I’ve gotten a lot of questions in the past few days about how COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) is affecting the California BBS, or how it is likely to. I’m rounding up those questions here in hopes of making it easier to find the information you need. This post most recently updated on June 2, to include information about new BBS waivers.
Will license exams be cancelled or postponed?
The BBS-contracted testing provider Pearson VUE closed all of its US and Canada testing centers in March, and has been gradually reopening them since May. All exams scheduled while centers were closed have been cancelled and you will need to reschedule.
If your registration expired or is scheduled to expire between March 31 and June 30, 2020, see the information below on Law & Ethics Exam rule waivers.
The BBS and Pearson VUE are both committed to getting everyone rescheduled as quickly as possible. The BBS sent me the following in an email:
“BBS will work with all examination candidates to ensure that they remain [eligible] to test and are able to continue to work. Candidates may email the BBS to inquire about their specific situation.”
What do I do if my registration is expiring and I need to take the Law & Ethics Exam to renew it?
You can now renew your registration even without having taken the test. Under an Executive Order issued March 31, the Department of Consumer Affairs can temporarily waive that exam-attempt requirement. And that’s exactly what has happened. If you have a registration expiration date between March 31 and June 30, you have not been able to attempt the Law & Ethics Exam because of the Pearson VUE closures, and (this is important) you have paid your renewal fee, you will be able to renew your registration and continue to work. The waiver here stipulates that any waived exam still must be completed within six months of the order, so you will still need to attempt the L&E exam by September 30 if you renew your registration under this waiver.
Updated June 2: The waiver described above did not address the issue of those whose registrations were ending their six years of validity, and who needed to pass the Law and Ethics Exam before being issued a second registration number. That issue was addressed by a new waiver dated May 29, allowing those applying for second or subsequent registrations to receive a new number without first having passed that exam. Note that this too only applies to those whose initial registration number expired between March 31 and June 30.
What do I do if I’m waiting for a Clinical Exam test date and can’t schedule it?
So far, no rule changes have been announced here. The existing waivers allow for relaxed rules to renew an existing license or registration, not to obtain a new license, which is what the Clinical Exam normally enables you to do. Unless an additional rule change related to new licenses comes forward, the best thing to do is to keep working to reschedule your test date for as soon as possible after you believe the test centers will reopen and you are released from any local or state stay-at-home orders. Test centers will have to work through months of built-up demand, so scheduling will be difficult for some time.
For those who are nearing the end of their year of exam eligibility after having their hours approved, if you are having difficulty scheduling your test, contact the BBS directly. They have been working with applicants on a case-by-case basis, and some have reported having their exam eligibility window extended through the end of 2020.
Is the BBS still open and processing applications?
Yes. While their office building is closed to the public, they are continuing to receive and process applications and conduct other board business. They are, as you might expect, inundated with emails and phone calls from people with questions about their specific situations. They have encouraged people wanting to reach the board to direct emails to the appropriate address for fastest responses.
Can I supervise (or be supervised) via videoconference?
Updated June 2: Existing law already allowed the supervision of MFT, CSW, and PCC trainees and associates via two-way, real-time videoconferencing in any work setting that is not a for-profit entity (with some exceptions) or private practice. A May 6 waiver extends that option to all work settings, including private practices, through July 5. The BBS is interpreting the waiver as allowing for the counting of videoconference supervision in all settings dating back to March 4, when the Governor initially declared a state of emergency.
Can I supervise (or be supervised) via phone?
The BBS does not allow phone supervision to count toward licensure or toward supervision ratios. However, phone contact with a supervisor may be helpful, and is common in situations that require urgent consultation when the supervisor is not on-site. Such calls simply cannot be formally counted as supervision.
Can I do therapy via videoconference?
Yes, BBS licensees and registrants can provide psychotherapy via real-time, two-way videoconferencing. This is considered a form of telehealth, which is governed by the California Telemedicine Act and some added state regulatory requirements, in addition to federal law (like HIPAA) and all of the technology standards in your ethics code, so make sure you’re practicing in a fully compliant manner.
Can I do therapy via phone?
As far as the state is concerned, phone-based therapy is another form of telehealth, and is allowed under those same legal, ethical, and regulatory conditions.
What training do I need in order to provide telehealth?
Ethical standards for all of the professions governed by the BBS require that therapists be adequately trained in the technology being used, but they do not further define “adequately.” The BBS does not have any specific standard here either. In other words, there is no specific requirement for the number of hours of telehealth training you need, and you do not need to be certified as a telehealth provider. However, you should be comfortable and familiar with the technology you’re using before engaging in telehealth with clients.
