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Psychology Article: Professional Plan for the Sudden Termination of Psychological Practice

Professional Plan for the Sudden Termination
of Psychological Practice of [Psychologist’s Name]


William Doverspike, PhD, ABPP and John Watkins, PhD, ABPP

NOTE: The information contained in this statement does not reflect any official policy or opinion of the Ethics Committee of the Georgia Psychological Association (GPA), Georgia State Board of Examiners of Psychologists, or the Georgia Composite Board of Examiners. This information is designed to be educational in nature and is not intended to provide professional supervision, peer consultation, or legal advice. The reader is encouraged to contact a professional consultant, supervisor, or attorney for ethical or legal advice regarding state and federal laws governing professional codes of conduct.

Yesterday the Georgia Psychological Association (GPA) received a phone call from a post-doctoral fellow whose supervisor had unexpectedly died the night before. The post-doctoral fellow had found himself stranded outside the office of his supervising psychologist who reportedly had made no plans for the unexpected interruption of his services. At a time when GPA is celebrating it’s 60th birthday, the dilemma of this young post-doctoral fellow serves as a reminder of the graying of our profession.

The first meeting of the GPA was held in 1946, at which time there was considerable debate and disagreement among several academic psychologists as to whether or not psychology should become a licensed profession. Five years later (1951), several of these pioneering psychologists led the way when in 1951 Georgia became the first state in the country to license psychologists to practice. In 1965, there was debate and disagreement among psychologists as to whether or not psychologists should seek insurance reimbursement for providing psychotherapy. Fifteen years later, GPA psychologists achieved the legislative goal of requiring insurance companies to pay psychologists for psychotherapy services---a benefit than many psychologists simply take for granted. Our older colleagues, many of whom have now passed along their legacies, laid the foundation for us to expand our training programs and scope of practice during the next six decades. This article is dedicated to the memories of those psychologists who led the way, as well as to the future achievements of the post-doctoral fellows who stand on the threshold of their careers.

APA (2002) Ethical Standard 3.12 (Interruption of Psychological Services) states, "Unless otherwise covered by contract, psychologists make reasonable efforts to plan for facilitating services in the event that psychological services are interrupted by factors such as the psychologist's illness, death, unavailability, relocation, or retirement or by the client’s/patient’s relocation or financial limitations" (p. 1066). Have you designated a colleague to retain your clinical records and manage the transition of your clients in the event of your sudden incapacitation or death? If so, please include this information on your next GPA dues renewal statement. If not, then consider the following example of how one psychologist has provided advance directives to colleagues. The following document has been adapted and modified from a template provided by the North Carolina Society of Clinical Social Work (NCSCSW; 2000), which is a member of the Clinical Social Work Federation. The template has been provided for colleagues who wish to make reasonable efforts to plan for facilitating services in the event of sudden incapacitation or death.



The plans outlined below reflect my wishes for the management of my professional practice in the event that my work should become terminated due to my sudden incapacitation or death. I hope these instructions will minimize any stress on my clients, colleagues, and family. If the problem involves an incapacitating illness that interfere with my ability to practice competently, I request that one or more of the below-named colleagues discuss this with me and, if necessary, with members of my family. I also request that, in either case, my clients be given as much information as necessary to understand the abrupt termination of my work with them.


Client Notification


In the event of my incapacitating illness or death, I request and designate my colleague, [name of licensed psychologist colleague], hereafter referred to as my designated colleague, to coordinate the closing of my practice. If for some reason he or she is unable or unwilling to serve in this capacity, then I request that any one of the other colleagues in my practice do so:



[Name of practice]

[Address of practice]

[Phone of practice]


I ask [name of licensed psychologist colleague] to inform clients promptly of my incapacitating illness or death so that my standing appointments can be cancelled as soon as possible. I would like for my designated colleague to serve as transitional advisor and/or therapist for my clients. I request that each client be offered an appointment to discuss the situation. I leave it to my designated colleague to designate additional therapists as needed.


The designated colleague may also continue to serve as therapist for more that the transitional period. Of course, each client has the right to choose his or her own therapist. Each client’s name and contact information can be accessed from the office software, referenced as [name of software and file locations]. A shorter list of names and telephone numbers can be obtained from the active charts in the top drawer of the file room.


Physician Notification


I request that the designated colleague contact each physician to inform him or her of my incapacitating disability or death, and to determine if he or she is willing and available to provide ongoing psychotherapy services to our mutual clients. If said physician is so willing and available, I request that this option and other alternatives be presented to each of my clients.


Few of my clients are taking prescribed psychotropic medication. Most of my clients taking prescribed psychotropic medications are attended by [name of practice physician]. The names and phone numbers of other prescribing physicians are contained in each client’s chart on the front page of the "initial intake evaluation" or in the progress note that correlates with the week that the contact was made.


