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.

On most things, no one’s really sure.

Earlier this year, I put out a call via email and social media for interns to let me know how they thought a variety of certain expenses should be handled. This is a self-selected sample and therefore not random or scientific, so be cautious when interpreting the data — these were the people most interested in the topic from among those who saw my call for responses, so it may or may not be a representative group. This was a quick survey to take the pulse of the intern community, not one seeking to reach broad statistical conclusions.

Survey data: Who should pay for what?

Respondents were asked about a variety of expenses related specifically to the employment of interns. For each of the nine items below, survey respondents had three options:

  • The supervisor must pay for this.
  • The supervisor should pay for this, but isn’t required to.
  • The intern should pay for this. In this case, the supervisor of course could pay for the thing if they wanted to, it just wouldn’t be normal or expected.

Most of the items here should be self-explanatory, but feel free to post any questions in the comments. When I asked about things like computers and cell phones, these were specifically for the intern’s professional use. Here’s what the interns I surveyed said:

What it means

Obviously it’s important to be cautious in making meaning from a non-scientific survey such as this. Here’s what we can safely say from the data, understanding that “interns” here means “interns who completed the survey.”

  • Overwhelmingly, interns agreed that payroll costs and fees associated with having interns (beyond just the pay itself) are the supervisor’s responsibility.
  • Overwhelmingly, interns agreed that paying an intern’s professional association dues is the intern’s responsibility.
  • Overwhelmingly, interns agreed that paying for renewal of the intern’s state registration is the intern’s responsibility.

…and that’s pretty much where the agreement ends. As you can see, there are some instances where a majority of respondents felt that an expense rightly belonged to the intern, and some where a majority felt the expense belonged to the supervisor, but in all of those cases there was at least a vocal minority who disagreed. No one is wrong here: As I said at the beginning, state law doesn’t specify what is reasonably the obligation of the employer. So we all interpret that language as best we can.

What licensees said

I did include licensees in the survey, for what it’s worth. I just didn’t get enough of them to make it reasonable to break down their data. The chart above only shows responses from interns.

The cool thing I did get from the licensees (some were supervisors and some not), though, was that there didn’t seem to be a kind of drawbridge effect where once someone is licensed, then they think the intern should be paying for everything. In fact, licensees tended to put more expenses onto supervisors, and fewer onto interns, compared to what the interns themselves said.

Ask, don’t assume

Both interns and licensees seem to be pretty reasonable, in general, about what they might be expected to pay for. They’re even generous, as interns thought that interns should be paying for more than what supervisors thought interns should be paying for. But since there’s so much disagreement about what’s expected, neither supervisor nor supervisee can safely presume much of anything about who will be paying for what.

The moral of the story is this: When you’re entering into a new supervision arrangement, always make sure it’s clear and in writing what expenses the intern is going to be responsible for, and what the supervisor will be responsible for. That way you can avoid unpleasant surprises — and the resentment that comes with them — down the road.