Licensing as a Marriage Family Therapist

MFT Licensing Requirements

For the marriage and family therapist (MFT) to be licensed in California, the individual must complete three thousand hours of supervised professional experience and successfully complete two licensing examinations. None of this experience may be completed under the supervision of someone who has provided therapeutic services to you. Not less than 1,500 hours of experience shall be gained subsequent to the granting of the qualifying master’s or doctor’s degree. In addition, all experience shall be gained within the six years immediately preceding the date the application for licensure was filed, except up to 500 hours which may be gained in the supervised (school) practicum. At the Professional School of Psychology (PSP), three hundred fifty hours constitutes this practicum, and must be accomplished before the individual is awarded the master’s degree.

One may achieve a doctor of psychology degree and license as an MFT, but the Board of Behavioral Sciences (BBS) requires that the person with the doctor of psychology degree complete all courses which would be required of someone in a dedicated MFT program. This can be a problematic issue. The Board of Psychology may not require specific courses which may be required by the Board of Behavioral Sciences. The student enrolled in the doctor of psychology program at PSP is usually aiming to license as a psychologist with the Board of Psychology, and carries a course load that satisfies that licensing board. Simply having an awarded doctor of psychology degree may not mean that you can license with the Board of Behavioral Sciences as an MFT or dual license as a Psychologist and an MFT. In addition, the way the clinical hours are to be accrued is different with the different licensing boards – the Board of Behavioral Sciences has an understandable focus on marriage and family issues.

The Process of Licensure

This is a complicated process. The potential licensee frankly has to accept, up front, that there are a number of balls one has to keep in the air at the same time. The Laws and Regulations of the Board of Behavior Sciences are updated regularly and the legislation affecting those regulations is always subject to change. In addition, new course requirements may be added between the time you graduate and the time you are ready to license. The prospective MFT must commit to keep up with all of this regulatory information.

PSP is on a modified quarter system. The California Board of Behavioral Sciences stipulates that supervised professional experience cannot begin to be accrued until a master’s student has eighteen quarter units of graduate psychology that includes coursework in the following areas: (a) the salient theories of a variety of psychotherapeutic orientations directly related to marriage, family, and child counseling, and marital and family systems approaches to treatment; (2) theories of marriage and family therapy and how they can be utilized in order to intervene therapeutically with couples, families, adults, children, and groups; (3) developmental issues and life events from infancy to old age and their effect upon individuals, couples, and family relationships. This may include coursework that focuses on specific family life events and the psychological, psychotherapeutic, and health implications that arise within couples and families, including, but not limited to, childbirth, child rearing, childhood, adolescence, adulthood, marriage, divorce, blended families, stepparenting, and geropsychology; (4) a variety of approaches to the treatment of children. Functionally, at PSP, this would mean successful completion of PSY 606, 607, 608, and other key courses so that the student trainee has minimal competence to participate in a supervised setting. The school shall approve each site and have a written agreement with each site that details each party’s responsibilities, including the methods by which supervision shall be provided. PSP takes this responsibility seriously.

An accepted generalization is that most students learn more within a practical supervised clinical experience than within school per se. For that reason, many students seek out clinical experience even before the it can be counted towards the three thousand hour requirement for licensure.

The Clinical Internship/Practicum

A PSP Internship-Practicum Contract Form must be completed by the trainee / intern and signed by the agency and or supervisor through whom the experience will be accrued, and by the PSP Director of Field Placement, before the supervised professional experience begins. The school needs to ensure that your projected professional experience is of the type deemed acceptable by the curriculum design.

It is crucial to understand that there may be a difference between PSP practicum hours and license-eligible practicum hours. PSP requires that MFT students complete 350 practicum hours in a supervised setting. Typically, students who engage in a practicum have completed eighteen quarter units and key courses, like PSY 606, 607, 608, 610, 611, and 615. A basic understanding of psychopathology, ethics, personality theory, and family therapy is helpful before engaging in the practice of psychotherapy, even or especially as a student. PSP has adopted a practicum model to provide students with practical clinical experience.

However, the practicum model we have adopted does not necessarily provide Board-specific, license-eligible supervision. That is, a student in one of our official PSP-site partnership practicum locations may accrue clinical hours towards the PSP requirement of 350 hours, but those hours will only count towards the MFT license if the student is an MFT Trainee with Board-specific supervision (e.g., an MFT or LCSW [Licensed Clinical Social Worker] supervisor who has been licensed for at least three years and who has taken the required course in supervision). Our practicum model is designed to provide students clinical experience who are psychologist-bound as well as those students who are MFT-bound, but the question of whether a student is collecting license-eligible hours is a different, albeit related, issue. One might accrue practical, clinical hours that count toward graduation, but do not count towards licensure.

