Legal Risks to Your Education for Your Career as a Mental Health Counselor
If you are attracted to a career as a mental health counselor, you probably possess many of the important personal qualities shared by successful professionals in this field. These qualities are common among those who are passionate about helping others. The counselors who help individuals with mental health challenges should be compassionate and patient, and they should have strong interpersonal skills. Being a good listener is crucial, as is the ability to communicate effectively. In addition to having these important personal qualities, you will also need to obtain the education and certification this career requires.
As you work towards your goal of becoming a mental health counselor, even with the best of intentions, you may encounter unexpected challenges along with the way. As you pursue your degree, charges of professional misconduct, academic misconduct, behavioral misconduct, or sexual misconduct may create a potentially devastating roadblock. But be assured, there are legal remedies! Attorney Joseph D. Lento of the Lento Law Firm, a national education attorney, can help you. A brief lapse in judgment or an honest mistake should not derail your educational pursuits and career dreams. Joseph Lento and his team are ready to take the lead on your defense.
Mental Health Counselor - A Helping Profession
Mental health counselors help individuals, families, couples, and groups with a broad range of problems, including relationship problems, depression, anxiety and panic attacks, grief, trauma, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and paranoia. Some counselors work with specific populations such as children, college students, veterans, or the elderly. Work environments range from home offices for those in private practice to residential facilities where the mental health counselor lives on-site. Mental health counselors may also work for hospitals, schools, and government departments. To accommodate the schedules of their clients, many mental health counselors have evening and weekend hours, and in settings such as inpatient facilities, counselors may also need to be available during the night.
In addition to meeting with clients, mental health counselors also prepare and maintain treatment records and reports; administer and evaluate psychological tests; monitor clients' use of medications; and meet with families, police, probation officers, or other interested parties regarding the treatment process.
And like most jobs today, working as a mental health counselor also requires technical skills, particularly in the use of personal computers and several kinds of software. Familiarity with the basic software common to most offices, such as programs for email, calendar and scheduling, and internet browsers is the minimum requirement. The ability to use software programs for test interpretation, databases, presentations, project management, word processing, and spreadsheets is also often a job requirement.
The job outlook is good for mental health counselors, in part because states are increasingly seeking treatment and counseling services instead of jail time for offenders with mental health issues.
Becoming a Mental Health Counselor Requires Significant Education and Training
All states require that anyone working as a mental health counselor is certified and licensed, and they must have at least a master's degree in a relevant concentration.
Certification for the Mental Health Counselor
The National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) administers the NBCC National Certified Counselor (NCC) Program. Applicants must fulfill the following eligibility requirements:
- Education – Applicant has a master's degree or doctorate from a program accredited by the Counsel for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) or has completed a counseling program at an institutionally accredited educational institution. Coursework must cover nine content areas, including Social and Cultural Foundations in Counseling, Group Counseling Theories and Processes, and Professional Orientation to Counseling.
- Supervision – Applicant has completed at least 100 hours of documented postgraduate counseling supervision over a minimum of twenty-four months.
- Professional Endorsement – Applicant can provide an endorsement from a professional colleague who holds a graduate degree in a mental health area.
- Work Experience – Applicant can document completion of at least 3,000 hours of postgraduate counseling experience over a minimum of twenty-four months.
- Ethics – Applicant must adhere to NBCC's ethical policies.
- Examination – Applicant must pass the National Counselor Examination or the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination.
- Fee – Applicant must pay a fee for board certification.
Licensing for the Mental Health Counselor
To qualify for a state license to work as a mental health counselor, an individual must have 2,000 to 4,000 hours of supervised clinical experience and a master's degree, and they must pass a state exam. Once qualified, the certified mental health counselor must also fulfill annual continuing education requirements. Each state has its own regulating board for mental health professionals.
Education for a Career as a Mental Health Counselor
Common undergraduate degrees for those who go on to pursue a career as a mental health counselor include concentrations in a behavioral science, social science, or psychology. When choosing a school for a master's degree program, it is important to verify that the program is accredited by the Counsel for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). Master's degree concentrations include Clinical Mental Health Counseling, College Counseling, and School Counseling.
Mental health counselors can also pursue post-master's certificates in areas such as clinical mental health, effectiveness in a multicultural society, and postsecondary planning.
While not required, some mental health counselors choose to obtain a doctoral degree, especially if they are interested in a leadership position in the field or working as a researcher, educator, or consultant.
The Legal Issues That Can Confront a Student Pursuing Their Degree for a Career in Mental Health Counseling
By the time you are pursuing the postsecondary education you need to become a mental health counselor, you have already put more than a dozen years into your education. You understand that you will have to continue to work hard and stay focused. You are prepared, even eager, for the challenge of meeting the requirements to become a mental health counselor. You have chosen your school carefully, and you may also have taken on significant debt to pay for it.
