Ruling mixed in CAMFT-BBS “gap exam” lawsuit

Court finds the BBS must consult with Office of Professional Examination Services to determine whether a “gap exam” is needed for MFTs seeking LPCC licensure.

JudgesTools IconAt 11:00 this morning, the California Superior Court for Sacramento County issued a tentative ruling in the CAMFT-BBS lawsuit over MFTs who wish to be grandparented into LPCC licensure. It leaves hanging the question of whether there will actually be such an exam — though it appears highly likely.

I’ve previously written about the issue here and here, the first of which offers a better review of the details.

Today’s ruling is mixed, siding with the BBS on two key questions and with CAMFT on one:

  1. The BBS was within its authority in determining that “the profession” and “the practice of the profession” mean effectively the same thing.
  2. The BBS was within its authority (and reading the law reasonably) in determining that those seeking grandparenting into LPCC licensure must be tested on any differences between the professions.
  3. The BBS went beyond its authority by determining that a “gap exam” was necessary without adequate consultation with the state’s Office of Professional Examination Services (OPES), as required by law.

Ultimately, the court orders that the decision to require a “gap exam” be set aside until the OPES consultation has taken place (which must be within 60 days) and the BBS makes a determination based in part upon the results of that consultation. Since the BBS and its contracted consultant both previously concluded that there were meaningful differences between the professions, the court ruling on the first two questions above suggests a strong likelihood that the BBS will go forward with an exam, but it is not fully certain.

You can read the ruling in full here.


Updated 1-30-2011: The court heard oral argument on Friday, to no effect — it adopted what had been the tentative ruling. The BBS now has 60 days to consult with OPES and make a final determination on the need for a gap exam.


Update 2-6-2011: CAMFT has released their spin on the Gap Exam ruling, which seems sure to mislead at least some readers. There’s nothing there that’s technically incorrect, but it takes a fair amount of reading to get the full picture. People who just read the headline, or even the headline and the first couple of paragraphs, will likely come away believing there will be no Gap Exam. Since CAMFT lost on the two substantive arguments that would suggest the exam is unnecessary, it still seems likely that an exam will be given.

Also updated the headline, as the court adopted its tentative ruling.

CAMFT changing therapist-referral site to “Counseling”

CAMFT is rebranding their therapist-referral site as The change, and how it was announced, continue CAMFT’s pattern of treating MFTs and LPCCs as indistinguishable.

In an announcement on November 1, the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists (CAMFT) said it would be re-branding its therapist-referral web site as While their email described this as an effort largely to improve search engine optimization, it also fits their pattern of making marriage and family therapy (and the MFT license) indistinguishable from counseling (and the LPCC license). The change will take effect on January 4, exactly three days after the Board of Behavioral Sciences begins accepting applications for LPCC licensure through grandparenting.

Notably, not once in CAMFT’s email announcement did they refer to their own clinical members as what they are by licensure: “marriage and family therapists.” Instead, the clinicians who would gain referrals through the site (limited to CAMFT’s Clinical Members, which at this time means just MFTs) were referred to only as “therapists” or “licensed therapists.” The words “marriage” and “family” were nowhere to be found. The name change for the referral site, and the announcement of that change, certainly leave the door open for the site to be a referral site for both MFTs and LPCCs.

I can understand that, from an organizational-numbers point of view, it may benefit CAMFT to be as welcoming as possible to LPCCs as that license opens in California. However, CAMFT’s continuing efforts to make MFTs and LPCCs indistinguishable work against the best interests of both professions, who should collaborate effectively when it benefits us (lobbying for Medicare reimbursement, for example) and be able to advance our unique professions when it benefits us (publishing journals or holding conferences, for example). The constant push to make us indistinguishable, culminating in a lawsuit against the BBS, was enough for me to finally cancel my CAMFT membership. It will be interesting to see how other MFTs who value the MFT title will respond, especially if this pattern continues.


Another reason CAMFT likely changed the name: The existing name has earned them the unlucky honor of being regularly counted among the unintentionally worst company URLs on many a list.


CAMFT is separate and independent from both AAMFT and its California Division.

Quitting CAMFT

CAMFT’s LPCC “gap exam” lawsuit against the BBS is a waste of resources that, if CAMFT “wins,” would eliminate California’s legal recognition of the distinctiveness of the MFT license. I refuse to let my member dues support it.

