Ah, 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.