But the payoff for all your effort and expense can be threatened, even eliminated, if you face disciplinary action by your school. With repercussions that can range from a formal reprimand to the revocation of a degree, knowing where to turn when you need a student discipline defense attorney is crucial. The team at the Lento Law Firm is ready to take on your fight if you are facing disciplinary action in any of these areas:
The level of academic rigor is an important part of a school's reputation, and sometimes a school's administration can be overly aggressive in perceived academic misconduct. An attorney well-versed in student discipline defense can help you navigate the sometimes-murky waters of charges in this area. First, it's important to be clear about schools define academic misconduct. Examples schools offer of acts they deem academic misconduct usually include the following:
- Cheating – committing fraud or deception on any course requirement, e.g., submitting someone else's work under your name; communicating answers with another student during an exam; fabricating data
- Plagiarism – representing someone else's intellectual product as your own, e.g., copying passages word-for-word without attribution; submitting the same paper in two different classes without approval of each instructor
- Unacceptable collaboration – working with another student on a project and submitting the work as solely your own
- Falsification of data, records, and official documents – examples include fabricating data, altering academic records, and forging a signature on an academic document, grade report, or letter of recommendation
- Classroom disturbances – interfering during class or an exam to the detriment of other students; disrupting class to stifle academic freedom of speech
A school can respond in several ways when a student is charged with academic misconduct, and there is often a lengthy evaluation process that is very stressful for the student. For example, if an instructor alleges that a student cheated on an exam, the student may not drop or withdraw from the class or receive a grade while the case is pending. If the student is found responsible, sanctions may include serving hours of community service, a period of disciplinary probation, or permanent expulsion from the school.
Failure to Meet Academic Standards
Many schools have an office of academic standards with the laudable stated goal of providing guidance and support to students as they pursue their degrees. However, schools can be inconsistent or contradictory in their monitoring of the students they are committed to helping. A school's office of academic standards enforces policies regarding a host of academic areas, such as the following:
- Credit limits – These may include credit for work done outside the student's degree department or school, credits within a single department, and transfer credit.
- Transfers – This may include transferring between departments or schools within a university or from another educational institution all together
- Registration and enrollment – Most issues around failure to meet academic standards can occur in this area, which includes policies regarding class attendance, dropping or adding courses, and final exams.
Each school has its own policies, but most include some form of academic probation for failure to meet academic standards.
Allegations of behavioral misconduct are relevant to what schools typically call a code of conduct, code of community responsibility, or some similar name. The code usually briefly describes the environment the school wants to foster, e.g., one of academic integrity, intellectual freedom, and personal safety, and the behavioral standards student should uphold. A detailed list of prohibited behavior is usually part of the code and may include the following:
- Acts of violence against another person – This includes committing, causing, or threatening to cause acts such as assault or battery.
- Misuse of drugs – This includes possession, creation, distribution, or use of illegal drugs or the use or handling of prescription drugs or over-the-counter drugs in ways that violate the law.
- Misuse of alcohol – This includes the use or handling of alcoholic beverages in ways that violate the law.
- Computer misuse – This category covers unauthorized access to a computer, computer system, or network; unauthorized copy of computer software or data; and use of a computer to falsify records.
- Failure to comply – This category covers failure to comply with lawful orders from a school official.
- Property offenses – Theft and acts that cause damage, destruction, or defacement to school property are included.
Schools typically have a complicated bureaucracy for handling allegations of behavioral misconduct. Sanctions can range from a formal reprimand to a disciplinary probation to expulsion. Competent legal representation is essential when confronted with behavioral misconduct allegations.
Sexual Misconduct (including Title IX violations)
While any school is likely to have a policy prohibiting sexual misconduct, schools that receive federal funding must specifically prohibit sexual misconduct as defined in Title IX of the Equal Protection Clause of amendments to the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The University of Michigan, for example, has two categories of prohibited conduct in their Policy on Sexual and Gender-Based Misconduct (there is some overlap):
Sexual and Gender-Based Misconduct – Examples include sexual assault, sexual exploitation, sexual harassment, gender-based harassment, sex and/or gender-based stalking, intimate partner violence, sex- and gender-based discrimination, and retaliation and violation of
Title IX Misconduct – Examples include quid pro quo sexual harassment, severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive sexual harassment, sexual assault, intimate partner violence, and gender-based stalking as defined by and within the scope of Title IX.
At many schools, if there is a finding that sexual misconduct occurred, sanctions include education interventions, removal from school housing, disciplinary probation, suspension, expulsion, and withholding, delaying, or revoking the conferral of a degree.
While it is understandable that no school wants to be known for tolerating sexual misconduct by its students, in some cases, they are overzealous in administering their sexual misconduct policies. Make sure you have trustworthy legal advice if you are facing charges of sexual misconduct under Title IX or the sexual misconduct policies of your school. Attorney Joseph Lento has defended students like you across the country, and he is ready to take on your case.
The National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC), the national agency that certifies counselors, requires that all applicants and certificants adhere to minimum conduct standards as outlined in their Code of Ethics. These seven directives, listed below, each include multiple examples of specific relevant behaviors.
- NCCs take appropriate action to prevent harm
- NCCs provide only those services for which they have education and qualified experience
- NCCs promote the welfare of clients, students, supervisees, or the recipients of professional services provided
- NCCs communicate truthfully
- NCCs recognize that their behavior reflects on the integrity of the profession as a whole, and thus they avoid actions that can reasonably be expected to damage trust
- NCCs recognize the importance of and encourage the active participation of clients, students, or supervisees
- NCCs are accountable in their actions and adhere to recognized professional standards and practices
NBCC also provides a detailed Ethics Case Procedure. The Disciplinary Actions section notes that if a mental health counselor is found to have violated one or more provisions of the Code of Ethics, NBCC may determine they are ineligible for recertification or certification.
Premier Student Defense Attorney Joseph D. Lento and Your Case
Becoming a mental health counselor requires years of education, a significant financial investment, and a lot of hard work. You deserve to complete the education and training you've put so much effort into. If you are facing charges of academic misconduct, behavioral misconduct, or sexual misconduct, or face legal issues related to your academic standing or professionalism, contact the student discipline defense attorney who will wage the most effective battle for you: Joseph Lento at the Lento Law Firm. He and his team are ready to help you. Call 888-535-3686 or tell us about your case.