Preparing for California’s new MFT Law & Ethics exam

Golden gavel 1, By walknboston (Flickr: Gavel) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia CommonsCalifornia’s licensing exam restructure for marriage and family therapists (MFTs) takes effect January 1, 2016. Here’s how the new exam process will affect you.

Those newly registering as MFT interns

As of January 1, new MFT interns will need to take a California Law and Ethics Exam in their first year of intern registration, or else that registration will not be eligible for renewal. The key word here is “take,” and not “pass.” More on that below — skip ahead to “If you pass” and “If you fail.”

Those already registered as MFT interns

All of those currently registered as MFT interns, no matter how much or how little experience you have, will need to take the exam in the next 18 months. If you’re currently registered as an MFT intern, you will need to take the exam for either your 2016 or 2017 renewal, depending on your specific renewal month:

  • MFT interns whose registrations expire on or before June 30, 2016: You will need to take the law and ethics exam prior to your 2017 renewal.
  • MFT interns whose registrations expire on or after July 1, 2016: You will need to take the law and ethics exam prior to your 2016 renewal.

Again, the key word there is “take,” and not “pass.” More on that below.

If you pass the Law & Ethics Exam

If you pass the exam — er, I mean when you pass the exam — great! Onward to the rest of your prelicensed experience. You can keep renewing your intern registration until you complete the supervised experience. No more testing for you until the end of that process. Skip down to “Clinical exams.”

If you fail the Law & Ethics Exam

If you don’t pass the test, unless you’ve put it off to the last minute, you’ll get another shot (perhaps even more than one) to try again before your registration comes up for renewal. The BBS has said there will be a 90-day waiting period to retake the test, in order to make sure you get a different version of the exam the next time around. So hopefully you’ll pass on the second try, or the third.

Even if you don’t pass, you can still become eligible to renew your registration by taking a 12-hour continuing education course in Law and Ethics. Note, though, that if you renew through the CE route after failing the L&E exam, then you basically start the process over again the next year: You again need to take the L&E exam at least once, and if you again can’t pass it during the year, you’ll again need to take the 12-hour course.

The Clinical Exam

There is still a broader clinical exam at the end of your 3,000 hours of supervised experience. For now, it’s still a state-specific exam, which is being called the MFT Clinical Exam. It will take all the stuff from both the old Standard Written Exam and Written Clinical Vignette and put them into a single exam with both vignette and non-vignette-based questions. But the BBS has its eye on the National MFT Exam, and this restructure will make such a switch possible in the future.

These are good changes

Look, licensing exams suck. Almost everyone passes, and the ones who don’t are probably (at least in most cases) perfectly safe practitioners who simply struggle with high test anxiety or who don’t have English as their native language. You can read a lot more about the problems with licensing exams in this book.

But the exams aren’t going away any time soon, and as long as that’s the case, they should be done in a responsible way that more directly relates to public safety and maximizes license portability. Under the new structure, the Law and Ethics test addresses public safety much earlier in one’s career, which is good. And the use of national exams — assuming that’s the next step in this process — improves portability, which is also good.

More information – and preparing yourself

Preparing for the California MFT Law and Ethics ExamPractice Tests for the California MFT Law & Ethics Exam. (c) Copyright 2016 Benjamin E. Caldwell. All rights reserved.The BBS has made a ton of information about the new exams public. Start here if you’re interested. And I’m proud to offer a guidebook for California MFTs preparing for the Law and Ethics test as well as practice tests; learn more about them (or just go ahead and order!) on my site (Guidebook / Practice Tests) or on Amazon (Guidebook / Practice Tests).