MENTAL HEALTH

How to find a legitimate and qualified mental health professional

Feb 28, 2024, 6:39 PM | Updated: Feb 29, 2024, 11:54 am

SALT LAKE CITY — A bill that would have regulated life coaching in Utah has hit a wall, and that has experts concerned for families seeking help for their mental health.

Sen. David Hinkins, R-Ferron, is the sponsor of SB251, which outlines requirements for life coaching. He read a letter from Kevin Franke, estranged husband of convicted child abuser Ruby Franke, to the Utah State Senate’s Business and Labor Committee Monday. His full letter can be found at the end of this article.

The committee decided to postpone action on the bill until next year. The Division of Professional Licensing, known as DOPL, told KSL it’s confident that after collaborating with lawmakers and doing research in the interim, there will be a solidified piece of legislation ready by the 2025 legislative session.

Franke began his letter with, “My name is Kevin Franke, former husband of convicted child abuser Ruby Franke. I apologize that I could not be present to address you in person because I am instead supporting one of my children who is recovering from being brutalized at the hands of my former wife Ruby and the professionally licensed therapist Jodi Hildebrandt.” He went on to write, “My life has been turned upside down, my marriage ended, my family destroyed, and my children tortured because of a dangerous mental health professional who believed that she could act outside the ethical bounds of her profession by labeling herself as a “life coach.”

Life coaching regulations under consideration following Hildebrandt case

Huntsman Mental Health Institute director of clinical operations Dave Eldredge said there are major differences between accredited and licensed mental health professionals and individuals without titles or credentials.

“The one challenge I have seen more and more is there’s a variety of coaching and different disciplines that are coming forward, indicating they have this area of expertise,” Eldredge said. “It really is important, if you’re going to be receiving psychotherapy, it needs to be conducted by a licensed psychotherapist.”

Franke wrote that these self-identified experts often call themselves a “Coach,” “Guide,” “Mentor,” “Trainer” or “Guru.” Eldredge said official titles are important.

“In terms of, if you’re looking for psychotherapy, licensed clinical social workers, LCSWs; CMHCs, your clinical mental health counselors are another good route; LMFTs, licensed marriage and family therapists,” Eldredge said.

“In terms of medication, psychiatry obviously can prescribe medications, also, there are PAs, which are physician assistants, and APRNs that can also prescribe medications,” he added.

In the lengthy letter, Franke said, “Numerous life coaches today are free to offer the same services provided by licensed mental health professionals, but carry none of responsibilities of care or liabilities associated with that profession, nor do they suffer any consequences for effectively impersonating a licensed health professional.”

Eldredge said people seeking therapy should be asking if a counselor is licensed and if they’re held accountable by a professional community or board. He said patients should check referrals, too.

“Do they have a legitimate, active license and are there, are citations or problems with their standing and licensure,?” Eldridge added.

He recommends people go to their primary care provider for help finding a legitimate mental health professional. He said, there’s often less stigma and greater access to help through this route.

“They can initiate medications, they can also initiate vetted referrals of organizations that they’re confident in, comfortable with, they’ve worked with and collaborate with,” Eldredge said.

DOPL has an online e-verify tool.

“It will actually tell you any disciplinary actions or citation information, things of that nature,” Eldredge said. “Anytime a license has been suspended or revoked, I would certainly want to look at that and have more information about that.”

Eldredge said someone must be licensed to formally diagnose a person.

“It is really important to have the proper education and licensure to perform that function because there’s a lot of harm that can be caused,” he said.

Franke wrote, “Those aspiring to become life coaches are willing to pay for these meaningless certifications because they are seeking their own influence and money… as an example of this, my former wife Ruby was among a group of individuals who paid Jodi Hildebrandt $10,000 to be trained as a “certified mental health fitness trainer,” a title that carries no weight or meaning in the professional mental health community.”

Eldredge said, “There’s a lot of courses, that people can take ultimately to build skills, but again, that’s very different from psychotherapy.”

The licensed clinical social worker says people seeking help are vulnerable. He doesn’t want unqualified people taking advantage of them.

“Trust how you feel about somebody too,” he said. “We have emotional responses with people and trust what you’re feeling and vet some of these questions.”

Kevin Frane’s letter:

To the Business and Labor Committee of the Utah State Senate:

My name is Kevin Franke, former husband of convicted child abuser Ruby Franke. I apologize that I could not be present to address you in person because I am instead supporting one of my children who is recovering from being brutalized at the hands of my former wife Ruby and the professionally licensed therapist Jodi Hildebrandt. Thank you to Senator Hinkins who is reading my words to you and has been responsive from the moment I first brought this issue of life coaching to his attention. What I am going to share with you today I have learned from hard and painful experience. Please listen carefully and consider what I have to say.

