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MFT License Requirements in California

In California, marriage and family therapists are licensed by the Board of Behavioral Sciences, or BBS. Licensure as an LMFT requires a graduate degree, a period of supervised practice, and a two stage examination process. While accruing supervision hours, a worker is registered as a Marriage and Family Therapy Intern.

California is unique in two ways: A state-specific written exam is administered to applicants. Additionally, out-of-state candidates must go through a credential evaluation process.

Candidates should be aware that there were some changes in 2012, and that there are additional changes slated for the coming years. According to the BBS, these reflect changes in practice, including a shift away from private practice and toward service delivery in the public sector (http://www.bbs.ca.gov/bd_activity/mft_educ_comm_update.shtml).

Capella University, offers one of only two online Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE) - accredited master's programs in Marriage and Family Therapy. This program prepares you for MFT state license eligibility. Click here to contact Capella University and request information about their program.

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Educational Requirements

The following requirements apply to California students:

The graduate program must be at least 60 semester hours or 90 quarter hours. Under the new standards, required concepts are integrated and do not necessarily appear as discrete courses on the transcript. The program must address all of the following:

  • Psychopathology
  • Developmental issues across the lifespan
  • Substance abuse and co-occuring disorders
  • Socioeconomic status
  • Resilience
  • Cultural competency
  • Cross-cultural interaction
  • Human sexuality
  • Life events that effect relationships
  • Professional ethics and (California) law
  • Case management and systems of care

There must be at least 6 semester hours of practicum, including at least 150 face-to-face counseling hours. The practicum may include 75 hours of client-centered advocacy; if not, there must be an additional 75 hours of face-to-face counseling. Some students will complete more than the minimum supervised hours. While enrolled as a student, the future MFT is considered an MFT Trainee; he is not required to register with the Board.

Before applying as an intern, the candidate will need to have their fingerprints taken. The following are classes that some students who began their studies before August of 2012 will need to take before licensure. Some requirements entail less than a semester unit’s worth of work and are reported in hours. Not everyone will need them. The requirements may have been incorporated into their degree program. Students should visit the schools section of the Board site to see whether their courses covered the required material (http://www.bbs.ca.gov/app-reg/qualify_schools.shtml).

  • Spouse and partner abuse
  • Child abuse (must include assessment and reporting)
  • Human sexuality
  • Chemical dependency and alcoholism
  • Aging and long term care
  • Psychopharmacology
  • Psychological testing
  • California law and professional ethics

Examination

The candidate will face a series of state-specific exams. He first takes the standard written examination. After he applies, and the BBS has determined eligibility, he will be sent information about it.

The candidate must take the Clinical Vignette Examination within a year of passing the written exam.

In the event he fails the written exam, he must retake it during the allowable window. He may seek permission from the Board after 160 days. He must retake it within a year of the failed attempt.

Supervised Practice Requirement

The MFT in training must work under supervision for at least two years (104 weeks). He will need to document 3,000 hours in order to be eligible for licensure. Most of this is to be done as an MFT intern. The candidate can also count some hours earned working at school approved sites while enrolled in a qualifying program – provided the experience met supervision ratios set by the Board. Up to 1,300 hours that were accrued before degree conferral can be counted toward this requirement.

A new graduate can begin work – and begin accruing hours – before he is registered. However, the candidate must apply within 90 days of graduation in order to be eligible to count the hours.

At least 500 hours must be psychotherapy with families, couples, or children. No more than 500 hours of group counseling or therapy can be counted toward the requirement. No more than 375 hours of telecounseling can be counted. No more than 500 hours of activities like administering evaluations, processing notes, writing reports, and doing advocacy will be accepted. A total of 1,000 hours of non-counseling hours is allowable. These include things like attending workshops, meeting with one’s supervisor, and receiving psychotherapy.

The intern may count both individual and group supervision. However, the intern must have at least 52 weeks of individual supervision (not necessarily consecutive). Each week of accrued experience requires an hour of individual supervision or two hours of group supervision.

It should be noted that these requirements apply to hours earned in 2012 or later. For additional details a candidate can visit the “Navigating the LMFT Licensing Process” section of the website.

The Application Process

The application process has several stages. The candidate will need to have criminal background checks done by both the FBI and the California Department of Justice. An in-state candidate can opt to use either Live Scan or traditional “hard cards”. Hard cards are obtained by emailing the BBS (http://www.bbs.ca.gov/app-reg/fingerprints.shtml). (A link to a list of LiveScan facilities can be found on the same page.)

It is alright if Live Scan results arrive at the Board slightly before the application is received. However, applicants should be aware that if too much time elapses, they will no longer be on file. The BBS suggests going through the Live Scan process in the 30 day period prior to application.

An applicant will submit a $200 fee when applying to the Board for examination. This includes the fee for the written test as well as the fee for the application. Once the candidate passes the written test, the candidate will remit an additional $100 for the Clinical Vignettes Examination.

Out-of-State Applicants and Additional Information

Out-of-state marriage and family therapists must meet the same requirements as those who were educated in California. However, California is currently more lenient when it comes to allowing them to complete coursework post-degree that California students are expected to have integrated in their degree programs. Out-of-state applicants may be registered as interns while completing some educational requirements. They should be aware that there will be educational changes coming in 2014.

Currently, one can locate courses that meet California’s curricular requirements in a counter-intuitive way: by going to the section of accredited programs, selecting a school, and clicking on “additional courses required”. This will call up a list of classes that may not be include in the standard marriage and family therapy degree program, but that meet California coursework requirements.

An out-of-state candidate will be required to take a class in California law. The candidate's experience will determine the length of the required class. If the candidate took a two or three semester hour course in professional law and ethics as part of the degree program and has held a license for at least two years, the candidate must take an 18 hour class. If the candidate does not meet both these requirements, the candidate will need to enroll in a two or three semester hour course in California law and ethics.

If an applicant is currently residing outside California, the applicant will need to request fingerprint cards from the BBS.

Applicants who have not met California’s supervised experience requirement will need to make up the additional hours while registered as interns. LMFTs who have not held their license for two or more years must do 250 hours of supervised experience in California under intern status even if they did the full amount of supervised experience required of in-state applicants.

Out-of-state applicants will find scenarios in the application instruction packet that may provide additional clarification.

Additional Information

California, marriage and family therapists are licensed by the California Board of Behavioral Sciences

Marriage and Family Therapy Programs in California

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