There are Restrictions on the term, “Private Practice Counseling.”

Yes, Virginia, There are New Restrictions on the term, “Private Practice Counseling.”

This subject is presented as a communication between Counseling Washington's Web Master and a Licensed Mental Health Counselor.

Dear Floyd—

I am 58 years old. I am a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and I have been doing private practice counseling for 27 years. Some of my fellow counselors say that I cannot continue to do private practice counseling after July 1, 2009. My Papa used to say, “If you see it on, it’s so.” Please tell me the truth; will I have to give up private practice counseling?

Virginia [Anonymous], MA, LMHC

When I first discovered this ridiculous action by the Health Department--as mistakenly recommended to them by an inept Assistant AG--I handled it humorously way, writing in a parody of the famous "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus." (see below) But it is NOT funny and I did a disservice to the profession by making fun of it. This action is, in fact, a slap to the face of every licensed counselor in private practice.

In the process of translating the bill's wording into the Revised Code of Washington (RCW) dealing with the new counselor credential Certified Advisor (CA) and Certified Counselors (CC) into language for the Washington Administrative Code (WAC), it was necessary to define the term "private practice counseling." The definition adopted was, "Private practice counseling means the practice of counseling by a certified counselor or certified adviser as specified in RCW 18.19.200." [For verification of this wording, see RCW 18.19.020 Definitions, paragraph (10) and in WAC 246-810-010 Definitions, paragraph (13).]

The effect of this wording? The only legal definition of private practice counseling in Washington State describes it as the work being done by unlicensed counselors! Is this important? I sure think it is.

Imagine how lawyers would react, if the legislature created a new "Certified Legal Assistant" category and indicated that certified legal assistants could operate a private legal practice within designated limitations and restrictions as defined by law. And then the new WAC implementing the RCW comes up with the definition: "private legal practice is the work done by Certified Legal Assistants." The bar associations would be foaming at the mouth and heads would roll in Olympia.

The state should have used a commonly accepted definition such as, " Private Practice Counseling is the provision of therapy services for a fee by a self-employed licensed counselor." Legislative action to change this definition should be the first goal of all the counselors, therapists and clinical social workers in Washington State.

What is your professional association doing about this? Are they representing you in Olympia?

Have you contacted your professional organization to let them know how you feel? If not, please do it now.

Tell your professional association that you want a new legal definition for private practice counseling [in WAC 246-810-010 Definitions, paragraph (13)] that honors the professional work of self-employed licensed counselors.

Floyd Else, MA, LMHC, NCC
Webmaster: Counseling Washington
Counseling Washington and CounselingSeattle LLC

(The original response.)

Dear Virginia,

You can no longer say that you do private practice counseling. Due to the wording of state law, private practice counseling is now defined as the work done by certified counselors and certified advisers.

Your counseling friends are right. All of you were affected--probably unintentionally--when the Washington State legislature passed a bill (2SHB 2674) eliminating the registered counselor (RC) credential and establishing several new credentials in its place. The lower levels (in terms of qualifications) include two new categories--certified advisors and certified counselors--who are permitted to do private practice counseling within carefully defined and prescribed limits.

However, when a term is used in legislation, it is usually defined. So the new law includes a definition of "private practice counseling." For years, private practice counseling has been a common term meaning when a counselor has a business providing mental health services to clients for a fee. But under the new legal definition effective July 1, 2009, "Private practice counseling means the practice of counseling by a certified counselor or certified adviser as specified in RCW 18.19.200."

So yes, Virginia, as I read the legislation, since you are NOT a certified counselor or certified adviser, you will NOT be able to call your business "private practice counseling." Nor will your 4,615 fellow Licensed Mental Health Counselors, 1,060 Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists, and 3,209 Licensed Clinical Social Work Counselors in the State of Washington.

Oh, you will still be able to have a counseling business; you will still be able to help troubled clients; and you will still be able to charge for your services. You just won’t be able to say, “I do private practice counseling.” In fact, you may not be able to say that you are a counselor and that you have your own private practice. (Consult an attorney. Otherwise you may accidentally break the law when trying to describe the kind of work you do.)

But private practice counseling will continue, Virginia. It will exist as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give life its highest beauty and joy. But alas! Private practice counseling’s most highly trained and most experienced counselors will no longer be able to use those words to offer that service to clients in need.

You and your fellow professional counselors will need to develop a new vocabulary. Or, alternatively you and your colleagues could ask your representatives in the Washington State legislature to amend the law to correct a definition error, so all of you could keep using the old familiar term in the old familiar way.

Best wishes,

Floyd Else, MA, LMHC, NCC
Counseling Washington and CounselingSeattle LLC


1. 2SHB 2674:

2. See: RCW 18.19.020, Definitions. (Effective July 1, 2009.) Paragraph (10).

3. Numbers of licensed counselors in each category were provided November 5, 2008, by the Health Department, Health Systems Quality Assurance, Public Disclosure Record Center in Olympia.

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