Four myths about counselor licensing exams

Ryan McGuire / Gratisography - licensed under Creative Commons ZeroIf you’re in the process of preparing for counselor licensing exams, you may be dreading them. Those fears may be based on what you’ve heard about the exams — and what you’ve heard may not be true.

I hear complaints about counselor licensing exams on a regular basis. Some of the complaints have merit, but most are based on mythology. It’s as if we (quite understandably) have anxiety-based associations with our testing process, past or future, and then conjure up rational-sounding but factually baseless complaints about the process in an attempt to justify those fears.

Every person who becomes a licensed professional counselor has to go through an examination process. While different states organize the process differently, common counselor licensing exams include the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Exam (NCMHCE) or the National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification (NCE). Many states also supplement their national exam with a separate exam covering areas of state law (for example, state-based requirements for child abuse reporting).

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What’s going on with California’s MFT Clinical Exam? [Updated]

California flagIt is certainly debatable what an ideal pass rate for licensing exams should be. If the pass rate is high, that means almost everyone gets through. Then the tests don’t serve a meaningful function. (That’s pretty much the status quo.) If the pass rate is low, it raises questions about the validity of the exam, given how much time most examinees spend preparing for it. But what makes a pass rate too high or too low? Given that the exams don’t do much of anything anyway, it’s hard to say for sure.

But it does raise eyebrows when pass rates for a single exam fall off a cliff, as seems to have happened for California MFTs over the past year.

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Studying for MFT licensing exams

If you are soon to be taking your state’s MFT licensing exams, congratulations! Here are five tips on how to study and prepare.

[Ed. note: This post initially published October 27, 2010. Updated in November 2016 to update the list of companies offering test prep products and services.]

Licensing exams are a major milestone in the professional development of a marriage and family therapist (MFT). While there are differences from state to state, every state except California uses the National MFT Exam, and most states require that exams be taken at the completion of at least two years of full-time, post-masters experience in supervised practice. (California uses exclusively its own exams.) As you approach completion of the supervised experience necessary to take the exams, how can you best prepare? Here are five things that can help:

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Are licensing exam prep courses a good value?

Several exam prep companies offer products and services to help counselors and therapists prepare for their licensing exams. These offerings may cost hundreds of dollars. Are they worth your money?

[Ed. note – This post was originally published November 1, 2010. Minor update in November 2016. It’s worth acknowledging that I offer prep material for the California MFT Law & Ethics Exam, as described elsewhere on this site.]

Last week, I posted a few tips for preparing for MFT licensing exams, including a list of providers of study courses and materials. I purposefully sidestepped the question of whether such products are worth the cost, which easily can add up to several hundred dollars. It’s hard to know for sure.

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The problem with life coaching

wooden-chestBecoming a therapist isn’t the only way you can put a psychology or counseling degree to work. You can also become a “life coach,” a growing profession that involves helping people come closer to reaching their life goals. Some clients who would resist going to therapy will happily visit with a life coach, as receiving coaching does not carry the same implications that going to therapy might. And some therapists see coaching as a way to diversify their practice, allowing them to market to clients who simply wouldn’t attend counseling or therapy.

Life coaching is a perfectly respectable and well-defined profession. The problem with life coaching isn’t the work itself, for which there clearly is a market. It’s with the people providing it.

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Texas Supreme Court to hear appeal on MFT diagnosis

Texas CapitolEarlier this year, the Texas Supreme Court refused to hear a case about marriage and family therapists’ (MFTs’) ability to independently diagnose mental illness. While MFTs are trained in diagnosis, a lower court ruled that the state’s licensing board overstepped its authority in an attempt to add the word “diagnosis” to the MFT scope of practice. Going further, the court ruling determined that MFTs should not have been independently diagnosing in the first place. (Though the word “diagnose” was not previously in the scope language, MFTs diagnosing mental illness was common practice, as it is around the country.) The state Supreme Court’s refusal to hear the case meant that the lower ruling stood, and MFTs could not diagnose.

Court procedures in Texas allow for one final appeal of the court’s decision not to hear a case. The AAMFT filed an appeal on June 13. In a rare move, the court granted that appeal. Later this year, the Texas Supreme Court will hear arguments about whether MFTs should be allowed to independently diagnose mental illness.

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MFTs lose diagnosis fight at Texas Supreme Court

TexasUpdate, February 24, 2017 – The Texas Supreme Court agreed to rehear the case, and ruled that MFTs *are* allowed to independently diagnose. More on the ruling can be found here.

Original post, published June 6, 2016 – Ten days ago, the Texas Supreme Court refused a petition for rehearing from marriage and family therapists (MFTs) seeking to preserve their ability to independently diagnose mental illness. The refusal brings at least a temporary close to a years-long fight between MFTs and the Texas Medical Association, with TMA winning. It could impact other master’s-level professionals not just in Texas but around the country.

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