Board of Psychology

In California, the Board of Psychology regulates the practice of psychology in the state. Their role includes licensing both psychologists and psychological associates, as well as enforcing California laws that are designed to protect consumers. 

If a psychologist is found to have violated the statutes and laws that govern the practice of psychology, they could be subject to disciplinary action by the Board of Psychology. At a minimum, a psychologist could be subject to a citation and fine or a letter of reproval from the Board. In more severe cases, a psychologist may have their license surrendered or revoked.

At the Law Office of Nicole Irmer, we represent psychologists and psychological associates throughout the state of California who are facing allegations of professional misconduct, unprofessional conduct, and other violations. We offer a skilled, compassionate defense to help our clients achieve the best possible outcome to the complaint or Accusation against them. Reach out today to schedule a consultation with a member of our legal team.

Common Disciplinary Issues Facing California Psychologists

The Business and Professions Code (BPC) outlines the general bases for discipline against licensed psychologists in California. A psychologist may face disciplinary action for a number of potential violations, including:

  • Unprofessional conduct
  • Conviction of a crime substantially related to the practice of psychology – the definition of substantially related is very broad and includes offenses outside one’s place of employment such as driving under the influence and domestic violence. 
  • Use of a controlled substance in a way that impairs the ability to practice
  • Fraudulently or neglectfully misrepresenting a license or status held
  • Impersonating another person holding a psychology license
  • Using fraud or deception in applying for a license or  registration
  • Paying, offering to pay, accepting, or soliciting fees for referrals
  • False advertising
  • Violating confidentiality
  • Violating any rule of professional conduct
  • Gross negligence
  • Aiding and abetting in the unlawful practice of psychology
  • Dishonest or fraudulent acts
  • Any act of sexual abuse or sexual misconduct
  • Repeated acts of negligence

One area of particular concern for mental health professionals – including both psychologists and therapists – is dual relationships. A dual relationship occurs when a licensed professional treats a patient while simultaneously engaging in a separate and distinct relationship. While some dual relationships cannot be avoided, care should be taken to avoid issues that may impair professional judgment or lead to exploitation. For example, borrowing money from a patient, engaging in a business venture with a patient, acting as a provider for multiple related parties, engaging in dual roles for a single patient, or hiring a patient may be considered an unethical dual relationship.

Similarly, sexual contact with a current or former patient or a patient’s partner or family member may be considered an unethical dual relationship. Moreover, engaging in a sexual relationship with a current or former patient may be grounds for disciplinary action by the Board. In some situations, sexual contact with a patient may lead to criminal charges.

Issues related to confidentiality are also often an issue with licensed psychologists. Under California law, confidential communications between a psychotherapist (including a psychologist) and a patient are considered privileged. This privilege is even more extensive than the privilege between other healthcare providers (such as doctors) and patients. With some exceptions, such as situations involving child abuse or neglect that a psychologist may be required by law to report, violations of confidentiality may lead to Board disciplinary action.

No matter what type of allegation you are facing, it is important that you reach out to an experienced psychology license defense attorney. Your lawyer can work with you to minimize the potential negative impact of an allegation of unprofessional conduct or another violation on your license.

The California Board of Psychology Disciplinary Process and Potential Sanctions

Disciplinary actions typically begin with a complaint, which may be filed by a patient, a patient’s family member, a colleague, a supervisor, an insurance company, or a law enforcement agency. Upon receiving a complaint, the Board’s enforcement unit will begin an investigation.

If the complaint is not substantiated – or lacks sufficient evidence to pursue further discipline – then the Board may take what is known as non-disciplinary action. This may include closing the case without taking action, an educational letter for minor infractions, or a citation and fine for less egregious violations such as false advertising. Educational letters and case closures are confidential, while citations and fines are a matter of public record.

In situations where the allegations in a complaint are substantiated, then the Board will refer the matter to the Office of the Attorney General to file a formal Accusation. An Accusation is a written statement that outlines the charges against the licensee. It may be resolved through a stipulated settlement or after a hearing with the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH).

If an Accusation is filed, then a licensee may face Board discipline, including:

  • A letter of reproval
  • Probation
  • Suspension
  • Surrender of license
  • Revocation

It is important to note that disciplinary action is not a foregone conclusion if a complaint or an Accusation is filed against you as a psychologist. A skilled California psychology license defense lawyer can put together a multi-pronged strategy to defend you. Depending on your situation, this may include introducing evidence during the investigation to refute or mitigate the charges, negotiating a stipulated settlement with the Board, or representing you before the OAH. Throughout the process, your attorney will work with you to help you achieve the best possible resolution to your case.

Compassionate California Psychology License Defense

A Board of Psychology investigation can have a serious impact on your career as a psychologist or psychological associate. While you are not required to hire an attorney to represent you, doing so can help you achieve a more favorable outcome – and may allow you to keep your psychology license.

The Law Offices of Nicole Irmer represent California mental health professionals who are dealing with licensing issues. We understand that even the most skilled psychologist may make an error or may struggle with substance abuse or other issues. We’re here to help.

To learn more or to schedule a consultation with a California psychology licensing defense lawyer, give us a call at 619-237-6130 or fill out our online contact form.

Related: Board of Behavioral Science