Can Coaches Practice Over State Lines?

Online Coaches?You may have seen a great New York Times article this week about the many benefits of “branding” oneself as a specialty practitioner. This article exposes the underbelly of surviving in a practice today, and how difficult it is for many practitioners to survive. It provides useful and timely information about how to turn the tide and prosper as a specialty therapist. Of course, I would take it a step further and add that becoming an online therapist or telemental health practitioner is yet another way to thrive, but you already know that…

My reason for referencing this particular article this week is that mid-way through the article, the journalist quoted an “expert” who may or may not be fully informed about licensure. I’m referring to one of the interviewee’s claims that licensed therapists who may not want to “brand” themselves into potentially boring practices can simply become a “coach” to widen practice options and accept a more diverse range of clients. The reader is led to believe that adhering to licensing law as a therapist is required, but that such law doesn’t apply when delivering coaching services. Does licensure stop being relevant when we decide to change hats?

My understanding of this aspect of licensing law comes from various regulatory groups I have personally contacted about this issue. All sources have informed me of the same: once licensed, we cannot work outside our goegraphic areas of licensure without being licensed or otherwise registered in states where our clients/patients are at the time of contact. This rule does not change if we give ourselves other professional titles, such as “coach.” Calling ourselves a “consultant” carries a few more complications, but amounts to being equally unacceptable if the service is indeed direct care and not “consultation” in the classic sense of the term.

Definition of Consultation

In traditional telehealth, “consultation” designates the offering of professional services to a colleague via vidoeteleconferencing. That colleague may be in the presence of his or her client/patient at the time of contact. Treatment is then delivered by the local provider, who also is the responsbile party for  direct care.

Fudging on your title in an attempt to evade the mandates of your licensure is reportedly frowned upon by the court. After all, your being licensed proves that at one point at in time, you we quite well aware of the law.

Even if you did not understand this aspect of the licensing law, and were bamboozled into believing the teachings of a not-so-smart coach or consultant training program, ignorance is not a defense in the face of the law. Bottom line, if anything goes wrong with a case and you end up in court, you may not do so well by trying to hide behind the cloak of  “coach” or “consultant” if indeed, you practiced over state lines without a license.

Being licensed as a mental health professional trumps other types of practice, regardless of the name you give to your services.

Do You Disagree?

If your experience is different from mine, please send a comment below, but if you do, include links to  your supporting documents. Let’s look at this issue as a group. Unfortunately, while I’ve had this conversation with literally hundreds of respected professionals, no one has ever been able to point me toward a single document substantiating the legitimacy of their claims.



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