About Us | Chapters | Advertising | Join
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.
The topic of advertising may seem simple enough, but California law mandates specific advertising requirements that licensed therapists, registrants, and trainees must follow. This article discusses several legal and ethical guidelines therapists should be aware of when advertising theirprofessional psychotherapy services.
Originally published in The Therapist March/April 2012 issue—
updated in July 2023 by Ann Tran-Lien, JD, Managing Director of Legal Affairs
Advertising is a great way to promote your business and inform the public of the services you provide. It is one of the fundamental aspects of building a business, a career, and a name for yourself in your profession. Therapists are free to advertise, but they must do so in a manner that is truthful and accurate. The topic of advertising may seem simple enough, but California law mandates specific advertising requirements that licensed therapists, registrants, and trainees must follow. Generally, it is unlawful for therapists to disseminate any form of “public communication” containing a false, fraudulent, misleading, or deceptive statement.1 The CAMFT Code of Ethics also provides clear guidelines on ethical advertising, and states that LMFTs, registrants, and trainees may not use any professional identification if it includes a statement or claim that is false, fraudulent, misleading, or deceptive.2
The Board of Behavioral Sciences (BBS) may take action against your license or registration if you fail to comply with California law on advertising.3 Keep in mind that the overall theme is to avoid any advertising that is, or can be reasonably construed as false, fraudulent, misleading, or deceptive. The omission of important information, as well as the inclusion of certain words and phrases, can render an advertisement false, misleading, or deceptive. To assist you in ensuring that your advertisement is in accordance with California law and the CAMFT Code of Ethics, this article will discuss how to avoid ten advertising mistakes that therapists regularly make.
1 Not realizing that letterheads, e-mail addresses, social media, or other public communications made to clients and the public are considered advertisements under California law.
Many therapists may be surprised to know that the law considers, among other forms of public communication, e-mail addresses, letterheads, websites, public social media pages as advertisements, along with communications by means of mail, television, radio, motion picture, newspaper, book, list or directory of healing arts practitioners, business cards, and office signs.4 Believe it or not, the BBS has taken action (usually in the form of a citation) against licensees and registrants because of a misleading or deceptive e- mail address, website address, etc. For example, an LMFT was disciplined for using an e-mail address with the word “doc” within the address when they did not have a doctorate degree or a license to practice medicine. Thus, it is prudent to remember that any form of public communication you make regarding your professional services must comply with the advertising requirements and not be false, fraudulent, misleading, or deceptive. On occasion, you may find inaccurate information about you, your license, and/or your business in a directory or on a website that was not approved by you. In these circumstances, it is strongly recommended for you to immediately, or when reasonably practicable, correct or attempt to correct the erroneous information. Keeping documentation of your attempts, or the process it took you to correct inaccuracies is advisable in the event you are questioned by the BBS. Your good faith efforts to correct any inaccuracies will be your best defense to any potential BBS inquiry.
2 Advertisements for unlicensed individuals that do not disclose important and relevant information required by law.
Registrants and trainees may advertise their services, but they must do so under the oversight and control of their supervisors and employers. Since registrants and trainees are required by law to be employees or volunteers, and not independent practitioners, it is recommended that the supervisor and employer approve any advertisements for registrant and trainee services.
The law requires advertisements for MFT Trainees, Registered Associate MFTs, and Registered Associate Professional Clinical Counselors to include certain information to ensure that the advertisements do not give the impression that the registrant or trainee has their own practice or are working independently.
MFT Trainee Advertisements
Advertisements for MFT Trainee services must include all of the following: 1) the Trainee’s name; 2) the fact that they are a “Marriage and Family Therapist Trainee” or “MFT Trainee”; 3) the name of their employer or the name of the entity for which they volunteer; 4) that they are supervised by a licensed person; 5) the supervisor’s license designation or abbreviation; and 6) the supervisor’s license number.5
Examples of Appropriate Advertisements:
Jack Black, Marriage and Family Therapist Trainee. Volunteering at ABC Counseling Center. Supervised by Mary Smith, LMFT #123456.
Maria Le, MFT Trainee. ABC Counseling Center. Supervised by Thomas Redd, PhD, Licensed Clinical Social Worker. 456789.
Registered Associate MFT Advertisements
Advertisements for Registered Associate MFTs’ professional services must include all of the following information: 1) the registrant’s full name as it is filed with the BBS; 2) the fact that they are a “Registered Associate Marriage and Family Therapist” or “Registered Associate MFT”; 3) the Registrant’s registration number; 4) the name of their employer or the name of the entity for which they volunteer; and 5) they are supervised by a licensed person. In addition, if the acronym “AMFT” is used in an advertisement, the title “Registered Associate Marriage and Family Therapist” must also be spelled out in the advertisement.6
Examples of Appropriate Registered Associate MFT Advertisements: Anna Martinez, Marriage and Family Therapy Professional Corporation. Matthew Johnson, MA. Registered Associate MFT, AMFT67890. Under supervision of Anna Martinez, LMFT.
