MFT license portability

By Mk2010 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia CommonsAh, to be a medical doctor. To only have to pass the boards once, and then be done with it. MFT license portability isn’t so easy.

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 or associate even if you’ve been fully 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 at least weigh the possibility — here are six things you can do to make MFT license portability easier.

Graduate from a COAMFTE-Accredited program

The education requirements of at least 22 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 at least some supervised hours to be under an AAMFT Approved Supervisor (North Carolina is one example), most 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 may be moving

Establishing educational equivalency and suitable experience for licensure in a new state can be very time-consuming. Most states have their requirements online (here’s a useful directory of boards, and here’s a comparison chart of licensure requirements that AMFTRB put together in 2015), but you should review the requirements of the state you might move to (or even contact the state licensing board directly) in order to figure out exactly what paperwork you will need to file. You also will need to know who, in your current state, will need to sign off on that paperwork. 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. (Note here that many state boards will not provide personalized advice to you in advance of actually filing an application for licensure there. They can, however, at least point you to all of their requirements.

Consider doing more than 3,000 hours of prelicensed experience

While this is the numerical requirement in many states, a number of states require more. Some states also have specific requirements for categories of experience within that 3,000 hours. Gathering a cushion of supervised hours can 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.

Consider waiting a few years

If you are early in your career and have the luxury of being able to put off a planned move for a few years, it may make portability easier. Those new to licensure will likely be evaluated under the new state’s regular licensure requirements, which can meaningfully differ from one state to the next. But several states have passed laws in recent years making licensure by reciprocity a bit easier. Under these laws, if you have been licensed in one state in good standing for a certain number of years, your new state may use that existing licensure to help you bypass many of their more specific requirements.

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 seventh 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, and we are one of the states that has made coming in easier recently. 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 and July 2017.

33 thoughts on “MFT license portability

  1. Hi. I do not know anything about the program you are referencing. However, when evaluating a program I would wonder if it had a supervised Practicum as part of the program? So much of the best training I received was not in the classroom but through actual supervision.

    I worked full time while I got my degree so I know it is very hard to do while you are working and trying to live a life and that the flexibility of an online program can appear to be very tempting.

    Another variable for consideration is where are the instructors in the program teaching you located? Your training will be more applicable to your future clients if the instructors understand the laws and ethics under the state in which you are working.
    May you have much success on your journey,

  2. Reading through this and thought I would comment on some questions. I live in Northern CA. The private pay fee for therapy is high but i don’t think the average is $200. It’s still a bit lower. Touro isn’t well known except for osteopathy and even only amongst those who know and it’s not in more of a suburb. The bay area northern CA has many great training opportunities in somatic and humanistic therapies that are gaining esteem and highly sought by clients. As a somatically trained therapist, I highly value these mft trainings and they’re not at coamft schools. Some of coamft schools are more cookie cutter up here imho. Yes there is a bias towards coamft schools because Ben works for one, helped craft the new laws in CA towards that requirement. (Though I totally appreciate all you write Ben). I deeply value the other educational offerings at non coamft schools as well.

    Colorado..I have heard interns don’t have to work under the employ (w2wage) of a supervisor there. They just need to hire one.

    Camft just sent out a newsletter saying ca interns can now automatically be license in Oregon.

    • Thanks for your response, Eveline! One small correction — I haven’t crafted any new laws in California toward COAMFTE. The state doesn’t use COAMFTE as its benchmark for graduate degrees, either for people in-state or people coming in from out of state. We have state-specific curriculum requirements that form the benchmark. While degrees from COAMFTE-accredited programs are deemed as equivalent to those standards in a couple of places in state law, that’s different from using COAMFTE as the standard that degrees must match.

      I agree with you that non-COAMFTE programs can have tremendous value, and they have a bit more freedom to craft a unique identity relative to those programs accredited by COAMFTE. There is a tradeoff, though, and it comes in portability.

  3. Hi, I am looking into Touro University Worldwide. It is an online MFT program in CA. Do you know anything about their reputation? I am currently trying to figure out the best/quiests way to get my MFT licensure in CA. I am on my last semester earning my Bachelors in Sociology. I am also interested in Social Work. What is the quickest route to get my MFT license as far as a Masters degree. And what is the advantages/disadvantages between becoming a MFT or a LCSW. Thank you!

