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.