As I reported here recently, the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists (CAMFT, which is independent of AAMFT and its California Division) has filed suit against the Board of Behavioral Sciences, alleging that their decision to require a “gap exam” for MFTs seeking grandparenting into LPCC licensure amounts to an illegal restraint of trade.

If CAMFT loses, it would mean they wasted thousands of dollars of member dues on outside counsel and court fees.

But if they “win,” the outcome would be far worse: It would eliminate legal recognition of any distinction between the practices of MFT and professional clinical counseling — and pave the way for the MFT license to disappear completely. (Here’s why.)

And either way, CAMFT’s conduct around the issue has already damaged the organization’s ability to work collaboratively with the BBS. [Page 50, item III on the linked PDF.]

Why CAMFT would want to win this argument, I do not know. But I know my member dues cannot support it.


I have been an active and supportive member of CAMFT for several years. As I have talked with students and colleagues around the state, I have been able to honestly say that there is much to be proud of in the work CAMFT has done — even this year, legislation CAMFT sponsored to clarify MFTs’ roles and responsibilities around child abuse reporting has been good for the profession. Their in-house attorneys are wonderful resources, available any time. And at the chapter level, the overwhelming majority of CAMFT members simply want to be able to make a living providing providing the most effective services possible to their clients. They’re great people and often outstanding therapists.

The organizational decisions CAMFT has made, though, have too often been in direct conflict with the best interests of the profession. CAMFT’s struggle around same-sex marriage is well-worn territory here, and it speaks to larger structural problems that were apparently never meaningfully addressed. CAMFT has stopped publicly advocating for the complete elimination of the MFT license, but they continue to make decisions that lead in that direction — like this lawsuit — and I do not believe most members know just how close they have come to making it happen.

This lawsuit over a gap exam, if successful, would put the state on the record as determining there are no differences in practice between MFT and LPCC. Not only is that fundamentally wrong, but it also would virtually force the BBS to consolidate the MFT and LPCC licenses. (If there is no difference in practice, there is no need for independent licensure.) It would not happen immediately — the process would take years — but with a CAMFT “victory” in this case, it would be almost impossible to prevent.

I am a marriage and family therapist. Not a professional clinical counselor. There is a difference. Even the counselors say so. [See currently-third item, “AMHCA lauds…”] I should never have to remind a professional association of MFTs that this is true. And I cannot support one more dime of my money being used to chip away at what makes this profession unique and valuable.

So I am, with a great deal of disappointment, resigning my membership in CAMFT. I hope they get back on the right track at some point in the future. My letter resigning my membership, which largely repeats these same points, follows in its entirety.


November 1, 2010


Effective immediately, please cancel my membership.

Over the past several years, I have gradually lost my faith that the organization’s goals and actions are truly in the best interest of the MFT profession. Your lawsuit against the BBS over the “gap exam” for MFTs seeking grandparenting into LPCC licensure only confirms that you are actively working against what is best for the field of marriage and family therapy.

If unsuccessful, this lawsuit will be a massive waste of members’ dues in a misguided cause. If successful, the outcome would be even worse: A legal determination that there is no difference in practice between MFT and LPCC (and perhaps LCSW as well) would pave the way for license consolidation. While this may be in the best interest of CAMFT as an organization (you could add LPCC members under one umbrella), it is quite clearly not in the best interest of marriage and family therapy as a profession. Independent licensure provides valuable legal recognition of the distinctiveness of our skill set and body of knowledge. A short “gap exam” for grandparenting appropriately balances the need to recognize this distinctiveness with the desire among some experienced MFTs who are otherwise prepared for LPCC licensure to obtain that distinct license.

Regardless of its outcome, the lawsuit has harmed CAMFT’s ability to effectively work collaboratively with the BBS. This was made clear when, at the September BBS meeting, several board members openly and publicly expressed their disappointment with CAMFT’s conduct.

I cannot in good conscience allow my dues money to be used for efforts that work against the best interests of the profession of marriage and family therapy. I will happily rejoin if and when CAMFT (1) drops this misguided lawsuit; (2) makes a clear and public statement that it recognizes the practice of marriage and family therapy is distinct from other mental health professions; and (3) outlines and follows through on clear steps to protect, preserve and advance the distinctiveness of our profession.


