The first licensing board meeting that I attended was in Sacramento. I did not live locally, so I had to travel to attend the meeting. I can remember well that trip and all of the expectations that I had. Basically all I knew about the California Board of Behavioral Sciences (BBS) was what I had heard from professors while in my master’s program, which was that the BBS was some ultimate authority that was to be revered and respected.
Because of what I had been told, I had honestly expected the meeting to be at some lavish location with lots of amenities. I expected the board members to be sitting on a platform, similar to a judge in a court, to highlight their authority. I had expected there to be structured, pre-arranged seating for those in advocacy positions. (I was attending as part of my advocacy role within the California Division of AAMFT.) Arriving early seemed critical, as I had expected there to be a relatively large crowd of attendees present.
None of those expectations came to pass.
The board meeting was held in a large meeting room of an older government building. The room was a standard meeting room with no windows, fluorescent lighting, and no amenities. There were no lavish decorations. The board did sit opposite the attendees, but were not using any meaningful platform to highlight authority. There was no assigned seating, and in fact, the chairs were standard straight-back chairs. There was only one other person in attendance. I was the youngest person in the room by at least 15 years.
I quickly realized that I needed to adjust my expectations.
Although it was not flashy, lavish, or maybe not even popular, the meeting was effective. It started with a brief review of the most recent decisions that had been made by the board. That was followed by a structured progression through the agenda and meeting materials. (Every BBS agenda and meeting packet is a public document, published in advance of the meeting.) After about 45 minutes of discussing different topics/decisions, the board had finally reached a topic where I had considered providing input. The BBS was discussing the need for tracking supervisors, but had not identified specific solutions. Although I had already lowered some of my expectations, I was still terrified to speak for the first time.
What if I don’t speak clearly? What if the board members think my questions and comments are stupid? These are, in fact, the people responsible for approving my licensure.
Just as I have learned on many other occasions, pushing myself through discomfort and anxiety often leads to personal growth. I chose to stand, approach the board, and present my thoughts. I shared the idea of adding a designation on the breeze.ca.gov website for approved supervisors. The designation would help trainees and interns (now associates) verify the status of their supervisor, and would allow the BBS to better monitor adherence to supervision requirements. After a minute or two of open deliberation, the board voted to move forward with my suggestion and to gather more information about the logistics of implementing such a designation. I was shocked. I, an MFT intern, and a young one at that, was able to make actual change. For a moment, I truly could not believe my input had worked!
After the board voted in favor of my suggestion, I quickly got over any concerns I had and was able to present on a number of other ideas. Some of those ideas were approved, some were adjusted, and others were declined. Yes, being declined was not the most pleasant experience. But if I did not present at all, then I would not have also experienced the approvals.
At the end of the meeting, I met the members of the board personally. I was again shocked. They were normal people, just like you and me. And they actually wanted to personally know those promoting advocacy. It was clear that they were aware of the limited number of people attending the meetings, and wanted to support those who did attend. I felt incredibly welcome. And I received a great amount of support and encouragement for continued involvement in advocacy efforts.
As I traveled back home, I had time to reflect on the experience. Although the members of the BBS impressed me with how they addressed all items up for discussion in a way that was professional and progressive, the meeting had an even greater purpose for me personally. I realized that the experience actually went far beyond just the literal work of impacting rules and laws. Being an advocate and attending the meeting helped me to realize the importance of being a more informed, professional, and confident therapist. Attending BBS meetings in an advocacy role* would require that of me. Having faulted in any area would mean a weaker argument or potentially an unfavorable outcome that would impact thousands of others. That recognition of responsibility helped me to be a better therapist.
* I was there as part of my role with the Legislative and Advocacy Committee of the California Division of AAMFT. But you generally don’t have to be in any official leadership role to attend or present at a licensing board meeting. Most licensing board meetings in most states are open to the public. Here in California, the BBS wants to hear from you.