for an informal conference before Council staff or the Board’s Disciplinary Review Panel. At an informal conference, Council staff or the Disciplinary Review Panel can hear from the complainant and the license holder and make an informal recommendation as to the disposition of the complaint. Informal conferences are only proper when expert testimony is unnecessary to prove a violation of the profession’s standard of care or scope of practice.
If the parties cannot reach an agreed-upon disposition following an informal conference or negotiations, the case can proceed to a contested disciplinary hearing at the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH). An administrative law judge (ALJ) is assigned to the case and will hold an administrative hearing to decide whether a violation has occurred and, if so, the appropriate disciplinary measures for the licensee. Following the hearing, the ALJ makes a proposal for decision, which the Council and Board must review and either accept, modify, or reject.
Methods for Resolving Disciplinary Complaints Against Psychologists
One method of resolving a disciplinary complaint is to enter a remedial plan with the Council under Tex. Occ. Code § 501.411. A remedial plan generally is an agreed-upon plan that contains various provisions or conditions that allow the psychologist to continue practicing while remedying the issues that led to the disciplinary proceedings. The Council may assess a fee for a license holder to take part in a remedial plan. Failure to follow a remedial plan can lead to further disciplinary action and sanctions.
However, the Board may not use a remedial plan to resolve complaints concerning:
- Conduct that resolves a significant risk of harm to a patient;
- Conduct in which the proper resolution may include revoking, suspending, limiting, or restricting a person’s license; or
- A complaint concerning a license holder who previously had entered a remedial plan to resolve a different complaint.
So, a remedial plan may not contain a provision that revokes, suspends, limits, or restricts a person’s license. It also may not contain a provision that assesses an administrative penalty against a license holder.
Potential Sanctions for Disciplinary Action Against Psychologists
Depending on the nature of the disciplinary action against a psychologist, the Council may assess various sanctions or penalties. For instance, under Tex. Occ. Code § 501.407, the Council may require a license holder to complete a specific number of hours and a specific type of continuing education program. In addition, a psychologist who engages in false, misleading, or deceptive advertising may be required to correct their advertising under Tex. Occ. Code § 501.408. The Council also may order the license holder to issue a refund to the person who paid for the psychological services, either instead of or in addition to an administrative penalty, as per Tex. Occ. Code § 501.505.
22 Tex. Admin. Code § 470.1 also contains a comprehensive Schedule of Sanctions for different violations of Tex. Occ. Code § 501 and 22 Tex. Admin. Code. The Schedule sets forth the penalties for violating each Board Rule, including whether a violation will result in a license revocation, a license suspension, a probated license suspension, a reprimand, or an administrative penalty.
Find Out More About Successfully Handling Your Disciplinary Proceedings
We want to help put you in the best position possible to protect your license. As a result, you will need immediate legal representation to take the steps necessary to defend your license from these potentially severe consequences. At Bertolino, LLP, we offer experienced psychologist license defense services for those facing disciplinary action. Contact us today by calling (512) 515-9518 or contacting us online. We can analyze the circumstances that led to the complaint against you and figure out the legal strategy that is best calculated to reach the best possible outcome in your case.