California looks to change MFT and PCC interns to associates

California flagAt its November 2015 meeting, the California Board of Behavioral Sciences (BBS) voted to pursue legislation in 2016 that would change the titles of post-degree, pre-license professional clinical counselors (PCCs) and marriage and family therapists (MFTs) from “interns” to “associates.”

There are a lot of “ifs” here, but if they are able to find an author, and if the bill gets through the Legislature and if it is then signed by the Governor, it would not take effect until 2018. This would give individuals and employers ample time during 2017 to plan changes to their marketing materials.

I have fought for this change, for reasons you may have read about on this blog. Interns in the psychotherapy world suffer for that title, which is more commonly associated with undergraduates, still in school, working for free, doing things like getting coffee so that they can understand how various workplaces operate. As a result, many clients, employers, and even therapists think that clinical counseling and family therapy interns — people with completed graduate degrees — are supposed to be working without pay. You can watch the presentation I gave to the BBS about this in August 2015 on this video.

In reality, many of the unpaid employment settings for those currently registered as MFT and PCC interns are probably illegal. Even some non-profit agencies may in fact be breaking the law if they are not paying their MFT and PCC interns, a topic well covered in this article. If you think you might be owed back pay from an unpaid internship, here are some steps you can take. While I’m not a lawyer, I think an MFT or PCC intern who has worked for free in a for-profit setting could probably sue for back pay and win. That possibility exists for some nonprofits too, though there aren’t yet a lot of test cases — this case does suggest that even non-profit work is subject to state labor laws.

But the title change isn’t just about employment issues, and indeed, it alone will not change some of the labor market forces that are leading MFT and PCC interns in the state to work for free. It’s more about clarifying the professional status and career-ladder position of those who are post-degree and pre-license. It also can improve consistency in professional titles across states and with other professions (in California, post-degree clinical social workers are currently referred to as Associates), reducing public and employer confusion and potentially making it a little easier to move into or out of California.

Your comments are welcome. I will update this post as the legislation progresses in 2016.