As COVID-19 has moved so many therapy practices online, we have gotten more and more questions about whether practitioners should get licensed in another state.
When you can see a client anywhere in the country through a secure video-conferencing platform, the state restrictions of your license may start to feel more confining. However, the practice of getting licensed in another state can be time-consuming and expensive. Is it worth your time?
We will walk through a few ways to tell if getting licensed in another state might make sense for you and your practice, and the general steps that many states and license types follow to get licensed in another state. Let’s get started!
One of the first questions to ask yourself at this particular time when you think about license portability is whether the other states you are considering offer temporary licenses during the COVID-19 crisis. Some states only offer temporary licenses to healthcare professionals in “first responder” roles, but other states are offering wide latitude for professionals licensed in other states to practice in their state during COVID-19.
If the state where you are considering getting a license is offering temporary licenses during COVID-19, then you can test the impact of working in that state on your practice without spending as much money and time on the licensing process. If expanding to a new state helps bring you new clients or retain your existing clients, then it is worth pursuing a permanent license. If expanding to a new state makes little difference for your practice, you can go back to focusing on in-state care without wondering how practicing in another state could have affected your growth.
If the state(s) you would like to expand to don’t offer temporary licenses (or you’re reading this article from a mythical future time when the COVID-19 crisis has passed), there are a few other questions you should ask yourself to determine if getting licensed in another state is right for you:
In many cases, you will be practicing with at least some of your clients remotely if you are working with clients in multiple states. This may seem obvious, but it is worth taking some time to think about whether you enjoy telehealth and would like to start (or continue) practicing remotely.
It is completely okay if the answer is no! Even during COVID-19, we have spoken with a number of people who are looking for a therapist that they can see in person. The demand for in-person therapy will exist for a long time to come. However, if you are not eager to practice teletherapy, you aren’t moving to another state, and you cannot easily commute to another state to practice in-person, getting licensed in another state may not be the best route for you.
The COVID-19 pandemic has strengthened a trend we have seen before of therapy clients moving from New York to California or Florida. In fact, a few of our community members are licensed in all three states so that they can continue working with clients as they move back and forth.
If your clients frequently move from one state to another, or if you are on the border of multiple states (looking at you, Washington, D.C.!), it might make sense to get licensed in those states as well so that you can continue working with clients as they move.
The process of getting a license in another state comes with both upfront and ongoing costs:
If you are looking at expanding your practice to another state as an additional source of income, it’s important to factor in the upfront and ongoing costs as you calculate how impactful the new state will be.
You can reduce some of the ongoing costs and effort of being licensed in two states by making sure that the continuing education credits you pursue are accepted in both states.
Getting licensed in a new state can take months, depending on your license type and licensing board. If you are considering getting licensed in another state to work with clients who are moving immediately or to get new clients as soon as possible, it would likely be better to work on your marketing in the states where you’re already licensed instead.
If you need marketing support, we are happy to help. We wrote a piece on nine ways to use networks to grow your practice that can give you a few ideas of where to start with marketing, and we offer regular marketing training that you can find on our events page.
The amount of time that you may have to wait for your license makes it worth moving forward as soon as possible if you want to get licensed in a new state. However, there are a few exceptions. You should always finish your license requirements and application in one state before you start on another; it is often more complicated to get your license in two states at once.
Additionally, you should prepare in case the licensing process takes more time than expected. If you are getting a new state license because you are moving, do not let your current license lapse, as we learned from this firsthand account from a counselor. If it takes longer than expected to get your license in the new state, your application could be endangered if your previous state’s license lapses before you get the new license.
You’ve asked yourself a few questions and decided that getting licensed in another state is the right move for you and your practice--or, at least, you’re open to learning more. What is the process like?
Every license and state has different requirements, but here is a general overview of the process to help you prepare.
Start by checking the state’s website or the websites for your license’s professional organizations to find more information about the application process. You may have to contact the state’s licensing board directly for the application.
Most states and license types will require supporting materials, including graduate school transcripts, test scores, and/or license verification from your current state.
It can be hard to track all these documents down and order copies to send with your application. We highly recommend finding the paperwork as soon as you can, and keeping a physical or digital folder of copies that you can refer back to easily any time you need these documents in the future.
Now is a great time to reach out to your supervisors--and sometimes even your professors--because many states will require your supervisors’ signature or other supporting materials from the people who trained you.
If you cannot get a signature from your supervisor, check with each state board for other ways to meet the requirements.
Some states and license types will require you to take specific courses to be licensed in that state. For example, California requires an 18-hour course on California law and professional ethics to register as a social worker.
It is best to find out about the education requirements as soon as you can so you can complete them before submitting your application.
Once you have gathered all of your supporting materials and met the state’s education requirements, it is time to fill in the paperwork!
For the most part, this will be straightforward. However, it is important to note that a number of states require you to have the forms notarized. If you do not have access to a notary through your work or bank, you will need to find one.
Because you have to have materials notarized, it is a good idea to make copies of all your materials. That way, if your application is lost, you can send a backup copy instead of starting from square one (and paying another notary). It is also helpful to have materials for your records or licenses in other states.
The final step in the process is waiting. State boards convene at regular intervals to approve applications that vary significantly by board. It’s not uncommon for a board to meet once per month, once per quarter, or even more rarely.
Some boards will share information about how often they meet, and it doesn’t hurt to ask. Finding out when the board meets can ensure that you don’t submit your application a few days after a meeting and find yourself waiting three months for your license to be approved.
The process of getting licensed in another state can be almost as arduous as the process of getting your first license, but there is hope. A number of professional associations are working to make licenses more “portable” and to standardize requirements across states, which will hopefully simplify the licensing process in the future. In the meantime, the benefits of working with clients in multiple states often outweigh the frustrations of licensing over time.
Mariah was Head of Growth at MyWellbeing. She is a marketing expert in the areas of content strategy, digital advertising, business growth, and anything related to helping therapists grow their practice.