Attorney Articles | Advertising Guidelines for Therapists

Articles by Legal Department Staff

The Legal Department articles are not intended to serve as legal advice and are offered for educational purposes only. The information provided should not be used as a substitute for independent legal advice and it is not intended to address every situation that could potentially arise. Please be aware that laws, regulations and technical standards change over time. As a result, it is important to verify and update any reference or information that is provided in the article.

Advertising Guidelines for Therapists

Advertising Guidelines for Therapists

By Bonnie R. Benitez, Attorney
Previously employed with CAMFT
The Therapist
(September/October 2001)
Updated August 2012 by Sara Kashing, J.D., Staff Attorney

Advertising can educate the public about services available to them and who is available to provide those services. There are general rules, which must always be followed, and specific rules regarding the use of the license and advertisements by registered interns and trainees. This article will cover the legal and ethical standards regarding advertising by LMFTs, trainees and interns. It will also discuss the BBS Advertising Policy and Guidelines, and make suggestions as to best practices in advertising.

"Advertise" defined

The word "advertise" is defined as a "public communication" and includes, but is not limited to, communication by means of mail, television, radio, motion picture, newspaper, book, list or directory, Internet or other electronic communication of healing arts practitioners. It also includes the issuance of any card, sign, or device to any person, or the causing, permitting, or allowing of any sign or marking on, or in, any building or structure, or in any newspaper or magazine or in any directory, or any printed matter whatsoever, with or without any limiting qualifications.

Advertising Laws Protect you and your License
Business and Professions Code section 4980(b) prohibits any person from engaging in the practice of marriage, family, and child counseling absent a valid license as a marriage and family therapist, unless he or she is exempted from the licensing requirements.1 Moreover, no person may advertise him or herself as performing the services of a marriage, family, child, domestic, or marital consultant, or in any way use these or any similar titles, including the letters "M.F.T." or "M.F.C.C.," or other name, word initial, or symbol in connection with or following his or her name to imply that he or she performs these services without a license as provided by this chapter.2

Prohibited Advertisements
All of your advertisements must be true and accurate (not false, misleading, or deceptive). Business and Professions Code section 4982(p) defines as unprofessional conduct "advertising in a manner which is false, misleading, or deceptive."

For example, you may be an experienced therapist who has practiced using a behavioral model for twenty years. However, you cannot advertise as "Beth F. Skinner, licensed behaviorist." There is no such license, so that ad would be false. In the State of California, there are no "licensed psychotherapists," "licensed therapists," or "licensed (name of your school of thought)." Psychotherapists are either LMFTs, LCSWs, Licensed Psychologists, or Psychiatrists (licensed as Physicians).

Business and Professions Code section 651 includes an extensive list of statements, claims, and images that would be considered false, fraudulent, misleading or deceptive including a statement or claim that does any of the following:

  • Contains a misrepresentation of fact.
  • Is likely to mislead or deceive because of a failure to disclose material facts.
  • Is intended or is likely to create false or unjustified expectations of favorable results, including the use of any photograph or other image that does not accurately depict the results of the procedure being advertised or that has been altered in any manner from the image of the actual subject depicted in the photograph or image.
  • Relates to fees, other than a standard consultation fee or a range of fees for specific types of services, without fully and specifically disclosing all variables and other material factors.
  • Contains other representations or implications that in reasonable probability will cause an ordinarily prudent person to misunderstand or be deceived.
  • manner, unless that claim is relevant to the service being performed and can be substantiated with objective scientific evidence.
  • Makes a scientific claim that cannot be substantiated by reliable, peer reviewed, published scientific studies.

Acceptable Advertisement Material
In addition to the list of prohibited advertising, Business and Professions Code section 651 includes a list of advertisement content that is acceptable, including, but not limited to the following:

  • A statement of addresses and telephone numbers of the offices maintained by the practitioner.
  • A statement of languages, other than English, fluently spoken by the practitioner or a person in the practitioner's office.
  • A statement that the practitioner provides services under a specified private or public insurance plan or health care plan.
  • A statement of names of schools and postgraduate clinical training programs from which the practitioner has graduated, together with the degrees received.
  • A statement of teaching positions currently or formerly held by the practitioner, together with pertinent dates.
  • A statement of his or her affiliations with hospitals or clinics.
  • A statement that the practitioner regularly accepts installment payments of fees.
  • Otherwise lawful images of a practitioner, his or her physical facilities, or of a commodity to be advertised.
  • A statement, or statements, providing public health information encouraging preventative or corrective care.
  • Any other item of factual information that is not false, fraudulent, misleading, or likely to deceive.