Benjamin Caldwell, PsyD

CAMFT sues California licensing board

CAMFT is suing the Board of Behavioral Sciences (BBS), demanding a ruling that the practice of marriage and family therapy has nothing unique to offer.

See updates below: The court sided with the BBS on two out of three legal questions and CAMFT on the other. The ruling required the BBS to consult with the state’s Office of Professional Examination Services prior to determining whether a gap exam was necessary. OPES recommended doing the exam, and the BBS voted unanimously to do a gap exam.


The California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists (CAMFT) followed through on an earlier threat and filed suit this week against the state’s licensing board, the Board of Behavioral Sciences (BBS). CAMFT is seeking a ruling that marriage and family therapists who wish to be grandparented into licensure as Professional Clinical Counselors (LPCCs) will not need to take an exam on the differences in practice between those professions. But the issue is bigger than it may sound: Such a ruling would require the BBS to first determine that there are no differences in practice between the professions, a ruling that would have major implications for the future of professional licensing in mental health.

But let’s start with where this is now. The law that brings the LPCC license into the state is quite clear (emphasis mine):

The board and the Office of Professional Examination Services shall jointly develop an examination on the differences, if any differences exist, between the following:
   (A) The practice of professional clinical counseling and the practice of marriage and family therapy.
   (B) The practice of professional clinical counseling and the practice of clinical social work.
– California Business & Professions Code section 4999.54(b)(1)

CAMFT argues in its suit, as it has in BBS meetings, that there may be differences between the professions, but that these do not amount to differences in practice. So they do not believe that an exam on differences between MFT and LPCC (a “gap exam”) is necessary. That argument has now lost twice: The BBS ruled on July 28 that there should be a gap exam, based on the language of the law. CAMFT threatened to sue (page 6), and the BBS vacated all earlier discussion and took the issue up again on September 9. Again they ruled that there must be a test. In a suit filed on Monday, CAMFT argues that requiring a gap exam amounts to an unlawful restraint of trade for MFTs seeking LPCC licensure. They ask to have the BBS decision again vacated, and an injunction issued preventing the BBS from requiring a gap exam.


While I am trying to present these facts as neutrally as possible, I am hardly an objective observer. I co-signed AAMFT-CA’s letter to the BBS encouraging them to revisit their initial decision in May that no gap exam would be needed. And, fundamentally, I believe there are significant differences between the professions — that’s why we have distinct educational programs and are distinctly licensed. Arguing that the professions may be different but their practices — the doing of the professions — is the same is a giant leap of both language and logic. Indeed, as Dean Porter, head of the California Coalition for Counselor Licensure, has said, proving LPCCs’ distinctiveness [currently-third item, “AMHCA lauds…”] was one of their biggest challenges in achieving licensure in California.

There is no need for a separate license if the professional group in question has nothing new or different to offer. That is why this is such a concern for me — if CAMFT gets their way, and the BBS or a court rules that there are no differences in practice between the professions, it is an extremely short logical walk to an argument that MFTs and LPCCs (and even LCSWs) should not be separately licensed. I worry that that’s the idea. CAMFT has stopped publicly advocating such a shift (they openly projected such a “one-license future” to members and to the California legislature in 2007), but they still seem to be walking down that road. Having earlier removed their opposition to LPCC licensing legislation, they appear to have taken no action when a 2008 version of the LPCC bill proposed to study eliminating the MFT license entirely (see Section 6, at the bottom of the next-to-last page; that version of the bill, thankfully, failed). This week’s legal action seems to be a continuation of the “we have nothing unique to offer, so let’s all combine licenses” philosophy. Why an association of marriage and family therapists would continue taking stances that appear to act against keeping the MFT license distinct is beyond my understanding.

I would love a different explanation, but cannot seem to come up with one.

The legal complaint and related documents can be downloaded here *. They are referenced by case number (34-2010-80000689).


I know I say this over to the right, but it bears repeating: On this blog, I speak strictly for myself, and not my employers or contractors or anyone else. It also bears repeating, for those of you from outside California, that CAMFT is an independent organization with no ties to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT) or its California Division (AAMFT-CA).


* Updated 1-11-2011: Updated link.