Information for Immediate Tasks


Voice mail and answering service




Receptionist and office manager




[Name of executor]

[Address of executor]

[Phone of executor]

Client Records

Current records


Clinical Records


Former Clients


Storage of records


Disposal of records


Office Furniture


Office furniture should be made available to my family. Some of the books may be desired by family members. Practice associates are welcome to any of the remaining books


[Designated colleague] is requested to remove the folders on licensing and liability insurance from the [location of folders]. These should be kept by the practice or forwarded to the executor of my estate. All other folders in the [location of folders] may be destroyed. The file cabinet may be kept by the practice. Any furniture not desired by family members shall be retained by the practice or donated to charity.


Other Information



Dues and subscriptions


Remuneration for [designated colleague]


_______________________________ ________________________

Psychologist Date


_______________________________ ________________________

Witness Date

_______________________________ ________________________

Notary Date


American Psychological Association. (2002). Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct. Washington, DC: Author.

North Carolina Society of Clinical Social Work. (2000). A Suggested Model for the Sudden Termination of a Clinical Social Work Practice. Durham, NC: Author.


The North Carolina Society of Clinical Social Work reviewed this manuscript prior to publication and gave permission to reproduce materials. A pamphlet and the complete version "A Suggested Model for the Sudden Termination of a Clinical Social Work Practice" are available for $5.00 payable to North Carolina Society for Clinical Social Work, P. O. Box 30006, Raleigh, NC 27622-0006, Phone: (919) 783-0487. Email: Website:

Drs. Doverspike and Watkins are members of the GPA Ethics Committee. They also hold Diplomates in Clinical Psychology, American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP). Dr. Doverspike is a former President of the Georgia Psychological Association and Dr. Watkins is a former President of the Oklahoma Psychological Association (OPA).



. Expenses might include, but are not limited to, record storage fees, legal fees, and time and materials in billing past due accounts. My office associates might well decide that beyond the month I last paid rent, a certain percentage (e.g., 35%) of all future collections should be paid into the practice. It would be my wish that my estate be billed for any and all of these expenses.
. Please forward the following list of my professional memberships and subscriptions to my executor: American Board of Professional Psychology, American Psychological Association, and the Georgia Psychological Association.
. The following people and organizations should receive written notification of my death or incapacitating illness: American Board of Professional Psychology, American Psychological Association, Georgia Psychological Association, American Psychological Association Insurance Trust, and the Georgia State Board of Examiners of Psychologists.
. [Designated colleague] should adhere to current Georgia statutes regarding length of time for retaining clinical records and for their appropriate disposal. Complete records for minors have been retained for a minimum of seven (7) years beyond the age of majority (i.e., 18 plus 7, or age 25). For the ease of future disposal, the records of minors have been coded for both the year of last professional contact and the year in which they would reach 25 years of age. For example, the folder of a 13-year-old last seen in the year 2003 is coded 2003, below which will appear the year 2015.
. All records should be stored in a secure facility. [Designated colleague] should manage access to these records and conform to the current ethical standards and the Georgia statures in reviewing requests for information contained in the records.
. Inactive folders have been transferred to the [description location of folders]. Inactive charts from the present year will be found in [description location of folders]. Charts of inactive clients or closed cases that are beyond 24 months or older will all be found and stored in a locked room inside my home located at [specific address]. All boxes are clearly labeled by year and each box contains the file folders of clients listed in alphabetical order.
. Each active and recently active client has a file folder located in [description of specific location]. The initial intake interview is listed as "Initial Interview" and is to be found on the right side of the folder. Progress Notes are contained on the right side of the folder, beneath which are to be found correspondence, my reports, and any reports from outside consultants.
. All original client records should be retained in the original case folders for the retention period mandated by Georgia law, which is at least seven (7) years for the full record and an additional eight (8) years for a summary of any record for adult clients.
. The office staff and [designated colleague] are authorized to open and handle all office mail. Any mail that does not pertain to a client should be forwarded to my family or executor at the following address:
. Please advise staff to deliver all messages to [designated colleague] as soon as possible.
. You will find keys to my desk, the office, and the file room on a key ring attached to my car keys. These are usually carried on my person. Spare keys to my home and automobile are contained in [location of spare keys at office].
. After all current clients have been notified, please change the message on my voice mail and the message with the answering service. For example, "[Name of psychologist] appointments have been cancelled. For further information, please contact [name of designated colleague] at [designated colleague’s phone number], and indicate that you were trying to reach [name of psychologist]." To access my voice mail system, dial [access number], press the number sign (#) and then enter the security code [code], and then [instructions for recording a new voice message].



APA citation for this article:

Doverspike, W. F. & Watkins, J. (2006). Professional plan for the sudden termination of psychological practice. Georgia Psychologist, 60(4), 20.