  4. Hi. I have been a licensed MFT in California for 10 years. I am moving to Virginia. How easy is it to transfer? Do I have to take any tests or classes? Thanks in advance!

  5. Hi Ben,

    NJ and CA seem to be the most difficult states to become licensed in; they require the most amount of hours. I graduated from a non-COAMFTE approved MFT program in NY and post graduate have obtained a NJ permit to allow me to accrue hours towards licensure within a 3 year limited timeframe. I work in both private practice and hospital setting (non-profit) with a state approved supervisor (not COAMFTE approved supervisor). I say all this because it’s been my dream to move to CA, but I’m afraid of it being a nightmare to sort through. Ideally I would love for a counseling agency to take over my residency and allow me to continue accruing hours towards licensure, but I already see in job posts that they need a registered “intern” with NPI.

    I’m willing to go through the paperwork and hassle of proving whatever CA needs, however, I’m not even sure they would accept at all in their state without the COAMFTE recognition. I could wait the 3 years till I am licensed and go about transferring over…but I don’t know if I want to wait that out. Is it worth it for me to possibly speak with counseling agencies over there to see how they could encounter me and what advice they would give?

    I also agree that CA has a lot of MFT’s and wondering if that competitive edge makes the field watered down at all regarding salaries and the likely hood of obtaining a position within the field. That’s what is happening in my dual career as a child life specialist. Nonetheless it’s been frustrating. Unfortunately NJ does not use MFT’s in their insurance coverage…most MFT’s are in private practice and don’t use insurance. You will hardly find positions in non-profit asking for an MFT…in this state the LCSW’s rule rank in psychotherapy.

    Thanks,
    Heather

    • Hi Heather,

      I am pursuing my MFT in California, and specifically, in San Francisco. 99% of programs in the state are NOT COAMFTE accredited, so that should be a nonissue for you. I believe that the article is suggesting that MFT’s LEAVING the state of CA may have trouble in other states where COAMFTE accredited degrees are required for licensure.

      My main concern in coming into CA would be the supervised hours – California is very specific about how many hours are done in particular settings (500 hrs. with couples, family & children, and a max of 500 hrs. group therapy or
      counseling, 250 hrs. max telephone counseling, and 125 hrs. max telemedicine counseling, etc.) so I would check with the licensing board.

      Although there are over 30k licensed MFT’s in the state of CA, there is also a total population of 40 million. San Francisco is the most prolific city in the country in terms of it’s social programs, so if you want to go that route, there should be plenty of opportunities for you. Although San Francisco is now the most expensive city in the country, salaries here are also quite high – the average cost of a home is $800k, and the average salary is well over $100k – that means plenty of clients willing to pay out of pocket for private care. MFT’s in private practice here charge an average of $200/hour session. At 30 clients per week, that’s $300k / year before business expenses and taxes – not too shabby!

      All the best,
      Justine

  6. Hi – I am an MFT and licensed in both California and New York. I’m thinking of moving to Hawaii and wondering if there is a possible transfer of licensing there since I’ve had a full time practice in both NY and CA for over 10 years.
    Thanks for any information.

  7. I have been a LMFT in Ca since 2006 and have moved to NYC. I’m going to go through the license transferring process but can I work under the license of a psychiatrist until my license is transferred?

    • That’s a question for the NY licensure board. State laws on who can supervise, and the boundaries of practice when one is new to the state and working on getting licensed there, vary widely. Sorry I don’t have the answer on this one.

  8. Hello, I was licensed as an MFT in California over 15 years ago, stopped practicing to raise my kids, moved to Boston and now am in NC. I have read the different state requirements, I am wondering two things: 1. is there anyone you know who helps with the licensing process here in NC and 2. Are older licensees and degrees grandfathered in, so to speak? I would find it hard to locate old supervisors for recommendations, for example. Thanks

    • I would encourage you to get in touch with the state division of AAMFT (assuming you’re an AAMFT member). They can help with the specifics of licensure in that state. Grandparenting provisions vary widely depending on the state you’re moving to, so I’m afraid I can’t give a hard-and-fast rule here.

