Exemptions to Licensure

© Catherine L. Waltz, PhD, LCSW

July 17, 2014 –

Revised and Shared with Beginning Counselors of Florida (Facebook Group) on October 31, 2014

Frequently I am asked when providing continuing education on any of our required courses, “How do agencies (or programs) have unlicensed employees (or trainees) providing counseling services?”  There is confusion and concern about how this can happen and whether or not the practice is legal.  The practice is legal under the following circumstances.  An additional question is, “How can these agencies have registered interns providing services in settings where a qualified supervisor or other licensed mental health professional is not on site.

Our Practice Act, Florida Statute Chapter 491 addresses this matter directly in subsection 491.014 Exemptions.  The first three points address the fact that our Practice Act cannot limit the practice of certain professionals (and religious related service providers) licensed under various other chapters as long as they do not present themselves to the public as licensed in one of our professions (Licensed Clinical Social Work, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist or Licensed Mental Health Counselor) or use our protected titles as noted parenthetically above.

Then, the next section addresses the circumstances where individuals are not required to be licensed, provisionally licensed, registered, or certified under Chapter 491.  They are:

  • employees of governmental agencies,
  • developmental disability facilities and programs,
  • a mental health, alcohol, or drug abuse facility operating under chapter 393, chapter 394, or chapter 397;
  • the statewide child care resource and referral network operating under s.0101;
  • a child-placing or child-caring agency licensed pursuant to chapter 409;
  • a domestic violence center certified pursuant to chapter 39;
  • an accredited academic institution; or
  • a research institution

The statute further indicates that this exemption applies to the employee who is performing duties for which he or she was trained and hired solely within the confines of such agency, facility, or institution, so long as the employee is not held out to the public as a clinical social worker, mental health counselor, or marriage and family therapist.  What this does is extend our ‘title protection’ but not the licensure requirement.

This statute also allows counseling services provided via:

  • private, nonprofit organizations which provide counseling services to children, youth and families
  • masters social work, marriage and family and counseling students
  • non-resident providers who are licensed in other states but provide services in Florida 15 days or less a month, and
  • behavior analysts

Despite the breadth of situational exemptions, all these counseling providers are bound by subsection 491.012 wherein our professional titles are identified and protected.  Furthermore, they must meet the minimum standards of performance in professional activities when measured against generally prevailing peer performance, including the undertaking of activities for which the person is not qualified by training or experience.  This section does not indicate where one might file a complaint alleging unprofessional or other problematic behavior.  One could guess that there would be a complaint provision via a state contract for licensed facilities and programs or internal grievance or complaint procedures in other institutions.  Of course, if the behavior is illegal (i.e., sexual misconduct with a client), one could file a police report.

Private, nonprofit organizations which provide counseling services to children, youth and families frequently have contracts to provide in-home counseling and other similar services.  These organizations do not have to comply with the entirety of our practice act.  However, Our Practice Act has direct bearing on each of us as individuals.

– Catherine L. Waltz, PhD, is an adjunct professor in the graduate program of the School of Social Work, Barry University.  She is a continuing education provider in the state of Florida providing courses on professional ethics, laws and rules, supervision, mental health error prevention and a specialist in domestic violence. https://drwaltz.com/courses/workshops-at-a-glance

The educational commentaries provided by Dr. Waltz do not constitute a legal opinion.  If legal advice is legalscalesneeded, it is recommended that contact be made with an attorney qualified in the jurisdiction in which you practice or is applicable to your case.  We recommend that you use your knowledge of the law and your code of ethics in conjunction with this information (and any other) when deciding upon a course of action.