The Argument for Licensure: What difference does it make if someone is licensed or not?

There are good unlicensed counselors, life coaches, healers, spiritual counselors and others who provide some type of helping service to individuals. Some of these individuals are talented, insightful and great at helping people with various types of problems. However, if someone is not licensed then you have no assurance that they have completed sufficient education and training.

Without a license, there are no requirements in place to ensure that they are upholding a standard of practice (that they are being ethical, keeping information confidential, not crossing any boundaries, using research-based treatments, etc.). Licensing can be important for a number of reasons. If someone is licensed it means that they have completed a certain level of education and at least a thousand hours of supervised therapy (the exact number depends on the type of license and the state requirements). Passing scores on written and sometimes oral exams to prove their competence to practice are also required. Those licensed are also able to bill insurance companies for their services. Licensed individuals must continue to educate themselves about the latest information in their field (Continuing Education hours are required to renew licenses). Licensed clinicians must carry malpractice insurance just like medical doctors. Finally, a license is a privilege that can be taken away if misused. If a client has a complaint about their therapist they can contact the licensing board and file a complaint which will open an investigation into that provider’s practice. Those found in violation of the rules of the licensing board can lose their license (even if their behavior is not criminal). In other words, if something goes really wrong in therapy, clients have somewhere they can go.

There are a few ways to find out if someone is licensed. You can call or view the licensing board website to verify a license (sometimes called ‘license lookup’ or ‘license verification’) by going to the appropriate licensing board (for example, Wisconsin Board of Psychology). You can also ask the provider if they are licensed and for proof of that licensure. Licensed providers should have no problem providing documentation of their licensure and are required to do so. The providers included in the MESF Directory of Black Psychotherapists are all licensed mental health providers.

Why Black People Avoid Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy has a long history of effectively helping people address issues from suicide to career planning. Given how helpful psychotherapy has proven to be, there have often been questions about why Black people have been reluctant to turn to therapy to help resolve problems. The reasons for not pursuing therapy could include limited access to mental health services, cultural traditions discouraging the discussion of personal problems with non-family members, the perceived stigma of mental health issues and limited numbers of Black mental health providers.

There is a myth that “only White people go to therapy” and/or “you have to be really crazy to go to therapy.” Truth is, there have always been mental health issues in the Black community, just like there have always been mental health issues in every community. Historically, the Black community has addressed mental health issues through the church, extended family, family doctors or silently suffering. As these methods of addressing mental health issues have weakened and/or disappeared altogether, it has become necessary for Blacks to seek help for mental health issues from more formal systems.

While many of these systems have been slow to catch up with their growing diverse population of clients and patients, there are Black mental health providers in most communities as well as culturally competent providers from other racial/ethnic backgrounds. While many Black people have a preference for Black mental health providers, research shows that a culturally competent White provider is as effective in helping a client as a provider from their own cultural background.

The bottom line is there is a great need for mental health services in the Black community. In order to help bridge the gap between need and help, we must continue to provide education about mental health as well as improve access to services.