Advertising the License
On July 1, 1999 the name of the profession changed from Licensed Marriage Family and Child Counselor (LMFCC or MFCC) to Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT or MFT). Since that date, marriage, family and child therapists can lawfully advertise as Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists. The law does not prohibit you from referring to yourself as an MFCC, but doing so sets a limitation on you advertisements. In particular, the law is specific as to when you can use the words psychotherapy or psychotherapist.

What about the use of MFT or LMFT? Technically, the full title of the license is Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, thus LMFT seems to be appropriate. Licensed Clinical Social Workers, for example, call themselves LCSWs, not CSWs.

Given the fact that the name change took place years ago, perhaps the best thing to do is to use words, not acronyms. The use of the words, "licensed marriage and family therapist" serves multiple purposes. First, it clearly tells the consumer exactly what license the therapist holds. Second, if a therapist uses the words "licensed marriage and family therapist," he or she is permitted to use the words "psychotherapy" and "psychotherapist" in the advertisement (as discussed below).

Use of the words "Psychotherapy" or "Psychotherapist"
In order to use the words "psychotherapy" or "psychotherapist" in an advertisement, pursuant to CAMFT Policy, a therapist must spell out the full title of his or her license (i.e. "licensed marriage and family therapist"), and the therapist must be competent by reason of his/her education, training, and/or experience, to perform the professional services advertised or to act in a manner or professional capacity advertised. Therefore, if a therapist desires to use the words "psychotherapy" or "psychotherapist" the use of an acronym such as MFT, absent the full title of the license, would be in conflict with CAMFT policy.

Marriage and Family Therapist Registered Interns and Trainees
A marriage and family therapist registered intern may advertise so long as he/she informs each client or patient prior to performing any professional services that he or she is unlicensed and under the supervision of an LMFT, LCSW, Licensed Psychologist, or Licensed Physician certified in Psychiatry.3

As of January 1, 2012, interns must include the following in their advertisements:

  • The title Marriage and Family Therapist Registered Intern (title must be spelled out)
  • Include the intern’s registration number
  • Include the name of the intern’s employer AND
  • supervisor’s license information)

As of January 1, 2012, trainees must include the following in their advertisements:

  • The title Marriage and Family Therapist Trainee (title must be spelled out)
  • Include the name of the trainee’s employer AND
  • The fact that the trainee is supervised by a licensed person (include the supervisor’s license information)

Interns who work in private practice settings generally should not pay for advertising expenses, or other business expenses. However, if an intern wants to create a flyer, or wishes to have a business cards and the employer/supervisor refuses to pay for them, the intern is not be prohibited by law from using his or her personal funds to pay for the advertising. Any advertising by an intern should, nevertheless be approved by the intern's employer/supervisor prior to its publication or printing. However, any advertising including information about an intern should serve as an advertisement for the practice or agency itself, even though it highlights the services of the intern. Even though it is not expressly prohibited for an intern or trainee to pay for advertising, it would be better for the employer to pay for the costs of advertising and promotion, and if necessary, pay the supervisee a lower wage to be able to do so. When an intern or trainee pays directly for advertising, it gives the impression that the intern or trainee may have a proprietary interest in the employer's business, which is expressly prohibited.

CAMFT Ethics Code
While the law sets a minimum standard the CAMFT Ethics Code seeks a higher standard and provides clear guidelines on ethical conduct. The CAMFT Ethics Code 10 addresses ethical advertising. Marriage and family therapists who advertise do so appropriately. Their advertising enables consumers to choose professional services based upon accurate information.

10.1 ACCURACY AND HONESTY: Marriage and family therapists accurately represent their competence, education, training, and experience relevant to their professional practice to patients and others.

10.2 THIRD PARTY ACCURACY: Marriage and family therapists take reasonable steps to assure that advertisements and publications, whether in directories, announcement cards, newspapers, radio, television, Internet or any other media, are formulated to accurately convey information to the public.

