In 2013, two former interns at publishing company Conde Nast filed suit demanding back wages and attorney fees. Their lawsuit came on the heels of two other successful lawsuits demanding that interns actually get paid for their work: A federal district court sided with the interns who sued Fox Searchlight Pictures, saying the interns should have been paid for their work on the film “Black Swan.” And the year before, Charlie Rose and his production company agreed to pay up to $250,000 to more than 150 former interns to settle a class-action suit.
Fighting illegal labor practices as a prelicensed therapist
It sometimes seems like labor abuses are a rite of passage for prelicensed therapists. Recent graduates are often appalled by the unpaid or underpaid positions their colleagues (and sometimes they) willingly take simply to get their hours done. Many wonder whether they will be able to support their families as they progress to licensure.
Therapists also often talk about inadequate supervision, dangerous working conditions, unrealistic and inappropriate demands, and a variety of other serious labor concerns on the road to licensure. Some drop out of the field altogether.
If so many therapists experience labor abuses, then why do the problems persist?
How to seek back pay from an unpaid internship
I’ll be presenting to the California Board of Behavioral Sciences tomorrow on the possibility of changing the title for a post-degree, pre-license MFT from “intern” to “associate.” [Update: That change is going to happen. It takes effect in 2018.] The current intern title is confusing for interns and employers alike, and is likely one reason (albeit certainly not the only one) why so many prelicensed MFTs in California work in unpaid internship settings.
The licensing board meeting will be webcast, and you can get to the webcast through the BBS meeting calendar. But for those who have been through a post-degree unpaid internship in mental health, there are ways of seeking — and sometimes getting — back pay that don’t require a change in professional title.
No one really knows what supervisors should pay for
California 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.
How hard is it to become an MFT? I’d like to hear your story.
It’s expensive and takes a long time, but job prospects are good. Is that enough?While the job outlook remains good for MFTs — one of the reasons family therapy continues to be rated among the top careers to go into — the barriers to entry are high and getting higher. Graduate school tuition costs are rising (and it’s often hard to get accurate information about graduate tuition); pre-licensed, post-degree therapists (called “associates” in some states and “interns” in others) typically work under supervision for several years, often for little to no money, even though some unpaid MFT internships may be illegal; and these days in California, even after you finish your supervised experience you have to wait seven months or more for the licensing board to get around to your application to take the exams. Is it all worth it? I would say yes, but then, of course I would say yes. I’ve made, dare I say, a relatively good and stable career of being an MFT, and it is work that I love. At the same time, the environment when I came into the profession was different than it is today, and I was lucky in many ways. I got my bachelor’s degree without student loan debt, for example, which is today the exception and not the rule. California’s MFT curriculum requirements were not as tough then as they are now, requiring many to spend more time in school and pay more in tuition. (I’ve never needed to take a second job outside of the therapy world to pay the rent.) And when I applied to take the licensing exams, I didn’t have to twiddle my thumbs for another half-year waiting. So I only know my own experience, and I’m not in a good place to speak to how it is for new therapists. That’s where you come in. In today’s environment, is it worth it to go through the struggle to become a family therapist? I was inspired to ask by a pair of articles making the rounds online: One arguing that Generation Y is made up of whiners with entitlement issues, and a counterpoint arguing that GenY is drowning in debt and poor prospects for improving their lives. Both are good articles. And Generation Y is made up of those born between roughly the late 1970s and the mid 1990s — so if you are in graduate school now, there’s a good chance you are part of that generation. I would love to hear your stories of the struggles and rewards of becoming an MFT. If you’re new to the field and a part of Generation Y, what joys and struggles have you experienced so far, and what are your future expectations for success, salary, and happiness? If you’re an MFT veteran who is not part of that generation, how would you advise the GenYers coming into the field today? Post in the comments below or by email to me at ben[at]bencaldwell[dot]com. # # # Bear in mind that by sharing your story, you’re granting permission for me to use it, with your name and with some editing if needed, here on the blog. I might also use it in other projects (as one example, I might forward it to AAMFT-CA for consideration in their work), with proper attribution of course. Thanks!