Ah, to be a medical doctor. To only have to pass the boards once, and then be done with it.
Marriage and family therapists — who, at least in theory, practice the same profession no matter where they roam — are subject to a mishmash of licensure laws around the 50 states, with similar-but-different requirements for education, experience, and examinations.Taking your MFT license to a new state can be a challenge, as you may be forced to provide transcripts and even syllabi from classes taken decades ago, register as an intern no matter how long you’ve been licensed, and in some states, go through another testing process.
If you are considering ever moving to another state — and even if you’re not considering it now, most people eventually do — here are five things you can do to make license portability easier.
- Graduate from a COAMFTE-Accredited program. The education requirements of at least 32 states specify that in order to be licensed as an MFT, you must have gone to a COAMFTE-accredited program or a reasonable equivalent. Spare yourself the trouble of having to prove equivalency, which can be a tedious and difficult process — and one that not everyone makes it through, especially those whose non-COAMFTE degrees come from California.
- Do your prelicensed hours under an MFT, ideally an AAMFT Approved Supervisor. In states that specifically require an AAMFT Approved Supervisor in order for licensure hours to count (North Carolina is one example), all supervisors go through the training. In states that do not require this, far fewer do. This presents some obvious problems if you move from a state that didn’t require AAMFT-Approved supervision, or supervision under a licensed MFT, to one that does. While these requirements are not especially common, you should be aware of the possibility that you may move to a state that has them.
- Get an early start with the state to which you’re moving. Establishing educational equivalency and suitable experience for licensure in a new state can be very time-consuming. Most states have their requirements online, but you should contact the state licensing board directly to figure out exactly what paperwork you will need to file — and who, in your current state, will need to sign off on it. If you know well ahead of time that you will be moving, and you are gathering hours of experience toward licensure, you may find it best to document all of your hours twice: Once in accordance with the requirements of your current home state, and once in accordance with the requirements of the state you’re headed to.
- Don’t stop at 3,000 hours of prelicensed experience. While this is the numerical requirement in many states, a number of states require more. Gathering 3,200 hours will make you a bit safer. Ideally, if you know what state you will be moving to early enough, you can craft your prelicensure experience to meet that state’s standards.
- Most important: Document well. Any time there is a disagreement about whether you have met a certain requirement in your new state, you will need documentation to back up your side. Keep careful documentation of your supervision; your education (especially course syllabi); and what types of hours you’re doing (individual client contact, family client contact, supervision, etc.), as some states require hours to be specifically categorized. Naturally, not all states agree about what those categories should be. You may have exactly the education and experience your new state wants, but if you can’t prove it, you will not get licensed there without having to re-do at least some of the requirements.
It’s tempting to add a sixth rule here — “Don’t involve California” — since some of the greatest difficulty in MFT license portability in the country is experienced by those coming into or out of the Golden State. But we need more MFTs here, so if you’re thinking about it, do come to California. Just prepare yourself, as California is the only state in the country that licenses MFTs without using the National MFT Exam. And our other California MFT license requirements can get a little goofy too.
Originally published October 2008; updated July 2014.