If I can put in a small plug here, I taught a 1-hour, on-demand video course on Telehealth: Legal and Ethical Issues that my friends at SimplePractice Learning have made FREE for a limited time. I also taught a course specific to California Telehealth Law (1 hour CE, $19) that tackles those regulatory requirements in fine detail, and Melissa Douglass, LCSW has a great course on Telehealth: Getting Started (1 hour CE, $19) that is more focused on the clinical aspects of getting up and running with telehealth.
For more information on the SimplePractice telehealth platform — which stayed up and running under heavily increased demand while a several others crashed — there are great articles to get started on telehealth in the SimplePractice Help Center.
Other current and possible rule changes
Will the BBS be extending deadlines or changing rules for applications, registrations, or exams?
Updated June 2. For clarity, I’ve tried to break this down by rule. As changes are announced from the BBS, I’ll update this page.
Please note that I’m not in any way officially connected to the BBS, so my speculation about rule changes here is, for now, just that: Speculation. It’s informed speculation, but I’m not in a position to promise anything on their behalf. We’re also in a very fluid situation, so some of my expectations here could easily prove incorrect.
First, here are the rule changes that have been announced so far, via formal waivers.
- Continuing education. For those whose license expires between March 31 and June 30, CE requirements for license renewal are temporarily waived. You will not need to have completed your CE prior to your renewal date. However, all such requirements must be completed by September 30, so it may be more useful to think of this as a postponement than a waiver. And of course, you can fulfill your CE requirements through online CE, so the postponement may not be necessary even for those who qualify.
- Law & ethics exam as a condition of registration renewal. As noted above, if you would normally need to attempt the Law & Ethics Exam to renew your registration, that requirement is temporarily waived. You do still need to otherwise complete the renewal process, including paying the renewal fee. And the order clearly says that any waived requirements must be completed within six months of the order (so, September 30) unless otherwise extended. So keep working to get that exam scheduled.
- Practicum for MFT students. Under existing law, MFT students can continue seeing clients for up to 90 days between terms enrolled in practicum, or at the end of their education (i.e., between the last term of practicum and degree completion). A May 29 waiver extends that timeframe to 180 days. This is expected to be helpful for those at the end of their degree programs who had difficulty completing required hours for graduation due to pandemic-related closures. This waiver only applies to students last enrolled in practicum between March 31 and May 1.
- Reactivating a license. Fees and CE requirements for reactivating a retired, inactive, or cancelled license are waived, and such individuals can receive a temporary active license for up to six months. There are a number of conditions here, including that it has to have been less than 5 years since the license was active, and it can’t have been moved to retired, inactive, or canceled status because of a disciplinary action.
While it’s more of an operational change than it is a rule change, it’s also worth noting that during this time, the BBS has been accepting scanned supervisor signatures on documents, which they typically do not accept.
And here’s what I expect to happen — and again, I could be wrong — for several other BBS rules I’ve been asked about:
- One-year limit for attempting an exam. The BBS will almost certainly need to grant at least some extensions of the one-year timeframe for testing. (Once approved to take an exam, you have a year to take it before your application is considered abandoned.) Any extensions are most likely to benefit those who already had an exam date scheduled for the time the Pearson VUE centers will be closed. As noted above, the BBS is addressing this issue on a case-by-case basis.
- 90-day rule for associate registration. The BBS presently is continuing to conduct business and is processing applications. They have so far announced no changes to the 90-day rule, but it is possible — not guaranteed — that they may grant extensions for those who are unable to obtain supervisor signatures in time because of the outbreak.
- Six-year rule for associate registration. The BBS has been examining the six-year rule over the past couple of years, and may propose changes to it via legislation, but seems unlikely to propose immediate changes as a direct result of the outbreak. If you are coming up on the end of your six years of associate registration, you should apply for a new registration number. Note that you don’t start your hours over from zero, but once the six years in your initial registration period have expired, you can no longer work in a private practice setting.
- “Option 2” supervised experience hours for MFT and PCC licensure. Option 2, or the non-streamlined method for counting hours for MFT and PCC licensure, is set to expire on December 31. That’s a long way off. If the outbreak continues to significantly impact day-to-day business beyond July, they might take a look at changing the deadline or adjusting the telehealth cap (there’s no cap in Option 1), but I don’t expect changes here. Also, if the outbreak is affecting day-to-day business beyond July, we’ve got bigger problems.
This is great, Ben, but where can I get, like, official information?
No offense taken there. I’m not a BBS representative, I’ve just been interacting with them for a long time. It’s a good idea to bookmark and frequently visit the BBS web site. You should like the BBS Facebook page, where they’ve been remarkably responsive and helpful lately. You should keep an eye out for any new waivers posted to the DCA waivers page. And if you’re in or getting ready for the exam process, bookmark the Pearson VUE coronavirus update page.