In “Gap Exam” and supervision rulings, California licensing board says MFTs and LPCCs are different

In a unanimous vote, the California Board of Behavioral Sciences (BBS) today determined that a Gap Exam will be necessary for marriage and family therapists (MFTs) seeking licensure as professional clinical counselors (LPCCs). A separate ruling on supervision has similar themes.                                            

JudgesTools IconThe “Gap Exam” for currently-licensed MFTs seeking to grandparent into LPCC licensure will be shorter than regular licensing exams, and will focus on the differences in practice between MFT and LPCC.

In a separate vote, the BBS also agreed to move forward with a legislative proposal that would require LPCCs to complete additional coursework and experience in couple and family work in order to supervise MFT interns and trainees.


Gap Exam

Today’s vote was the fourth the Board has taken on the Gap Exam issue, which has become controversial because of its broader implications about the distinctiveness of the professions. (For some of the history, see “CAMFT sues California licensing board” and “Ruling mixed in CAMFT-BBS gap exam lawsuit.” Full disclosure: I resigned CAMFT membership in response to their actions on this issue.) Earlier votes had been set aside for a variety of reasons; the most recent prior vote was set aside after CAMFT sued the BBS, and won on their argument that the BBS had not first consulted with the state’s Office of Professional Examination Services, as required in the law. The court ordered the BBS to set aside its prior vote and do the required consultation.

In that required consultation, OPES said they believed a Gap Exam was indeed necessary (last pages of PDF), and the BBS today voted to move forward with the Gap Exam. The exam development process will start immediately. Today’s hopefully-final vote supports the notion that while mental health professions have much in common, there are still meaningful differences between the practices of the specific professions.



Similar themes arose in discussion on supervision in mental health care. In current law, LPCCs must complete additional coursework and experience to be able to legally assess or treat couples and families. The question at hand was whether LPCCs who had not met those requirements should be able to supervise MFT trainees and interns who would be providing direct services to couples and families.

I argued the AAMFT-CA perspective, that one should not be legally able to supervise an activity that is outside of one’s own scope of practice. The BBS voted in agreement. Unlike the exam ruling, however, this vote was by no means a final determination. It merely moves forward proposed legislation that would allow LPCCs to supervise MFTs only if the supervisor has completed those additional requirements. The proposal still must go through the legislature and be signed by the Governor to become effective. CAMFT indicated they will oppose that provision during the legislative process. If CAMFT moves to simply kill the proposal, and is successful in doing so, LPCCs will be left with what is in current law — which prevents them from supervising MFT interns or trainees at all.

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.