March 11, 2022

Legal FAQ: A Therapist’s Guide to Getting Started in Individual Practice

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Are you seeking to improve your knowledge of the basic legal terms and definitions that come with being a mental health provider in private practice?

We’ve got you covered.

In this guide, we’ll look at:

When should I seek legal counsel?

Many mental health providers will seek legal counsel at some point in their careers. Some of the most common examples why include:

  • Client issues, concerns, or complaints filed 
  • Creating your professional will
  • Dissolving your practice if you no longer have the capacity to offer care
  • Receiving a notice of investigation from your state licensing board
  • Responding to a subpoena

How do I assemble a legal team?

It is important to build your own legal team to help in the case of an emergency or urgent scenario. We recommend looking to the organizations below for a list of resources specific to your licensure to get started.

  • Your licensing board
  • Trade associations you’re a member of (like the American Counseling Association)
  • State bar associations

Common legal terms

You’ll come across many legal terms during your career. Here are four of the most important to understand. 

Consent: Under privacy laws, this is a signed agreement between you and your client (or a client’s parent or legal guardian) that acknowledges how your practice may use and disclose the client’s protected health information for treatment, payment, and health care operations. 

Informed consent: the process through which you communicate information to your client (or a client’s parent or legal guardian) about the proposed treatment. This enables your client to make an informed decision about their care and is typically reflected in a written document signed by the patient. A mental health provider is responsible for obtaining informed consent before providing any type of care to a client. 

Authorization: This is a signed agreement between you and your client (or a client’s parent or legal guardian) that allows the use or disclosure of protected health information for specified purposes (generally other than treatment, payment, or health care operations) to a third party identified in the agreement. 

Mandated reporting: As a licensed therapist, you are obligated by law to report known or suspected incidents of child abuse or neglect. As a general best practice, you should make yourself aware of the requirements for your state and what you are mandated to report. In some states, abuse against other populations, such as the elderly, is also included in mandated reporting requirements. 

Working with minors

In most states, a minor is a person under 18. 

Usually, a parent or guardian must consent to a minor’s treatment; however, some states permit minors to consent to certain types of services, such as mental health therapy, without the consent of a parent or guardian. Contact your state board to see your state’s age of consent.

Once you have consent, it is permissible to communicate with those directly involved in the care, treatment, or payment on behalf of the minor. However, there must be additional authorization from whoever consented (the minor or their parent or legal guardian) to release any records or protected health information to a third party not directly involved in the minor’s care, treatment, or payment.

As a licensed therapist, you are obligated by law to report known or suspected incidents of child abuse or neglect. Be aware of the requirements for your state and what you are mandated to report.

Working across state lines

The general rule is that a provider must be licensed in the state where the client is located during treatment. Due to the pandemic, many providers encounter situations where they may not be located in the same state as their clients. Here are some options to consider if a client has moved to a state where you aren’t licensed:

Seek temporary authorization to practice in your client’s new state. 

Many states allow out-of-state providers to continue seeing their clients temporarily until they find a new provider. Also, check with the licensing board in your client’s new state of residence to see what temporary practice options are available. 

Become licensed in the client’s new state. 

Many states offer licensure by reciprocity/endorsement or participation in a licensure compact like the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact, the Nurse Licensure Compact, or the PsyPact. Check with the licensing board in your client’s new state for licensure requirements. Some states also offer more limited telehealth-only licenses, which are less burdensome to obtain, and permit a provider to treat a client in the state via telehealth. 

What type of support does SonderMind offer?

As a mental healthcare provider, you are subject to consent and disclosure laws. These requirements vary by state and license and can range in complexity. 

Gain peace of mind knowing that you have end-to-end support for your practice, including clinical expertise, exclusive resources and technology, and administrative support with SonderMind. 

Partner with SonderMind to get access to: 

Consent and intake forms

Our consent and intake forms have been vetted and backed by our legal team to adhere to each state board’s standards. 

HIPAA-compliant software

Conduct safe video sessions to drive measurable, successful outcomes for your clients.

Malpractice insurance coverage for every SonderMind client

Through your partnership with us, you have malpractice insurance coverage for every SonderMind client you see. (If you see external clients in or out of our platform, you must provide your own liability insurance to ensure full coverage.)

Treatment plan and progress notes templates

Access templates to document clinical notes, such as SOAP notes or psychotherapy notes.

While partnering with SonderMind does offer many legal advantages, it is important to note that SonderMind’s legal team cannot advise you in any legal matter. It’s important to take the time to stay up to date with your state’s laws and regulations and to have a plan in place should you need legal representation. 

Learn more about how we’re changing the future of mental healthcare here.

Already a SonderMind Provider?

If you’re already a SonderMind provider, you can access our free Legal 101 webinar right from your provider portal.

Get access to more resources

Join SonderMind, and our evidence-based approach to care will give you the additional tools you need to provide the best possible support to even more people in need. See all continuing education and training opportunities available to SonderMind providers here

Join a community of mental health providers who are redesigning mental healthcare. Join SonderMind

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