Associates Leaving Poorly: 4 Ways to Protect Yourself

Kathleen Mills of

This Week's Poll

Every Supervisor seems to have an, "associates leaving poorly" story, but I firmly believe that 80-85% of all newly minted Associates and Practicum students are the products of a solid upbringing. That includes a good moral foundation and a solid, un-entitled work-ethic. There's that 15% that missed the boat, though, that have no problem ignoring the rules; leaving your employ without finishing up required notes and other paperwork, stealing your clientele, or running their own practice under your name! We've all had to deal with at least one like that, so let's turn our attention towards the steps needed to prevent them from hitching their wagon to yours, ever again.

In a nut-shell, slow down your hiring process. Vet applicants properly by way of a solid interview process, the utilization of solid legal documents, open communications channels with 3rd parties, and put air-tight policies and procedures in place in your office to keep them on-track.

Associates Leaving Poorly: Holes in Your Interview Processes

Face it, if you've had this problem before, your interview process has some gaping holes in it. Find them and plug 'em up. We have a workshop that goes into extreme depth about the interview process (The Counseling Landscape Pt. 1) and how to prevent hiring disasters so I won't recreate that here.

Which Documents are Recommended?

At the very minimum a good Services Agreement and a BAA should be signed before the applicant begins Day 1 of their employment. No signed forms on Day 1? Send 'em home. Message sent.

I specifically address chronic issues, like those outlined in the first paragraph of this post, in my Services Agreement. It's not optional, it's not negotiable. I don't need the grief. In fact, I thoroughly discuss these issues during my second and third hiring interviews. Disagreement on these points is a deal-breaker for me, and that's ok. Not everyone is going to be a good fit for me and my group practice.

If an applicant wants to set and follow their own rules, forego paperwork, and steal my clients when they leave (or are fired!) then they have a right to think like that. They'll just need to find an employer/supervisor that thinks the same way 'cause I ain't her!

I also REQUIRE that they sign a BAA, which is still a highly overlooked hiring element in terms of HIPAA compliance and the rules of engagement for which all service providers are liable. This includes how they handle themselves on and off the court.

What If They Won't Sign?

That is totally ok, they have that option. Just don't hire them and definitely don't try and coerce those objectors into signing. They won't stand behind their own signature.

That's God telling you through this person's actions that they don't want to play by your rules. Listening to that little voice will save you a lot of headache.

Comm Channels Eliminate a Lot of Problems

  1. Ask for references that are not relatives (you know why!) and actually call them. No email, text, or chat. You want to hear their voice inflection. Actually pick up the phone and have a good 15 minute conversation with them. Maximize the outcome by writing specific questions to ask before you call.
  2. Set up a required communication channel with their Supervisor or supervising faculty member (this needs to be reflected in your Services Agreement, please). Definitely call and talk to these people prior to hiring any applicant. DO NOT proceed unless you get to talk with the Supervisor.

Yes, I know, if we hire the right one then these communication channels, forms, and safe-guards shouldn't be necessary. But even the best of us are tempted at times to veer off the path and this will help the good ones stay on track. Or if you prefer, think of it all as 100% pure, CYA. You are not being selfish by putting you and your practice first.

Got Processes?

Manage expectations through processes and procedures.

  • Review things with the associate/student on a regularly scheduled. mandatory weekly meeting.
  • Set up a paper-work tracking process through your EHR. Failure to have a specific paperwork tracking process in place is a golden opportunity for someone to take advantage of poor office procedures.

Your EHR should allow you to add your name to their accounts so the system can help you track their notes entries and prompt you for a review. If your system won't do that then either find a system that will or do it the old-fashioned way. A #2 pencil and a Big Chief Tablet will help you keep track of things nicely.

Use an Attorney Familiar With the Counseling World

I cannot stress this enough to you, not all attorneys are created equal. Use one that has counselor-client experience, please.

Have an attorney review both your Service Agreement and BAA, especially if you wrote it yourself, got it off the internet or from a Facebook "friend". Your business set-up and legal forms need to have congruency and serious legal clout.

Don't allow applicants to make alterations to your legal documents. No one knows your business like you and your attorney do.


You must protect yourself and everything you've worked for because no one else will. There are and always will be those who would be only too happy to take it all from you or simply don't care what evils befall you and your family.

Put the proper legal documents in place and have them reviewed by an attorney with experience working with counselors. If your prospect won't sign them, wish them well and move on. You can't afford the risk even if they appear to be the perfect addition to your staff.

Open up those communications channels with their prior employers, current supervisors, and references. Think of these free calls as "product reviews". We read them for pet food, how much more important are they for the people we're about to invite into our lives?

Finally, put wiggle-free processes in place for the prevention of things you've identified as potential problem areas. Don't be afraid to make changes to your systems to improve and tighten them up. I cannot tell you how many times I have done that in my 30 years; that's how they get "tight". Schedule a yearly review of your hiring and supervision processes and treat yourself to a (fill in the blank!) when you're through.

Give us a call if we can help with your paperwork. Our Professional Forms CE workshop might do the trick for you!

And now you know!


Plan Smart. Be Safe. Serve Others.

Kathleen Mills, LPC-S, CEAP

associates leaving poorly | PracticeMentors

Got An Opinion?

This post is my opinion based on almost 30 year practice as a mental health provider. Whether you agree or disagree, please feel free to leave your civil, constructive comments below. You do not need to be logged in to leave a comment.

About Kathleen Mills

Kathleen Mills is a fire-breathing, 30+ year veteran of the counseling world. A tireless warrior for the profession, her goal with is to bullet-proof the counseling profession so that what happened to her doesn't happen to you!

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