  9. Just for clarification… The national exam does not mean your license will be recognized nationally? One still has to apply for licensure if moving to a different state and hopefully have met that state’s requirements? For some reason I assumed taking the national exam made things easier.

  10. Hello,

    I am working on my hours for my license in California. I am considering eventually moving to Colorado. Do you know the if Colorado accepts a California license? I am starting to wonder if it would be easier to get licensed here and then move rather than hassle with all of the CO requirements…

    • I don’t know any state that does what we would consider to be licensure-by-endorsement (if you’re licensed in state A, we will automatically license you in state B). Key questions if you move as an intern would be how Colorado treats your degree if you graduated from a non-COAMFTE program, and whether they require experience to be gained under an AAMFT Approved Supervisor. If you move after getting licensed, it would be worth knowing those questions as well as whether Colorado honors the California exams (and if so, whether they require a Colorado jurisprudence exam). I would encourage you to contact both the Colorado licensing board and the Colorado Division of AAMFT (presuming you’re a member) for additional information about what to expect when making the move. Good luck!

  11. Yes, it is possible. You would need to apply to the BBS for an intern registration (not “intern license” — you can be fined if you advertise yourself using that term) to have them review your degree transcript to make sure it meets state requirements. The requirements differ based on the age of your degree, which is good; it reduces (though to be fair, it doesn’t totally eliminate) the chance that the BBS would tell you that you need to get a whole new degree. Assuming your degree is accepted, the clinical hours you gained in practicum can count toward licensure forever, so you would need to do whatever is left of your 3,000 hours of experience for the license. I hope that helps, and good luck!

  12. I graduated from Antioch L.A. in 1993. I never obtained licensure. I would like to obtain licensure now and intern. Is this possible?
    I raised my family and want to now complete this goal of licensure. I have to apply for an intern license once again.

  13. @Deleon – I would urge you to contact both the Colorado licensing board and the Colorado Division of AAMFT (assuming you’re a member; if not, you should be) as soon as possible. They can help you determine whether your degree and experience hours would be accepted in Colorado. Most states have procedures for reviewing the credentials of someone educated or licensed in another state, understanding that state requirements do vary.
     
    One thing I would take exception to in your comment, though: the notion that California’s COAMFTE-accredited programs are at “primarily night / trade schools that most would not consider obtaining a degree from in this field.” They’re all at regionally-accredited universities, not trade schools (with the arguable exception of one seminary, which is also accredited), and graduates of COAMFTE-accredited programs do better on licensing exams than graduates of non-COAMFTE programs. (They also reach licensure faster, according to research I presented at a conference back in about 2009.) And that’s on top of the other benefits to students from COAMFTE programs, one of which is your specific concern: Portability. Those who would not consider getting a degree from these programs may not be making choices in their own best interest. Accreditation is one of many reasons one might choose a program, but it’s one worth considering.

  14. Hello Ben,

    I am a CA MFT Trainee with approximately 2000 of my 3000 hours requirement completed. I have received a Master’s Degree from a WASC Accredited university with a reputable program. This program required a minimum of 60 units of education and 500 hours of MFT-supervised practicum.

    I am possibly moving to Colorado at this time and am a bit frustrated and worried about what may transfer over. My school is not listed on the COAMFTE approved list. However, there are very few schools in CA that are COAMFTE accredited and these are primarily night / trade schools that most would not consider obtaining a degree from in this field.

    I also am worried about the fact that we can be supervised by a licensed clinical social workers, which a number of my hours are, while CO requires again a COAMFTE-registered supervisor.

    Any opinion on this matter would be greatly appreciated.

  15. Ben, I’m an IMF @300 hours + grad school hours (I hope it’s not too late to count them!). You said “But we need more MFTs here, so if you’re thinking about it, do come to California” but I get overwhelmed by how saturated we already are. In a state comparison chart from 2009, I see California had registered: MFT: 30,258
    MFTI: 12,006. That’s in comparison with several hundred in most states, and at most a few thousand in exceptionally endowed states. Maybe you know of some reason we need more MFTs in California? Maybe this knowledge will help me create a practice niche that scratches some unknown itch? Scratching my head yet curious! – Charletta

  16. I don’t even see VT listed with an AAMFT chapter. We will be ‘rightsizing’ there in a few years and I am licensed over 20yrs, so it will not be an issue, but does anyone know why VT has no chapter?

