The New Associate Title: What Registrants Need to Know

Ann Tran-Lien, JD
Managing Director, Legal Affairs
The Therapist
November/December 2017

California law and regulations promulgated by the California Board of Behavioral Sciences (BBS) lay out specific requirements concerning the advertisement of professional services rendered by unlicensed individuals. Effective January 1, 2018, the title for a Marriage and Family Therapist Registered Intern will change to “Associate Marriage and Family Therapist” (or “Registered Associate Marriage and Family Therapist,” if preferred), and the title for a Professional Clinical Counselor Registered Intern will change to “Associate Professional Clinical Counselor” (or “Registered Associate Professional Clinical Counselor, if preferred).1

The BBS decided that the “intern” title may be understood as referring an individual who is currently enrolled in school, which could result in the public and consumers discounting the credibility and competence of post-graduate registrants.2 The BBS also found that other states and professions are moving away from the use of the “intern” title for their post-graduates.3 This article will discuss the new advertising guidelines for BBS registrants.

The General Rule
California law requires therapists ensure that their advertisements for professional services do not contain a false, fraudulent, misleading, or deceptive statement.4 The CAMFT Code of Ethics also provides clear guidelines that LMFTs, registrants, and trainees may not use any professional identification if it includes a statement or claim that is false, fraudulent, misleading, or deceptive.5 The law considers, public communications to include, e-mail addresses, letterheads, and websites as advertisements, along with communications by means of mail, television, radio, motion picture, newspaper, book, list or directory of healing arts practitioners, business cards, and office signs.6 The BBS has the authority to take disciplinary action (and have done so over the years) against therapists, including registrants, who have failed to comply with California law on advertising.7

As a side note, occasionally, therapists may find inaccurate information about their license designation, credentials, or other aspects of their practice in a directory, on the Internet, or mentioned on a radio show. In these circumstances, it would be prudent for the therapist to immediately, or when reasonably practicable, correct or attempt to correct the erroneous information. The CAMFT Code of Ethics provides that MFTs are to correct, wherever possible, false, misleading, or inaccurate information and representations made by others concerning the therapist’s qualifications, services, or products.8 It is recommended to keep a paper trail documenting such attempts, and the process undertaken to correct any inaccuracies. The therapist’s good faith efforts to correct any inaccuracies will be his or her best defense to any potential BBS inquiry.

The Advertising Guidelines
The law requires advertisements for MFT Trainees, Registered Associate Marriage and Family Therapists, Registered Associate Professional Clinical Counselors, and Registered Associate Clinical Social Workers to include certain information to ensure the advertisements do not give the impression that the registrant or trainee is working independently or has his or her own practice. In addition, because registrants and trainees are required to be under supervision at all times when providing therapeutic services, any advertisements for a registrant or trainee services should be done under the oversight and with approval from the supervisor and/or employer. The CAMFT Code of Ethics requires MFT employers to make certain that the qualifications of persons in their employ are represented in a manner that is not false, misleading, or deceptive.9

MFT Trainee Advertisements

Advertisements for MFT Trainee services must include all of the following: 1) the Trainee's name; 2) he or she is a “Marriage and Family Therapist Trainee” or “MFT Trainee”; 3) the name of his or her employer or the name of the entity for which he or she volunteers; 4) that he or she is supervised by a licensed person; 5) the supervisor's license designation or abbreviation; and 6) the supervisor's license number.10

Examples of Appropriate MFT Trainee Advertisements:

Jack Black, Marriage and Family Therapist Trainee. Volunteering at ABC Counseling Center. Supervised by Mary Smith, LMFT123456.

Maria Le, MFT Trainee. ABC Counseling Center. Supervised by Thomas Redd, PhD, Licensed Clinical Social Worker LCS456789.

Registered Associate MFT Advertisements

The new regulations for Registered Associate Marriage and Family Therapist advertising provides that all advertisements for professional services must include all of the following information: 1) the registrant's full name as it is filed with the BBS; 2) he or she is a “Registered Associate Marriage and Family Therapist” or “Registered Associate MFT”; 3) the Registrant’s registration number; 4) the name of his or her employer or the name of the entity for which he or she volunteers; and 5) he or she is supervised by a licensed person. In addition, if the acronym “AMFT” is used in an advertisement, the title “Registered Associate Marriage and Family Therapist” must also be spelled out in the advertisement.11 Note: The regulations allow for the use of “Marriage and Family Therapist Registered Intern” or “MFT Registered Intern” until December 31, 2018.12 This grace period allows time for the BBS to conduct outreach and for registrants who have already ordered business cards or other advertisements to be aware of the title change and act accordingly.

Examples of Appropriate Registered Associate MFT Advertisements:

Anna Martinez, Marriage and Family Therapy Professional Corporation. Matthew Johnson, MA. Registered Associate MFT, AMFT67890. Under supervision of Anna Martinez, LMFT123456

ABC Counseling Center. Taylor Jones, MA. AMFT, Registered Associate Marriage and Family Therapist. AMFT67890. Supervised by a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist.

Registered Associate PCC Advertisements

The new regulations for Registered Associate Professional Clinical Counselor advertising provides that all advertisements for professional services must include all of the following: 1) the registrant's full name as it is filed with the BBS; 2) he or she is a “Registered Associate Professional Clinical Counselor” or “Registered Associate PCC”; 3) the Registrant’s registration number; and 4) the name of his or her employer or the name of the entity for which he or she volunteers. In addition, if the acronym “APCC” is used in an advertisement, the title “Registered Associate Professional Clinical Counselor” must also be spelled out in the advertisement.13 Note: The regulations allow for the use of “Professional Clinical Counselor Registered Intern” or “PCC Registered Intern” until December 31, 2018.14

Examples of Appropriate Registered Associate PCC Advertisements:

Tina Thompson, MA, APCC, Registered Associate Professional Clinical Counselor. PCI1234567. Volunteer for ABC Mental Health Center.