My life has been turned upside down, my marriage ended, my family destroyed, and my children tortured because of a dangerous mental health professional who believed that she could act outside the ethical bounds of her profession by labeling herself as a “life coach.” What is a life coach? It is an individual who sells his/her coaching or advice to another and who claims to hold unique understanding and/or experience on how to live a better life. These individuals are almost always self-identified “life experts.” They often extend their self-identified expertise into a vast array of areas such as mental health, physical wellness, business success, human relationships, and addiction. Life coaches have created numerous titles for themselves such as “Coach,” “Guide,” “Mentor,” “Trainer,” “Guru,” and countless others. Despite the endless variation of titles and self-made “certifications” that attempt to convey some form of legitimacy and expertise, all of these individuals have a few things in common: None act under the purview or oversight of any professional body or board. Few receive any formal or accredited education for their training, and those who do routinely practice outside of that education. None are bound by any formal or recognized standard of care or ethics, and none are accountable to any larger professional community or licensing board. These individuals are literally “ghosts” that are free to sell their supposed “life expertise” to anybody willing to purchase it.

Numerous life coaches today are free to offer the same services provided by licensed mental health professionals, but carry none of responsibilities of care or liabilities associated with that profession, nor do they suffer any consequences for effectively impersonating a licensed health professional. If I, an individual with no training or certification as a doctor, were to start a private business offering professional medical services, how long would I last before being arrested and punished for impersonating a doctor, even if I clearly stated that “I am not an actual doctor?” It is sobering for me to think that if Jodi Hildebrandt weren’t a licensed mental health professional and if she had not physically tortured my children, I would have little to no legal recourse today to seek justice against her for the emotional havoc that she wreaked on my family. I personally have come to know many individuals in this state who have had their lives upended, their finances obliterated, their marriages destroyed, their families upheaved, and/or their children emotionally terrorized because of the actions of a rogue life coach. And because of the lack of regulations, most of these individuals now find themselves unable to seek restitution or reparations for the harm that was done.

Another way that life coaches commonly profit is by selling training, “certification,” and/or mentoring to other aspiring life coaches. These life coaches have no authority to certify anything. Those aspiring to become life coaches are willing to pay for these meaningless certifications because they are seeking their own influence and money. These individuals are promoting what is effectively a low-key Ponzi scheme, but with no ramifications. As an example of this, my former wife Ruby was among a group of individuals who paid Jodi Hildebrandt $10,000 to be trained as a “certified mental health fitness trainer,” a title that carries no weight or meaning in the professional mental health community. Fabricating meaningless certifications to impress the uninformed and convey some false level of authority, expertise, or qualification is unethical and should be illegal.

As a conservative, I understand why the idea of more regulations in business can be undesirable to many. However, until you find yourself and/or those you love on the sharp end of the spear held by a dangerous individual do you realize and appreciate the need for solid protections. Well-founded and reasoned regulation is the protection that citizens need from being taken advantage of by bad actors in this state. Our state promotes a friendly and trusting culture that emphasizes the value of personal growth and self-improvement. Because of that, individuals in this state are particularly vulnerable to these bad actors who take advantage of them as life coaches.

I encourage the Utah Legislature to protect the citizens of Utah by bringing law, transparency, and accountability to life coaches who have been taking advantage of loopholes in our professional licensing system. For too long, some of these coaches have been preying on vulnerable individuals in this state who need the help of legitimate licensed professionals. I encourage the legislature to listen to DOPL, to the victims of rogue life coaches, and to concerned licensed mental health professionals who have been trying to raise awareness of this problem for many years. Empower the citizens of this state to protect themselves from those impersonating licensed health professionals! Create clear boundaries of practice that limit the types of services that life coaches can offer! Increase transparency and awareness! Stop the propagation of illegitimate certifications and training by those who have no authority to do so! And bring accountability and liability to a group of individuals who have been avoiding it for far too long!

I whole-heartedly support the creation of this bill and encourage you to support it, too. I hope that over the course of 2024, we can work together to create something that is sensible, practical, and that will make a real difference in the lives of Utahns.

With sincere regards,

Kevin W. Franke

KSL 5 TV Live

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How to find a legitimate and qualified mental health professional