Every clinical social worker entering the profession in the US faces the hurdle of social work licensing exams. Each state now requires an ASWB Exam, with most using the Clinical Level Exam for LCSW licensure. Typically, the exam must be taken at the completion of at least two years of full-time, supervised, post-masters experience. Many states also require some kind of Law and Ethics Exam (called Jurisprudence in some states), though this is more varied. As you approach either of these exams, how can you best prepare? Here are five things that can help:
In 2009, Julea Ward, a counseling student at Eastern Michigan University, was in her school-assigned practicum when she was assigned a same-sex couple for treatment. She went to her supervisor and said she could not provide treatment to the couple, citing a conflict with her religious beliefs. The couple ultimately was assigned to a different counselor at the same agency, who did not have the same conflict. Ward thought she had handled the issue appropriately, as the clients received the treatment they had sought and she was not put in a position of needing to hide or compromise her beliefs. She understood the issue to have been successfully resolved.
Her graduate program, however, did not.
It sometimes seems like labor abuses are a rite of passage for prelicensed therapists. Recent graduates are often appalled by the unpaid or underpaid positions their colleagues (and sometimes they) willingly take simply to get their hours done. Many wonder whether they will be able to support their families as they progress to licensure.
Therapists also often talk about inadequate supervision, dangerous working conditions, unrealistic and inappropriate demands, and a variety of other serious labor concerns on the road to licensure. Some drop out of the field altogether.
If so many therapists experience labor abuses, then why do the problems persist?
Once you register as an Associate MFT, CSW, or PCC with the Board of Behavioral Sciences, you have a year to attempt the California Law and Ethics Exam for your profession. There are basically two schools of thought about when you should take that exam. One of them is wrong.
If you’re in your first year as an associate, you should take the exam right now.
A California MFT Law & Ethics Exam prep course is supposed to give you a good, broad overview of the legal and ethical standards for MFT practice — just like a 12-hour law and ethics CE course should. And if a 12-hour law and ethics CE course is good, it should leave you well-prepared to take the exam. So we made them the same.
We’re proud to announce the launch of our new California Law and Ethics for Marriage and Family Therapists course. It’s Law & Ethics Exam prep and 12 hours of continuing ed, rolled into one.
The first licensing board meeting that I attended was in Sacramento. I did not live locally, so I had to travel to attend the meeting. I can remember well that trip and all of the expectations that I had. Basically all I knew about the California Board of Behavioral Sciences (BBS) was what I had heard from professors while in my master’s program, which was that the BBS was some ultimate authority that was to be revered and respected.
Because of what I had been told, I had honestly expected the meeting to be at some lavish location with lots of amenities. I expected the board members to be sitting on a platform, similar to a judge in a court, to highlight their authority. I had expected there to be structured, pre-arranged seating for those in advocacy positions. (I was attending as part of my advocacy role within the California Division of AAMFT.) Arriving early seemed critical, as I had expected there to be a relatively large crowd of attendees present.
None of those expectations came to pass.
Look, I’m not here to defend the BBS (California’s Board of Behavioral Sciences) or any other licensing board. They’re not your friend. They require deeply flawed exams that even they know don’t work. Their disciplinary guidelines, especially around substance use issues, are unreasonably punitive. They are notoriously unresponsive. There are a lot of problems there. But it’s also true that most complaints about the BBS are based on flat-out falsehoods.
In Part 1, which was an excerpt from my Basics of California Law text, I discussed the subtle ways that even well-meaning therapists can subvert a license exam. Here in Part 2, available only online, I’ll get more specific about what kinds of things I think can be safely shared and what probably can’t.
With so many therapists and clients owning iPhones, some therapists have started experimenting with doing sessions via Apple’s FaceTime videoconferencing. While Apple does not provide a Business Associate Agreement (typically required under HIPAA) for use of FaceTime, there is an interesting legal argument that suggests FaceTime may still be safe for therapists to use.
It is essential to the fairness and validity of any testing process that those who take the test are who they say they are, do not attempt to cheat on the test, and do not reveal any information about test content to those who have not yet taken the exam. This is certainly true with license exams, which are considered high-stakes tests because failing can directly impact one’s professional standing and job opportunities.
Violating exam security or subverting a license exam, one of the forms of unprofessional conduct that can lead to discipline from the Board of Behavioral Sciences, occurs most commonly when someone who has just taken their exam shares its content with others who have not yet taken the exam. “Subverting,” as it is used here, means impacting the integrity of the exam; while sharing content is perhaps the most common way this happens, it certainly is not the only way it could occur.