Elizabeth Brokamp is a professional counselor, meaning she uses talk therapy to help people feel better. During the COVID pandemic, online teletherapy has allowed her to continue providing aid in difficult times. But D.C.’s restrictions on teletherapy have forced her to turn people away, even though she believes they would benefit from her help.https://ij.org/press-release/mental-health-professional-sues-d-c-for-the-right-to-teleconference-with-clients/
Elizabeth is located (and licensed) in Virginia, near the D.C. border, and ordinarily she would meet with D.C. residents in-person at her Virginia office. But now she is only seeing clients online. Elizabeth is not licensed in D.C., and she cannot talk to new D.C. clients without violating D.C.’s licensing laws.
For Elizabeth, the pandemic has heightened longstanding frustration with the way occupational licensing interferes with teletherapy. Elizabeth has had clients move out of state who have asked to continue seeing her online, but licensing restrictions have made that impossible. And, with two states and D.C. closely packed together in a single metropolitan area, licensing restrictions make it difficult to offer teletherapy as an option for clients who cannot schedule time to meet in person.
These restrictions on teletherapy violate the First Amendment. Professional counselors talk to their clients; they listen to their clients’ concerns, ask questions, and provide advice and guidance. Elizabeth does not prescribe medication, perform medical procedures, or do anything other than talk. And, under the First Amendment, the government cannot prohibit unauthorized talking.
So, Elizabeth has teamed up with the Institute for Justice to challenge D.C.’s restrictions on teletherapy. If the lawsuit is successful, Elizabeth will be able to provide her services to D.C. residents during the pandemic without worrying about D.C.’s arbitrary licensing restrictions. After the pandemic has ended, victory will allow Elizabeth to offer expanded teletherapy to D.C. residents. And victory will also set a precedent that can be used to challenge restrictions on teletherapy nationwide.
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