Filing a Complaint
- explains how to file a complaint against a psychologist, psychological assistant, or registered psychologist,
- describes the review and investigation process, and
- lists the types of actions the Board may take in response to a complaint.
Who May File a Complaint?
Anyone who thinks that a psychologist, psychological assistant or registered psychologist has acted illegally, irresponsibly, or unprofessionally may file a complaint with the Board of Psychology. In this document the person who files a complaint is referred to as the "complainant," and the person against whom the complaint is filed is the "licensee/registrant."
Note: Everyone has the right to file a complaint without fear of harassment. If you feel you are being harassed by the licensee/registrant you've complained about, you should notify the Board immediately.
What Types of Complaints Does the Board Handle?
Complaints under the Psychology Board's jurisdiction include the following behavior by a psychologist, psychological assistant or registered psychologist:
- sexual contact with a patient
- violating the patient's confidentiality
- providing services for which the individual has not been trained or licensed
- drug abuse
- fraud or other crimes
- false advertising
- paying or accepting payment for patient referral
- unprofessional, unethical, or negligent acts
- focusing therapy on the licensee's/registrant's own problems, rather than the patient's
- serving in multiple roles, i.e., having social relationships with patients, lending them money, employing them, etc.
What Types of Complaints Are Outside the Board's Jurisdiction?
The Board has no authority over fee or billing disputes, general business practices, personality conflicts, or persons who are licensed by other boards (for example, clinical social workers; marriage and family therapists, and licensed professional counselors; educational psychologists; psychiatrists; or psychiatric technicians). Complaints that are not within the Board's jurisdiction will be referred to the appropriate agency, and the complainant will be notified.
How Do I File a Complaint?
- You may wish to download a complaint form for submission by mail.
The California Board of Psychology Consumer Complaint Form is available here in Adobe Acrobat format.
To obtain this form,
- Download the Consumer Complaint Form and print it.
- Complete, sign and mail the form to:
Board Of Psychology
1625 North Market Street, Suite N-215
Sacramento CA 95834
You can also contact us for a consumer complaint form at (866) 503-3221. Include as much specific information as you can, including names, addresses, and phone numbers for yourself and the licensee/registrant. State your complaint in as much detail as possible, and include copies of any documents, such as patient records, photographs, contracts, invoices, and correspondence, that can be used as evidence. Do not mail the original documents. It is unnecessary to refer to specific sections of the law that you feel have been violated. Be sure to list all health care providers who may have patient records concerning your complaint. Your signature on the form authorizes the Board to obtain patient records that can be analyzed and evaluated by expert case reviewers. Mail the complaint form and attachments to the address indicated on the form.
The most effective complaints contain firsthand, verifiable information. While the Board will review anonymous complaints, they may be impossible to investigate unless they include documented evidence.
How Will My Complaint Be Processed?
We will notify you that we have received your complaint within ten days of its arrival.
If your complaint involves a minor violation, it may be handled in one of several ways. We may mediate an agreement between you and the licensee/registrant, issue the licensee/registrant a letter of warning, or set up an educational conference between the licensee/registrant and an expert case reviewer and/or Board staff.
If your complaint involves a more serious violation, such as an allegation of sexual abuse, gross negligence, or incompetence, it will be immediately referred for formal investigation by a trained peace officer employed by the Medical Board of California. You will be informed of this step and will later be interviewed by the investigator assigned to the case. During the interview, you will be able to discuss the details of your complaint and ask questions regarding the overall process. The investigator will also interview the licensee/registrant. While details of your complaint and the investigation are confidential and are not public record, they must be disclosed to the licensee/registrant at some point during the administrative process.
Referral to Attorney General
If the investigation finds evidence to support your allegations, the Board will submit the case to the Attorney General for consideration of formal disciplinary action against the psychologist's license. You will be notified of this referral.
The Deputy Attorney General will then draft an "accusation," which is a formal statement of the charges and the first public document in the disciplinary process. A copy is mailed to you and to the licensee/registrant. The licensee/registrant may request that an administrative hearing be scheduled so that he or she can contest the charges.
In most cases, the attorney for the licensee/registrant and the Deputy Attorney General work out what is called a "stipulated agreement," instead of holding a hearing. The licensee/registrant usually "stipulates," or admits to one or more of the allegations and agrees that discipline is warranted. The Board encourages stipulated agreements because they reduce the need for costly administrative hearings and enable the Board to more quickly impose disciplinary measures that protect consumers. A copy of the Board's disciplinary measures, Disciplinary Guidelines, is available. You can obtain the Disciplinary Guidelines by clicking here.
If no stipulated agreement can be negotiated, an administrative hearing is scheduled. An Administrative Law Judge presides over the hearing, and the Board's witnesses, the licensee/registrant, and the licensee's/registrant's witnesses may testify. The Board must provide clear and convincing evidence to satisfy the judge that the allegations are true. For this reason, in the unlikely event that a hearing is held, you will probably be required to testify in person. Within 30 days after the hearing, the Administrative Law Judge will issue a "Proposed Decision," which states the "findings" (the facts that were proven in the hearing) and includes his or her recommendations. If the charges were proven, the judge may recommend that disciplinary action be taken against the licensee/registrant, such as probation, suspension, or revocation. The judge may recommend dismissal of the charges if they were not proven.
Board members then vote on the proposed decision. If the proposed decision is adopted, it becomes final. The Board may instead vote to nonadopt the decision and to issue its own final decision after reviewing the hearing transcripts and written and oral arguments. Final decisions are matters of public record and are available on request. You, as the complainant, will receive a complimentary copy of the final decision.
The administrative disciplinary process may take up to two years.
Should I Report Unlicensed Practice to the Board?
Yes. If you have evidence that an unlicensed person is participating in activities that require a license, you should report the individual to the Board. The Board will investigate the allegations and, if sufficient evidence is found, will forward the information to the local District Attorney for criminal prosecution.
Are Psychologists Required to Report Unprofessional Conduct by Colleagues?
This question is most frequently raised by licensees/registrants who have been told by a patient that the patient has had a sexual relationship with one or more previous psychologists. While no law requires a psychologist to report sexual misconduct by a colleague, he or she may do so on behalf of a patient, but only if the patient gives written authorization. If you are in this situation, you may find it more comfortable to call the Board and learn more about the complaint process before you file your written complaint.
Licensees/registrants who are told by a patient of sexual involvement with another therapist are required to give the patient the Department of Consumer Affairs brochure Professional Therapy Never Includes Sex.
The brochure explains patient rights and complaint procedures. For a free copy, call (916) 574-7720 or toll-free at (866) 503-3221.
CITIZENS COMPLAINT FORM
To register comments/complaints about the Board of Psychology