Joseph Chang, MA, Registered Associate PCC. PCI 456789. Employed by Tony Larsen, LMFT.

Registered Associate CSW Advertisements

The new law does not change the title for Registered Associate Clinical Social Workers. Existing advertising regulations pertaining to Registered Associate CSWs remain unchanged.

Advertisements for Registered Associate Clinical Social Worker services must include all of the following: 1) the registrant's full name as it is filed with the BBS; 2) he or she is a “Registered Associate Clinical Social Worker” or “Registered Associate CSW”; 3) the Associate's registration number; and 4) the name of his or her employer or the name of the entity for which he or she volunteers. In addition, if the acronym “ASW” is used in an advertisement, the title “Registered Associate Clinical Social Worker” must also be spelled out in the advertisement.15

Examples of Appropriate Registered Associate CSW Advertisements:

Olivia Ross, MSW. Associate Clinical Social Worker. ASW987654. Employed by Rita Glover, LMFT.

Tyler Ronald, MA. Registered Associate CSW. ASW12345. Volunteer at ABC Counseling Center.

Including “Psychotherapy” or “Psychotherapist” in Advertisements
The regulation on advertising, which became effective April 1, 2013, specifically addressed the use of the words “psychotherapy” and/or “psychotherapist” in an advertisement. “Licensed Psychotherapist” is not an appropriate licensure title. If a licensee or registrant includes the following information in his or her advertisement, he or she is permitted to use the words “psychotherapy” and/or “psychotherapist” in the advertisement:

  1. The licensee’s or registrant’s name;
  2. The license or registration number; and
  3. The title or appropriate acronyms of the license or registration. 16

Examples of Appropriate Advertisement:

Samuel Glen, MA. Registered Associate Marriage and Family Therapist. AMFT67890. Under supervision of Anita Marquez, LMFT. Provides psychotherapy services to individuals, couples, and families.

Denise Blake, MA. Registered Associate MFT. AMFT123456. Supervised and employed by Steven Carroll, LMFT. Psychotherapist in San Diego who primarily works with children and adolescents.

Post-Graduate Applicants Advertising
Individuals who have graduated from a master’s/doctorate program and who have applied for the Associate Marriage and Family Therapist Registration within 90 days from completion of the master’s program may gain hours of experience working in exempt settings (e.g. non-profit counseling centers; governmental agencies; schools; churches). Many of these individuals and their employers are interested in marketing their services to the public. The law and regulations are clear in terms of how registrants and trainees must lawfully advertise; however, nothing in the law or regulations specifically addresses advertising guidelines for individuals who have applied for registration within 90 days from completion of their master’s/doctorate program.

Advertisements for an applicant who is waiting for his or her registration number should be truthful and not misleading. It is important that these applicants, with the oversight of their employers and supervisors, make a good faith effort to advertise truthfully. The advertisements should include an appropriate title and specific disclosures regarding supervision and employment. After conferring with the BBS, post-graduate applicants may use the title “Associate MFT Registration Applicant,” which evidences a good faith effort to substantially comply with truthful advertising. The following information must also be included in any advertisement for such applicants’ services: 1) the name of the applicant’s employer or the name of the entity for which he or she volunteers, and 2) the fact that he or she is supervised by a licensed person.

Jackson Lee, MA. Associate MFT Registration Applicant. Volunteer with ABC Counseling Center. Supervised by Toby McDonald, LMFT.

Ellen Gonzales, MA. Associate MFT Registration Applicant. Employed by ABC Mental Health Center. Supervised by a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist.

Required Disclosures
Prior to performing professional services, and in addition to the information required above, MFT Trainees, Registered Associates, and Post-Graduate Applicants must inform each client of their unlicensed status.17 It is recommended to document this information, as well as the information discussed above, in the disclosure statement or the informed consent form so that there is written documentation that the patient was accurately informed.

Advertising is a great way for employers and supervisors of trainees and registrants to promote services of their supervisees, as well as a way for trainees and registrants to inform the public and consumers about their credentials and services. The topic of advertising may seem simple enough, but as discussed in this article, there are specific advertising requirements set forth by California law and BBS regulations. Therefore, trainees and registrants, as well as their employers and supervisors should be knowledgeable about such requirements.

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1 See Senate Bill No. 1478, Chapter 489, Statutes of 2016
2 See http://www.bbs.ca.gov/pdf/title_change_faq.pdf
3 See http://www.bbs.ca.gov/pdf/title_change_faq.pdf
4 Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code §651
5CAMFT Code of Ethics, Part 1, Section 10.4
6 Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code §651
7Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code §4982(p)
8 CAMFT Code of Ethics, Part 1, Section 10.5
9CAMFT Code of Ethics, Part 1, Section 10.7
10 Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code §§4980.48(b) and 4980.48(c)
1116 C.C.R. §1811(a)(1);16 C.C.R. §1811(a)(2)(D)(ii); 16 C.C.R. §1811(a)(3); 16 C.C.R. §1811(b)
12 16 C.C.R. §1811(a)(2)(D)(i)
13 16 C.C.R. §1811(a)(1); 16 C.C.R. §1811(a)(2)(H)(ii); 16 C.C.R. §1811(a)(3); 16 C.C.R. §1811(b)
1416 C.C.R. §1811(a)(2)(H)(i)
15 16 C.C.R. §1811(a)(1); 16 C.C.R. §1811(E); 16 C.C.R. §1811(a)(3); 16 C.C.R. §1811(b)
16 16 C.C.R. §1811(c)
17 Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code §§4980.44; 4980.48; 4996.18(i); 4999.36