  17. @llamabarn – I’d like to talk with you more about your transition to VT. I am currently doing my 3rd year MFT practicum with JFKU in CA and making potential plans to move to VT in another year or two. I plan to email the person who handles licensure in VT and start getting my education approved ASAP. Any more tips regarding state requirement details for this move? Thanks to you and Ben!

  18. One more question. I have been looking around trying to find some information about practicing MFT abroad, but the easily accessible information seems sparse. Could you point me in a direction that may lead me closer?

    Anna

  19. Hi Ben,

    I really appreciate your blog! It synthesizes a lot of helpful information for a somewhat long process on the road to become an MFT!

    I have a few questions that maybe you could help me out with.

    1. What would you say the major drawbacks an MFT might face in terms of getting a job, compared to a PhD or PsyD?
    2. If I go to school in Oregon, can I come back to CA to take my test and become an MFT here?
    3. What do you know about a DMFT and-Doctor of Marriage and Family Therapy and an MCFT-Marriage, Couple and Family Therapist?
    4. Is it harder to come back to California or leave California-generally…

    Thanks, looking forward to hearing back from you!

    Anna

  20. I wish I had found your blog 3 years ago! I got my Masters Degree in CA and then moved the VT to start a family. I have been fighting with the Vermont State Board for 10 months to get them to even approve my educational requirements, since my school (CIIS) was not COAMFTE accredited. I still meet ALL of the requirements in CA. It’s been a nightmare- and it looks like I may have to take 4 or more additional credits which will cost thousands of dollars. I’s a very frustrating process and I don’t even know that VT is where I want to stay permanently, but I am afraid to move and go through this again… thanks for all of your insightful comments.

  21. @Anonymous – Where to begin with this? Okay: 1. There is nothing at all illegal about AAMFT or any group meeting with representatives from the BBS. This happens all the time, and should happen all the time. CAMFT does it, NASW does it, other organizations do it. It is part of the BBS’s mandate to actively work with stakeholders. 2. The BBS fully abided by the ruling of the court in the CAMFT lawsuit over the gap exam — a lawsuit that CAMFT largely lost, regardless of what spin they have put on it. Following the ruling, the BBS consulted with OPES as instructed by the court. OPES, an independent body within state government, recommended a gap exam (last pages of PDF). The BBS followed their recommendation. 3. The rest of your comment I can’t quite follow, so I don’t know how to respond to it. But I don’t place any higher or lower value on MFTs in California as opposed to anywhere else; I just want to raise awareness for MFTs moving into or out of California that there are differences.

  22. Ben,

    thanks for the service of your editorials. They are both informative and thought provoking. But also be aware that they come off as very biased toward all things AAMFT. It was the AAMFT who made an illegal closed door meeting with the California BBS that sparked the CAMFT lawsuit over the LPCC licensing exam. The BBS put themselves above the law by choosing not to abide by the courts rulings. For an organization of such highly touted standards; AAMFT the blog reported standard barer for the proper way of doing things throughout county, your organizations ethics and those of the bureaucrats at BBS could use a little improvement. In the future you might want to be a little more reflective on the internal workings of AAMFT before casting stones when writing about MFTs in California vs other states.

  23. I’m finishing my MS MFT equivalent degree in Oklahoma, considering moving to CA–the licensing requirements are different and confusing, for sure. I’m just not even sure where to start in examining if it’s worth it. Your blog is very helpful. Biggest difference I’ve noticed is that OK only requires one semester practicum! UG! I’m not sure if I can gain practicum hours in CA post graduation, although I see info that I can obtain other lacking course work post grad. Wonder when they will ever get around to national licensing, lol. Thanks, again–very informative.

  24. Hi! I want to do graduate study at Loma Linda University in Cali, to gain a spiritual basis for my MFT practice later on, but I’m pretty sure I won’t be living in CA; I might move to VA afterward. Do you have any advice for me? Is what I want to do going to make it much more difficult to gain intern opportunities and licensing in VA?

  25. And don’t forget some states require more than CA 150hrs of practicum hours. So, since CA allows up to 700hrs in practicum it will be smarter not to stop at 150hrs.

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