How to File a Complaint: The Investigative Process

Edit test: Under G.S. 90-270.1, the North Carolina Psychology Board is charged with the responsibility “. . . to protect the public from the practice of psychology by unqualified persons and from unprofessional conduct by persons licensed to practice psychology.” To fulfill this responsibility, the Board investigates complaints filed against its licensees. The following information describes the process of an investigation. Questions about the process may be directed to the Board’s office at (828) 262-2258.

How are complaints filed with the Board?

Normally, complaints are received in the Board office on the Board's COMPLAINT/INQUIRY FORM.  The Board also has the authority to initiate an investigation sua sponte (i.e., on its own initiative without an outside complaint). This latter process is likely to occur when the complaint information is in the public domain (a newspaper article, yellow pages listing or other public document or statement). Instructions on Filing how to file a complaint.

How is it determined which complaints will be investigated by the Board?

There are two basic criteria used to determine whether to investigate a complaint. The first is whether the Board has authority with regard to the matter presented in the complaint. If it is determined by staff review that the Board has authority in the matter (the subject of the complaint is a psychologist licensed by the Board and/or the complaint relates to the practice of psychology), then the second criterion used is whether the complaint has merit on its face. If both criteria are met, the complaint is investigated.

Who investigates complaints filed with the Board?

Following a preliminary review by the Executive Director, the complaint is assigned to a Staff Psychologist/Investigator. Prior to making the assignment, the Executive Director sometimes will review the complaint issues with an investigator, and assignment to a specific investigator is made on the basis of such factors as: the investigator's current work load; the investigator's background and training in psychology; and geographical location.

How is a complaint investigated?

While the Board has given general direction for investigation of complaints, the investigator is responsible for determining the specific manner in which to proceed to investigate an individual complaint. The investigator may also consult with the Board's Executive Director, attorney, and/or other investigator to discuss this process. The investigator may decide to gather additional information prior to contacting the respondent psychologist, but normally, an order for a response to the complaint and for the production of patient records, as appropriate, is sent to the respondent shortly after receipt of the complaint by the Board's office. The order is sent by the Investigator and signed by the Board's Chair. The respondent psychologist is usually provided a 30-day period in which to respond. Following receipt of the required materials from the respondent, the investigator reviews the response and records. Some cases are processed by reviewing only written information; other cases require additional information to be gathered in the form of telephone or face-to-face interviews of the complainant, respondent, and witnesses. The length of time required to resolve a complaint depends upon the nature of the complaint and its complexity. In many cases, the process of a complaint’s resolution will encompass a period of several months at minimum.

What happens when an investigation is completed?

Following completion of the investigation, the investigator writes a summary report of the investigative findings in a format established by the Board which includes the following: (1) psychologist's specialty area and number of years licensed in the State; (2) descriptive information of the complainant; (3) date complaint received; (4) period of service to the complainant; (5) brief description of what the complainant alleges; (6) applicable statutory provisions and ethical standards; (7) what the investigation involved and the persons contacted for information; and (8) findings. Names of the respondent and the complainant and other individuals contacted during the investigation are excluded from this report.

Who reviews the investigator’s summary report and what happens once it is reviewed?

The investigator’s summary report is presented to the Probable Cause Committee of the Board which determines whether there is probable cause to believe that legal and/or ethical violation(s) have occurred. This Committee is currently comprised of the Board’s  Staff Psychologist who serves as the Investigator, a former Board member, and the Executive Director. The Board’s attorney also meets with and advises this Committee. Following review of the report, the Committee will determine whether there is probable cause to believe that either an ethical or legal violation(s) occurred in the matter.

Cases for which the Committee determines that there is no probable cause of a violation(s) are presented to the Board at its next regularly scheduled meeting. Following discussion of the case, if the Board concurs with the Committee, it will close the case. In some cases, however, the Board may determine that while no ethical or legal violation appear to have occurred, it has concerns about the actions or conduct of the respondent, which warrant educative information to be sent to the respondent. In these cases, the Board instructs the staff to issue an educative letter that is sent to the respondent and closes the case.

For cases for which the Committee determines that there is probable cause to issue a statement of charges, the staff is instructed to issue a statement of charges. No information about these cases, including the name of the psychologist against whom the complaint was filed, is provided to the Board at its next regularly scheduled meeting.

In a statement of charges, the allegations are clearly set forth, and the statutes and ethical standards which the licensee is alleged to have violated are listed. However, the information that the Committee has received does not in itself provide sufficient evidence that the alleged acts have occurred. The respondent is offered the opportunity for a hearing in the matter. If requested by the licensee, a hearing is scheduled at a later date. If a hearing is not requested, the Board may schedule and hold a hearing in the respondent's absence.