by Brian Carnahan and Tracey Hosom
As public protection administrators with the State of Ohio Counselor, Social Worker, and Marriage and Family Therapist Board, we speak with applicants and licensees daily about a range of issues and topics. Some issues are simple, involving directing someone to a resource on our website or explaining a provision of the law. Others are more difficult, such as helping applicants understand why their current circumstances do not allow us to issue a license. It is in working through these difficult situations that an interesting question can arise: Is the board “for” or “against” licensees? Or perhaps: Why doesn’t the board represent social work or counseling, or marriage and family therapy values? Why can’t the board make decisions that are “best” for the applicant?
These are fair questions. After all, the three professions are listed in the title of our board in Ohio. (Other states’ boards vary.) We have board members who represent these professions in their role as public protectors. It can be easy to confuse what the board does and what the board does not have the authority to accomplish.
The mission of our licensing board is public protection. In other words, the board exists to ensure that Ohio counselors, social workers, and marriage and family therapists are qualified, based on the laws and rules. When practitioners violate a rule or standard, the board can investigate and potentially discipline a licensee. Licensing board staff often have to make decisions in the context of issuing a license, which is separate and distinct from advocating for an individual to become licensed. The interests of the public take precedence over those of the individual.
Keeping in mind that licensees are not the “clients” of the board—rather, they are “customers”—can help when confronted with an issue. Although the board staff is here to help applicants or licensees achieve the best outcome for their individual situations, they cannot act as advocates for any applicant or licensee. The board must consider the public interest first and foremost.
The board is not an advocate for a profession, a set of values associated with that profession, or any political position—and the board is cognizant of these limitations. Advocating is the role of professional associations such as the National Association of Social Workers, the American Counseling Association, or the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists. These organizations and their state affiliates advocate for the professional licensees, encourage their development, and promote the professions that they represent. Nonetheless, board staff recognize that the services provided by the board facilitate the licensee’s or applicant’s ability to pursue a career and earn a living.
As a licensee, what can you expect from your board? First, you should expect good, respectful customer service, including information on how to navigate the licensure process. In essence, you should be treated as a customer—someone who has options. You should have prompt and courteous responses to your questions. Recognize, though, that not all questions may be answerable by board staff. The board may suggest someone else who can answer practice-related questions, or may refer you to seek legal counsel.
You can expect the laws, rules, and scope of practice for your profession to be protected by the board. These issues could arise in the legislature, from another board, or through a stakeholder. What this means is that the board should be watchful for any law or rule changes that make it more difficult for you to practice, erode your authority as a licensee, or negatively affect public protection.
Transparency and access to the board should be available to you as a licensee or applicant. You should be able to understand how the board operates and comment on proposed rules and changes. A related concept is consistency and equity in decision-making. While we wish to be treated as individuals, often individual circumstances cannot be a factor in making a licensure or disciplinary decision. This is when the difference between the values of the professions and the board may become very apparent. Therapists must treat clients as individuals, tailoring their treatment to the needs of the individual. A licensing board cannot do so and maintain its public protection role, ensuring everyone who comes before the board is treated fairly and equitably.
As a licensee, you can expect to have your board provide resources regarding applicable laws and rules, continuing education, and other information that helps you stay current with your obligations as a licensee. The board may also issue newsletters and use social media to communicate.
It can be challenging to work with entities such as licensing boards, as they have a role to play in a professional’s life, but are not directly involved in the profession. Keeping the purpose of the board in mind will help to maintain a good perspective on any interactions with the board, as well as help you understand what the board does and does not do.
Brian Carnahan is Executive Director of the State of Ohio Counselor, Social Worker, & Marriage and Family Therapist Board. Brian can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tracey Hosom is an investigator with the State of Ohio Counselor, Social Worker, & Marriage and Family Therapist Board. Tracey can be reached by email at email@example.com.