ABC Counseling Center. Taylor Jones, MA. AMFT, Registered Associate Marriage and Family Therapist. AMFT67890. Supervised by a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
Registered Associate PCC Advertisements
Advertisements for Registered Associate PCCs’ professional services must include all of the following: 1) the registrant’s full name as it is filed with the BBS; 2) the fact that they are a “Registered Associate Professional Clinical Counselor” or “Registered Associate PCC”; 3) the Registrant’s registration number; and 4) the name of their employer or the name of the entity for which they volunteer. In addition, if the acronym “APCC” is used in an advertisement, the title “Registered Associate Professional Clinical Counselor” must also be spelled out in the advertisement.7
Examples of Appropriate Registered Associate PCC Advertisements:
Tina Thompson, MA, APCC, Registered Associate Professional Clinical Counselor. PCI1234567. Volunteer for ABC Mental Health Center.
Joseph Chang, MA, Registered Associate PCC. PCI 456789. Employed by Tony Larsen, LMFT.
Registered Associate CSW Advertisements
Advertisements for Registered Associate Clinical Social Worker services must include all of the following: 1) the registrant’s full name as it is filed with the BBS; 2) they are a “Registered Associate Clinical Social Worker” or “Registered Associate CSW”; 3) the Associate’s registration number; and 4) the name of their employer or the name of the entity for which they volunteer. In addition, if the acronym “ASW” is used in an advertisement, the title “Registered Associate Clinical Social Worker” must also be spelled out in the advertisement.8
Olivia Ross, MSW. Associate Clinical
Social Worker. ASW987654. Employed by Rita Glover, LMFT.
Tyler Ronald, MA. Registered Associate CSW. ASW12345. Volunteer at ABC Counseling Center.
3 Including the words “psychotherapy” or “psychotherapist” in an advertisement without complying with regulations.
If a licensee or registrant includes the following information in their advertisement, they are permitted to use the words “psychotherapy” and/or “psychotherapist:”
Michael Jensen, MA. Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. LMFT123456.
Psychotherapy with individuals, couples, and families.
Linda Rosenberg, LCSW. 123456. A psychotherapist practicing in San Diego.
Jared Peterson, MA. Registered Associate Marriage and Family Therapist. 67890.
Under supervision of Melissa Owens, LMFT. Provides psychotherapy services to individuals, couples, and families.
4 Failing to include the license or registration number in the advertisement.
Licensees and registrants must always include their license or registration numbers in their advertisements.
Examples of Appropriate Advertisements
Ronald Maxwell, MA, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. #12345
Jason Matthews, MA, LCSW. 12345
Carol Weber. Registered Associate Marriage and Family Therapist. AMFT12345. Employed by and under supervision of Carlos Santos, LMFT.
5 Failing to provide clients with accurate information regarding an unlicensed person’s unlicensed status and supervision.
Prior to performing any professional services, a trainee, Registered Associate MFT, Registered Associate CSW, and Registered Associate PCC must inform each client of their unlicensed status and provide their supervisor’s information.10 The law also requires trainees and Registered Associate MFT to provide their employer’s information and associate MFTs to provide their registration numbers. It would be a good idea to include this information in the disclosure statement or professional service agreement so that there is written documentation that the client was accurately informed.
6 Including information about fees in an advertisement that is not exact and includes words that are prohibited by law.
Although you do not have to include your fees in your advertisements, any advertisement that includes your fees must be exact, without the use of words or phrases, including, but not limited to, “as low as,” “and up,” “lowest prices,” or other similar words or phrases.11 The law specifically states that price advertising must not be fraudulent, deceitful, or misleading, including statements or advertisements of discounts or premiums, or any statements of a similar nature. The fee for each service must also be clearly identifiable. (Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code §651(c).) Prior to beginning treatment, therapists are also required to disclose to the client or prospective client the fee to be charged for the services. If there are any variables, such as charges for missed or cancelled sessions, that information should also be made known to the client at the outset of treatment.
The fee for service is $100 per therapy session.
A session is 50 minutes long. To cancel an appointment, please contact the therapist 24 hours in advance of your scheduled appointment. Cancellations made less than 24 hours in advance of the scheduled appointment and missed sessions will result in a $25 charge.
