In California, it is perfectly legal to advertise mental health services provided by associate therapists. Registered Associate Marriage and Family Therapists (AMFTs), Registered Associate Clinical Social Workers (ASWs), and Registered Associate Professional Clinical Counselors (APCCs) all can advertise or have ads placed by their employers for services they provide. However, many of the ads I see for California associates do not appear to be compliant with the legal requirements for such advertising. Here are some important advertising reminders for California associates governed by the Board of Behavioral Sciences (BBS).
In response to mass shootings and California’s recent wildfires, many therapists and counselors have sought to support impacted areas. One way they’re doing so is with free services. Marketing therapy after disasters can be difficult, though. Done well, it reinforces our roles as community caregivers. It shows off the best of who we are as professionals. With some common mistakes, it can instead come off as a tacky form of marketing, accidentally pushing people in need away from help. Here’s how to tastefully and effectively offer counseling and therapy services to those in need.
Note: The following opinion is a lightly-edited excerpt from the new fourth edition of Basics of California Law for LMFTs, LPCCs, and LCSWs. The ban on soliciting testimonials from clients is discussed in one of the book’s new “Room for Debate” segments. To see Emma Jaegle’s counterargument supporting the ban, get the book. For more on what’s in the new edition, which is updated to 2017 state law, click here.
Therapists in private practice often set aside money for marketing. Those in agencies or group practices may also have some control over how and where the business is advertised. But as therapists, we don’t usually get much training in marketing. As a result, it’s easy to be tricked into wasting that money. Here are four ways that can happen.
For California therapists promoting their practices on Twitter, there isn’t enough room to include legally-required disclosures on every tweet. Here’s what to do.
Twitter is a web site that allows for “micro-blogging,” or posting of messages that are 140 characters or less. Because of Twitter’s open and social nature, it can be a good platform for sharing news about your practice. However, as you can imagine, 140 characters is often not enough room to include both your legally-required disclosures and whatever meaningful content you had hoped to include in a post on the site (otherwise known as a “tweet”).
If you are an LMFT, LPCC, or LCSW in California (other state laws vary), you can advertise your practice on Twitter, you just need to use caution in doing so. The California Board of Behavioral Sciences reported in a committee meeting that they had consulted with legal counsel on therapists’ use of Twitter [page 6 of linked PDF]. If the BBS were to receive a complaint about such advertising, they said they would consider advertising “as a whole.” In other words, if your tweet only links to your web site, they would consider the tweet and the site together. As long as a potential client must have seen your legally-mandated disclosures in at least one of those places, you should be safe.
Another way to think of it is, do NOT include any direct contact information – like your phone number, email address, or office location – in a tweet or on your Twitter profile. If you do that, a potential client could come to you just from the tweet, never having seen your required disclosures. Instead, make sure your Twitter profile and individual tweets ONLY include a link to a web site or other resource where you do meet all of California’s advertising standards.
Standard caveat applies here: I’m not a lawyer, so if you are in need of legal advice, this isn’t that. Talk with someone who has actually, like, gone to law school. I’m giving my best clinician’s understanding of both the law and what the BBS has said about it.