Clinical Supervision

Marriage and family therapist-bound students may be supervised by licensed marriage and family therapists, licensed clinical social workers, licensed clinical psychologists, or Board certified psychiatrists. All students should carefully document their hours, on a weekly basis, with approvals noted and signed by supervisors, using the form provided by the Board of Behavioral Sciences. At the end of your three thousand hours, the prospective licensee will submit the Marriage and Family Therapist Experience Verification form. Applicants should not submit MFT licensing applications until they have three thousand hours of supervised experience. A separate form is required and should be filled out by each supervisor with whom the potential licensee has worked. However, students are urged to take control of this process because regulations change from time to time, and it is often the case that your supervisor(s) will be less aware of the current regulations than you will be. Be sure to check the licensed status of supervisors to ensure that they are license-capable of providing supervised experience, and that they are current with their own license throughout the period of time in which they provide supervision.

MFT or LCSW supervisors must have completed an authorized, six-hour course in supervision, within sixty days of the commencement of supervision. (Note that the Board excludes Psychologist or Psychiatrist supervisors from this supervision requirement, but also note that the Board of Psychology does not make this exclusion). A six-hour course in supervision must be completed every two years. Supervisors have to have been licensed in California for a total of a least two years prior to commencing any supervision, and must maintain a license in good standing. Obviously, any supervisor must have had sufficient experience, training, and education in the area of clinical supervision to competently supervise trainees or interns.

In a setting which is not a private practice, the authorized supervisor may be employed by the applicant’s employer on either a paid or voluntary basis. The trainee or intern must be employed by the agency (though it may be an unpaid position). If such employment is on a voluntary basis, a written agreement must be executed between the supervisor that is consistent with the training of the applicant, prior to commencement of supervision, in which the supervisor agrees to ensure the extent, kind, and quality of counseling performed by the intern or trainee.

Record Keeping

MFT trainees do not register with the Board. The assumption is that their school is overseeing their clinical experience, but all experience must be recorded on the BBS Weekly Log Form. An MFT Trainee (by definition someone who is still a student at PSP, that is, has not graduated) must have their MFT Trainee Site approved by PSP by submitting the Internship-Practicum Contract Form. When the student graduates (after PSP class work, comprehensive examination, and 350 clinical hours), the student must register within ninety days of the granting of the qualifying degree with the Board as an MFT Intern. MFT Interns must use the same BBS Weekly Log Form referenced above.

Although both the Board of Behavioral Sciences and the Board of Psychology require three thousand total hours of supervised professional experience before their respective license-potential candidates may become licensed, there are differences in the regulations between the boards. The Board of Behavioral Sciences has the following limitations:

  • Individual counseling – no minimum or maximum hours required
  • Couples, families, and children – minimum of 500 hours 
  • Group counseling – maximum of 500 hours 
  • Telephone counseling – maximum of 250 hours 
  • Administering and evaluating psychological tests of counselees, writing clinical reports and progress or process notes – maximum of 250 hours 
  • Workshops, seminars, training sessions, or conferences directly related to marriage, family, and child counseling – maximum of 250 hours 

A person gaining pre-degree experience (a trainee) shall receive an average of at least one hour of direct supervisor contact for every five hours of client contact in each setting; a person gaining post-degree experience (an intern) shall receive an average of at least one hour of direct supervisor contact for every ten hours of client contact in which experience is gained. One hour of direct supervisor contact means one hour of face-to-face contact on an individual basis OR two hours of face-to-face contact in a group of not more than eight persons.

The definition of "professional enrichment activities" may include group, marital or conjoint, family, or individual psychotherapy received by an applicant. Of significant interest is the regulation that this psychotherapy may include up to 100 hours taken subsequent to enrolling and commencing classes in a qualifying degree program, or as an intern, and each of those hours shall be triple counted toward the professional experience requirement.

Note that unlike the Board of Psychology, the Board of Behavioral Sciences allows a supervisor to charge for supervision.

