Whether a question of safety, professional brand recognition, or just plain laziness, clinicians must balance their business needs versus the requirements of their licensing boards. An issue develops around what to call yourself…and how to do it. Most licensing boards require that you keep your current legal name on file and that you practice under that name. But for those who change their names during their career, it poses a number of legal and professional logistical steps to address. Traditionally, this issue has affected women who undergo a change in marital status at some point between their initial registration and the end of the careers, but this issue also affects name changes by those in the trans* and gender queer communities, those who adopt hyphenated names, and for many more reasons. The question becomes: what and how do you call yourself?
Understand your advertising rules
The licensing boards require that you practice under your legal name. However, in a Kafkaesque series of regulatory bodies, there are other options. If you are in control of your own business, your best bet is to file a “Doing Business As” or DBA. Essentially, this is filing paperwork that allows you to operate your business under a different name than your legal name, whether you are a sole proprietor, corporation, or LLC as a business structure. Usually, this means that you need to search the publicly available records to ensure that the business name that you want to use is available. You will likely need to print records of the availability to take to the Clerk and Recorder’s office of your local government office. You might be able to download the forms ahead of this filing or use a legal service to process the forms for you, but after correctly submitting the paperwork and filing fee, you will likely need to publish a classified ad in a newspaper for 30 days (as public proof of your filing) of your use of a fictitious business name.
This still doesn’t change your license
You still need to keep your legal name on file with your licensing board. Filing a fictitious business name merely allows you to advertise under a different entity name. For the instances of someone with a professional name established under their previous legal name, this allows you to continue advertising under your former name. You would still be required to have your legal name filed with the licensing board for your license. An example of this would be for Jane Doe who marries and legally changes her name to Jane Brown. If Jane has filed a DBA as “Jane Doe”, she will be allowed to advertise her business as Jane Doe, but she will need to keep her license updated to Jane Brown.
Your paperwork with clients will still need to include your legal name
Your clients have a legal right to a lot of things, including knowing who is providing their mental health care services. Even if you’ve filed a DBA, your informed consent paperwork will still need to provide the name you are practicing under, which should be your legal name based on the licensing board requirements.
The implications are to protect the public…not the therapist…and that might be a problem
Licensing boards fall under the purview of consumer protection are for the good of the public, and that’s largely a good thing. However, some therapists wish for a greater level of safety when working with dangerous populations, wish for a level of anonymity, or want to have their identity validated (even if not fully legally completed yet). But from the licensing board point of view, these reasons are irrelevant until the legal documentation is filed—whether it is changing your name or filing for the DBA. As a licensee or registrant, you are attesting to stand behind the services you provide and to be clear about who you are. You still have plenty of options to identify yourself by your chosen name in person, but your marketing and official materials need to follow the legal guidelines set by your board.