10.3 FICTITIOUS/OTHER NAMES: Marriage and family therapists do not use a name that could mislead the public concerning the identity, responsibility, source, and status of those practicing under that name, and do not hold themselves out as being partners or associates of a firm if they are not.

10.4 FALSE, MISLEADING, OR DECEPTIVE: Marriage and family therapists do not use any professional identification, including but not limited to: a business card, office sign, letterhead, telephone, or association directory listing, Internet, or any other media, if it includes a statement or claim that is false, fraudulent, misleading, or deceptive. A statement is false, fraudulent, misleading, or deceptive if it a) contains a material misrepresentation of fact; b) fails to state any material fact necessary to make the statement, in light of all circumstances, not misleading; or c) is intended to or is likely to create an unjustified expectation.

10.5 CORRECTIONS: Marriage and family therapists correct, wherever possible, false, misleading, or inaccurate information and representations made by others concerning the therapist's qualifications, services, or products.

10.6 SOLICITATION OF TESTIMONIALS: Marriage and family therapists do not solicit testimonials from patients.

10.7 EMPLOYEE—ACCURACY: Marriage and family therapists make certain that the qualifications of persons in their employ are represented in a manner that is not false, misleading, or deceptive.

10.8 SPECIALIZATIONS: Marriage and family therapists may represent themselves as either specializing or having expertise within a limited area of marriage and family therapy, but only if they have the education, training, and experience that meets recognized professional standards to practice in that specialty area.

10.9 ADVERTISING OF CAMFT MEMBERSHIP: CAMFT clinical, associate, and prelicensed members may identify such membership in CAMFT in public information or advertising materials, but they must clearly and accurately represent whether they are clinical, associate, or prelicensed members.

10.10 USE OF “CAMFT”: Marriage and family therapists may not use the initials CAMFT following their name in the manner of an academic degree.

10.11 USE OF CAMFT LOGO: Marriage and family therapists may use the CAMFT logo only after receiving permission in writing from the Association. Permission will be granted by the Association to CAMFT members in good standing in accordance with Association policy on the use of CAMFT logo. The Association (which is the sole owner of its name, logo, and the abbreviated initials CAMFT) may grant permission to CAMFT committees and chartered chapters in good standing, operating as such, to use the CAMFT logo. Such permission will be granted in accordance with Association policy on use of the CAMFT logo.

10.12 CAMFT MEMBERSHIP: Marriage and family therapists, when publicizing their membership in CAMFT do not do so in a manner that implies organizational endorsement of their activities. It is permissible to include academic credentials (i.e., M.A., M.S.W., Ph.D.) so long as the degree is earned and relevant to the license. The use of the academic degree should not be used in a way to imply that one has a license that he/she does not possess.


Referral Service Advertising
An MFT referral service is defined as a group advertising and referral service for MFTs. The BBS issues registrations for MFT referral services upon receiving the appropriate application and required documentation.4

Following these basic guidelines can help therapists create effective advertisements, while avoiding the possibility of disciplinary action by the BBS. Members who have questions about the content of their advertisements may contact CAMFT for review.

1 Business and Professions Code section 4980.01 exempts the following individuals from the licensing requirements: a priest, rabbi, or minister of the gospel of any religious denomination when performing counseling services as part of his or her pastoral or professional duties, or to any person who is admitted to practice law in the state, or who is licensed to practice medicine, when providing counseling services as part of his or her professional practice, an employee of a governmental entity or of a school, college, or university, or of an institution both nonprofit and charitable if his or her practice is performed solely under the supervision of the entity, school, or organization by which he or she is employed, and if he or she performs those functions as part of the position for which he or she is employed.

2 However, persons licensed as psychologists or clinical social workers may engage in the practice of marriage and family therapy or advertise that they practice marriage and family therapy, but may not advertise that they hold the marriage and family therapist's license. Business and Professions Code section 4980.

3 Business and Professions Code section 4980.44(a)(4).

4 MFT Referral Services are addressed in CA Code of Regulations Section 1889 et. seq.

This article appeared in the September/October 2001 issue of The California Therapist, the publication of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, headquartered in San Diego, California. The information contained in this article is intended to provide guidelines for addressing legal dilemmas. It is not intended to address every situation that could potentially arise, nor is it intended to be a substitute for independent legal advice or consultation. When using such information as a guide, be aware that laws, regulations and technical standards change over time, and thus one should verify and update any references or information contained herein.