Updated 2-3-2011: The court has issued its ruling, which sides with the BBS on two out of three legal questions and CAMFT on the other. See this post for details: Ruling mixed on CAMFT-BBS “gap exam” lawsuit.

Updated 2-27-2011: OPES recommended doing the exam, and the BBS has voted unanimously to do a gap exam.

AAMFT, AFTA, CAMFT, IFTA, and more: A primer on MFT associations

There are at least six major professional associations that cater to marriage and family therapists. Each of the organizations has great value, and each focuses its energy a bit differently, so it is useful to know about them to determine where you want to make professional connections and what activities you want your member dues to support. Of course, for each organization, there is not room here to cover all of their member benefits; I would strongly suggest following the links to each organization’s web site to learn more about what they have to offer.

Note: The logos here are, of course, the trademarks of their respective owners. Like the rest of this post, they’re there to be informational, and to connect you to the organizations’ sites; they are not meant to indicate that the organization endorses this blog, or vice versa.

The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy is the national professional association for MFTs. It has led the successful push to get MFT licensure in all 50 states, and now is working in support of legislation that would add MFTs to Medicare and improve employability in schools. Strengths: AAMFT is particularly known for its successes in advancing the field through research, education, and training. These efforts include publishing the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy; publishing Family Therapy Magazine, which focuses each issue on a particular clinical or advocacy topic; putting on a large annual conference; supporting the AAMFT Approved Supervisor designation and related training; and accrediting graduate programs in MFT through its accrediting arm, COAMFTE. AAMFT also has divisions dedicated to more localized efforts in US states and Canadian provinces. (Full disclosure: I’m on a consulting contract with AAMFT, focused on California educational and policy issues.)

The American Family Therapy Academy is a smaller, invitation-only organization dedicated to advancing systemic thinking and systemically-oriented services for families. AFTA produces an Annual Conference and publishes a special-topics journal, the AFTA Monograph Series. Strengths: The depth and quality of discourse within the organization is strengthened by the invitation-only membership model. The organization’s strong commitment to systemic work is evident.

The International Family Therapy Association is dedicated to supporting the work of MFTs overseas and training practitioners around the world to deliver culturally-appropriate family-based services. IFTA publishes the Journal of Family Psychotherapy and sponsors the World Family Therapy Congress, an international conference of family therapy researchers and practitioners. Strengths: The Congress is well-renowned for its ability to bring together international leaders in the field who otherwise may never make personal contact. The organization’s focus on culturally-appropriate care is also important when applying treatments to different populations than those for whom the treatment was initially developed.

The California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists is an independent organization (that is, separate from AAMFT and its California Division) dedicated to supporting MFTs in the state. That by itself makes the organization one that is important to the profession overall, since about half the MFTs in the country, by licensure, live in California. CAMFT produces its own magazine, The Therapist, which focuses largely on legislation, employment, and compliance issues. CAMFT also puts on an annual conference. Strengths: CAMFT has historically focused its energy effectively on state-level legislation and advocacy, and on local connections through its 29 local CAMFT chapters throughout the state.

The International Association of Marriage and Family Counselors is a division of the American Counseling Association. ACA considers marriage and family therapy to be simply one of many forms of counseling, and accredits MFT programs as specialty counseling programs. IAMFC publishes its own journal, which CAMFT has recently begun distributing to its members as the two organizations seek additional ways to collaborate. Strengths: IAMFC is seeking to grow in scope and influence through collaborative efforts, including its collaboration with CAMFT and with the National Credentialing Academy.

The National Council on Family Relations is an interdisciplinary organization focused on research and policy as they relate to family life. NCFR administers the Certified Family Life Educator credential, publishes a number of journals including family-studies leader Family Relations, and puts on its own annual conference. Strengths: The CFLE credential crosses state lines, and the organization’s focus on applied research and public policy have made it a go-to source for practitioners and policymakers alike.

Each of these organizations has a lot to offer. Students in particular can benefit from them, as they each have remarkably low membership costs for those currently in school. Professional associations advance the field on many levels, improving the quality of our training, the effectiveness of our clinical practices, the employability of MFTs, reimbursement practices, and public policy. I encourage you to find the ones that will be most valuable to you, join them, and then invest your time and energy in them. Being just a number in an organization is fine and has benefits; being an active voice and an advocate for your profession is even better.