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.

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Why you should read Saving Psychotherapy, in two charts

Saving psychotherapy cover image (c) Copyright 2015 Benjamin E. Caldwell.My new book, Saving Psychotherapy, will be officially released September 22 [Update: Here it is!]. An edited excerpt about licensing exams is available here. Another excerpt focused on student debt appeared in the January/February 2015 issue of AAMFT’s Family Therapy Magazine (it starts on page 26).

I could spend a lot of time convincing you why you should read the book, but I think these two charts will be sufficient.

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How to seek back pay from an unpaid internship

USCurrency_Federal_ReserveI’ll be presenting to the California Board of Behavioral Sciences tomorrow on the possibility of changing the title for a post-degree, pre-license MFT from “intern” to “associate.” [Update: That change is going to happen. It takes effect in 2018.] The current intern title is confusing for interns and employers alike, and is likely one reason (albeit certainly not the only one) why so many prelicensed MFTs in California work in unpaid internship settings.

The licensing board meeting will be webcast, and you can get to the webcast through the BBS meeting calendar. But for those who have been through a post-degree unpaid internship in mental health, there are ways of seeking — and sometimes getting — back pay that don’t require a change in professional title.

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No one really knows what supervisors should pay for

California flagCalifornia law — with apologies to folks in other states, this post is pretty California-specific — says that any master’s level therapist who is not fully licensed cannot “lease or rent space, pay for furnishings, equipment, or supplies, or in any other way pay for the obligations of their employers.”

Fair enough. But what reasonably is an “obligation of their employer?” What should you expect to see as supervisor expenses, and what should you expect to pay for yourself as an intern? I surveyed MFT interns in the state to find out.

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The rising tide of student debt

Rising Tide of Student Debt. Image copyright 2015 AAMFTHow much should it cost to become a psychologist, family therapist, social worker, or counselor? Student debt is piling up for thousands of current students in the mental health professions, many of whom will struggle to pay it off after graduation.

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Finding MFT jobs

Originally posted June 2009; updated August 2014.

The most common question I hear these days from marriage and family therapists (MFTs) is simple: “Where can I find a job as an MFT?”

The more pessimistic ones ask the same question, they just leave out the word “Where.”

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Would anyone buy stock in a future therapist?

CurrencyThere’s an interesting alternative to the student loan model of financing education floating around: In essence, sell stock in yourself.

On Wednesday, Senator Marco Rubio and Representative Tom Petri introduced legislation defining “income share agreements” (ISAs), which are basically contracts where investors could fund your education in exchange for a percentage of your future earnings. Under such agreements, which are expressly not loans, an investor could lay claim to a limit of 15 percent of your future income under a contract that could last no more than 30 years. (Those are just upper limits. Presumably most contracts would be shorter and have lower percentages of income involved.)

The idea is interesting, and worthy of consideration insofar as it transfers the risk associated with education funding away from the student and their family. One of the worst possible outcomes of taking out tens of thousands of dollars in student loans is then not being able to pay it back, either because you failed to finish your degree or, once you did, there simply weren’t enough well-paying jobs in your field. Changes in bankruptcy law have made it much more difficult to get out of student loan debt even in difficult circumstances. Under the proposed ISA rules, on the other hand, it would be the investor who would be out of luck, not the student.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean that selling stock in yourself is a good idea for a prospective student in the mental health professions of psychology, counseling, clinical social work, and family therapy. For one thing, private investors may simply not be willing to fund education that is long and expensive when they look at salary data in mental health. It seems much more likely that such investors would flock to students in more lucrative fields like business, engineering, technology, and medicine.

And even if some enterprising therapy students could attract investors willing to fund their education, the kind of system envisioned with ISAs holds the potential to be rather exploitive. Let’s say, for example, that you are unable to secure enough in student loans, so you turn to a private investor to fund your education. And — lucky you! — you find one willing to take on the risk. In exchange for $50,000 to fund your education, they ask for 10% of your income per year for the next 25 years.

To a hopeful student with no other options to fund schooling, that may be an attractive offer. From the outside, though, it just looks like a classier form of indentured servitude. It’s true that if you don’t complete your degree, you would not need to pay the money back. However, because these agreements define the investment as being in the individual, and not the specific career for which you received education funding, you would still owe a portion of what you make for the term of the agreement no matter what kind of work you wind up doing. Worse, if you do complete your degree, and you do find a well-paying job after graduation, you could easily wind up paying back four or five times the amount of the initial investment. Investors, after all, would understandably want their good investments to pay off bigger if they are taking all the risk for the bad investments.

If nothing else, I admire the creative thinking on Rubio’s and Petri’s part. (In fairness, it isn’t their original idea; startups like Upstart and Pave have been working on this model for some time.) There is certainly some merit in having the most successful students end up paying the most for their education, rather than further financially punishing those who struggle the most to find work or finish their degrees. However, as it applies in mental health, this kind of a funding vehicle seems like a band-aid at best. It would keep a supply of students coming in to overly long and expensive training programs, with primarily investors and universities profiting. We still need a viable long-term solution that makes graduate training in mental health accessible and affordable for those who prove they are capable of doing the work.

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Your comments here are welcome. You can post them in the comments below, or email me at ben[at]bencaldwell[dot]com.