For example, it would be possible for an MFT-intern to present to the Board of Behavioral Sciences the following schedule totaling 3,000 hours of supervised clinical experience:

  • Couples, families, and children – 800 hours
  • Group counseling – 500 hours 
  • Telephone counseling – 50 hours 
  • Administering and evaluating (basic) psychological tests, writing clinical reports and progress or process notes – 200 hours 
  • Workshops, seminars, training sessions, or conferences directly related to marriage, family, and child counseling – 150 hours 
  • Individual psychotherapy received – 100 x 3 = 300 hours
  • Individual counseling – 1,000 hours 

The total of 3,000 hours of supervised experience cannot take place in less than 104 weeks or two calendar years. Indeed, assuming you take two weeks of vacation per year, to accumulate 3,000 in two 50-week years, you would have to accrue 30 hours per week. It would be difficult for most people to integrate that level of client and supervisory contact over a two-year period of time. While course work at PSP is conveniently on weekend days, clinical students en route to becoming an MFT are urged to remember that the accrual of supervised experience is an absolute requirement before licensure. Although PSP has a requirement that an MFT-bound student complete 350 hours before the degree is awarded, the cumulative 3,000 hour requirement for supervised professional experience is mandated by the State of California.

Try to put all this into perspective. If you worked in a supervised setting of one kind or another at the rate of 20 hours per week, in 50 weeks you will have accumulated 1,000 hours. At this rate, it will take you about three years to accumulate sufficient supervised experience to sit for the State licensing examinations. However, unlike psychologist-bound students, MFT-bound students can count up to 100 hours of personal psychotherapy (times three) and can count workshops, training sessions, and conferences towards their 3,000 hour license requirement. So, a straight-line presentation of 20 hours per week may or may not be an accurate representation of a timeline to potential licensure. The question you need to ask yourself is, can you continue to work your full-time job and accomplish approximately 20 hours per week? 

Also note that the Board of Behavioral Sciences has highly specified responsibilities for primary supervisors, including the preparation of a detailed document which is to be given to any person with whom the student (under any placement environment) provides clinical service.

Post Degree Hours

An Intern must register with the Board in order to be credited for post-degree hours of experience toward licensure. A licensed professional in private practice who is a marriage and family therapist, a psychologist, a clinical social worker, or a psychiatrist, may supervise or employ, at any one time, no more than two unlicensed marriage and family therapist registered Interns in that private practice. A marriage and family therapy corporation may employ, at any one time, no more than two registered Interns for each employee or shareholder who is qualified to provide supervision. However, at no point may such a corporation employ more than ten registered interns. Supervisors in such a corporation shall be employed by the corporation and shall be actively engaged in performing professional services at and for the professional corporation.

This Process is Complicated

The Board of Behavioral Sciences has personnel who answer the telephone and respond to specific questions. Call the Board to about your particular variation or situation.

There are differences and similarities between the license granted by the Board of Behavioral Sciences and the license from the Board of Psychology. The Laws and Regulations of each Board defines "scope of practice" ("scope of license"). The reader will find the definitions of psychotherapeutic service to be remarkably similar. Yet, the Board of Behavioral Sciences argues that if an MFT has achieved competence in the administration and interpretation of (sophisticated) psychological tests, then that MFT may administer and interpret such instruments, albeit only with the immediate clients of the "competent" MFT. In this, the Board of Behavioral Sciences stresses the issue of "scope of competence." The MFT might achieve competence by participating in a year-long doctoral level course in psychological assessment, or may have a doctoral degree in psychology. But the Board of Psychology argues that the administration and interpretation of sophisticated psychological tests is an issue of scope of license, and as such, that only licensed psychologists may be involved in the administration and interpretation of these instruments. Historically, the administration and interpretation of sophisticated psychological testing instruments has been a defining characteristic of the clinical or counseling psychologist.

All students at PSP should anticipate lifestyle and / or primary work adjustments to allow for the accumulation of supervised professional experience. People enter into and enjoy the coursework phase without due consideration for how they will achieve the requirements for supervised hours. It is possible to find a paid position as a MFT-intern, though likely not at the level of remuneration of a current position.

In Summary

People should think of the goal of becoming a licensed marriage and family therapist holistically – there are many component pieces:

  • PSP Coursework (two-three years)
  • PSP Comprehensive Examination (at or near end of coursework) 
  • Supervised Professional Experience 
  • 350 Hours (minimum) Pre-Master’s (MFT Trainee) 
  • 2,650 Hours Post-Master’s (MFT Intern registered with the Board) 
  • State Licensing Examinations 

Eventually, students who seek to be Marriage and Family Therapists must take the current licensing examinations to obtain a State of California license in order to practice. While PSP does not formally endorse their product offerings, most students have reported that the Association for Advanced Training in the Behavioral Sciences, which can be found at http://www.aatbs.com, is extremely helpful in reviewing for the state examinations. The material on this web site is fee based. There are other organizations that offer a similar product.

The PSP clinical master’s student should realize the progression through the holistic goal of becoming a licensed marriage and family therapist will take about four years.