7 Using a fictitious business name or “DBA” that is false, misleading, or deceptive.
If you choose to do business under a name different from your full legal name, you must file a “Fictitious Business Name Statement” otherwise known as a “DBA” (doing business as) with the registrar- recorder/county clerk office in the county where your business is located. LMFTs, LCSWs, and LPCCs conducting a practice under a fictitious name must not use any name that is false, misleading, or deceptive, and must inform the client, prior to rendering treatment services, of the name and license designation of the owner(s) of the practice.12
Additionally, the CAMFT Code of Ethics specifically states, “LMFTs 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” (CAMFT Code of Ethics Part I, §13.3). Thus, therapists who are sole proprietors should avoid using words in a fictitious business name that may give the impression that the sole proprietorship is a joint venture comprised of more than one owner. Such inappropriate words to include in a fictitious business name of a sole proprietorship are, “Center,” “Associates,” “Group,” etc.
8 Using the words “psychological” or “psychologist” in an advertisement when the practitioner is not a Licensed Psychologist.
Unless you have a license as a psychologist, it is unlawful to include in your advertisement words that could lead one to believe that you are a psychologist. When you hold yourself out as being trained, experienced, or an expert in the field of psychology, or use the title “psychologist” because you have a doctorate in psychology, but not a license can be considered misleading and fraudulent. A therapist may include their doctoral degree in the area of psychology, such as, “clinical psychology” or “counseling psychology,” but it should be done in a manner that is not misleading or deceptive.
Example of Appropriate Advertisement:
Karen Sanchez, MS in Counseling Psychology. Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist 12345. Provides psychotherapy to individuals, couples, and families.
9 Making a scientific claim in an advertisement that cannot be substantiated by reliable, published scientific studies.
Advertisements that include a scientific claim must be capable of being substantiated by reliable, peer- reviewed, published scientific studies should the advertisement be challenged.13 If you are interested in including a scientific claim in your advertisement and would like to reference peer-reviewed, published scientific studies, a good resource is EBSCO Host, which is available to CAMFT members, free of charge. For more information, log on to www.camft.org and visit the Resources section.
Julio Trujillo. Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. I have specialized training in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to treat anxiety and related disorders. According to extensive studies, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has yielded significant improvements concerning symptoms of anxiety and depression.
10 Not carefully considering ethical implications when soliciting testimonials from clients to include in an advertisement.
Including testimonials in your advertisement does not necessarily fall under the overall theme of this article, which is to avoid advertising in a false, fraudulent, misleading, or deceptive manner; nevertheless, therapists who include testimonials should consider the patient’s vulnerability prior to requesting a testimonial from the patient. The CAMFT Code of Ethics was revised in December of 2019. Section 13.6, the section on soliciting testimonials now allows solicitation of testimonials from clients who are not considered vulnerable to undue influence due to their particular circumstances. Some considerations for therapist include: Since therapists can benefit monetarily from including client testimonials in their advertisements, can soliciting the testimonial lead to allegations of client exploitation; could the client feel obligated to provide the testimonial to the therapist; could the client feel they deserve favorable treatment from the therapist since the client has done a significant favor for the therapist (assisted in getting the therapist’s good word out); could the client feel hurt or rejected if they perceive that the therapist is ungrateful for the testimonial? For further reading on the ethical considerations of soliciting testimonials from clients, see Staff Attorney Brad Muldrow’s article, entitled “To Solicit or Not to Solicit? Key Issues to Consider Before Soliciting Testimonials and Reviews from Patients,” which can be accessed on the CAMFT website at www.camft.org.
Ann Tran-Lien, JD, is a staff attorney and the Managing Director of Legal Affairs at CAMFT. Ann is available to answer member calls regarding legal, ethical, and licensure issues.
1 Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code §651(a)
2 CAMFT Code of Ethics, Part I, §13.
3 Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code §4982(p)
4 Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code §651; CAMFT Code of Ethics Part I, §13; Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code §§4989.49, 4992.2, 4999.12(j)
5 Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code §§4980.48(b) and 4980.48(c)
6 16 C.C.R. §1811(a)(1);16 C.C.R. §1811(a)(2)(D)(ii); 16 C.C.R. §1811(a)(3); 16 C.C.R. §1811(b)
7 16 C.C.R. §1811(a)(1); 16 C.C.R. §1811(a)(2)(H)(ii); 16 C.C.R. §1811(a)(3); 16 C.C.R. §1811(b)
8 16 C.C.R. §1811(a)(1); 16 C.C.R. §1811(E); 16 C.C.R. §1811(a)(3); 16 C.C.R. §1811(b)
9 16 C.C.R. §1811 (a) and (c)
10 Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code §4980.44(a); §4980.48 (a); §4996.18(g); §4999.36(d); §4999.46.1 (b)(1)
12 Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code §4980.46; §4992.10; §4999.72
13 Cal. Bus. & Prof, Code §651(b)(7)
This article is not intended to serve as legal advice and is 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 this article.