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It is common for Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists (LMFT) to be challenged about their credentials and qualifications for independent practice as mental health professionals and psychotherapists. In a highly competitive and changing health care environment, professional groups are often jockeying for position and are apt to cast aspersions on other licensed practitioners. Some may still be unfamiliar with the Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist profession in California, even though LMFTs have been licensed in California for approximately forty-seven years.
This article will explore and compare the licensing laws and regulations of the Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist profession, the Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) profession, the Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC) profession, and the Psychologist profession. Psychiatrists have intentionally not been included in this comparison because the educational and experiential requirements are not easily comparable. Psychiatrists are first educated, trained, tested and licensed as physicians, and such comparisons are beyond the scope and intent of this article. This article is not intended to attack or demean any profession, nor is it intended to escalate LMFTs beyond their appropriate place amongst the healing arts professions. It is intended, however, to describe the key requirements for licensure in each of the four mental health professions.
It is important to remember that licensing laws are passed to assure that the public health, safety and welfare is protected by setting minimum standards, and that licensing alone does not determine which therapists are effective and helpful, and which are marginal or dangerous. Consumers, purchasers, insurers, employers and others should look at a variety of factors when selecting mental health professionals, and should not rely solely upon the license held. New efforts in the emerging health care delivery system to measure quality, effectiveness and value may prove helpful in this regard.
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists are licensed by the Board of Behavioral Sciences, as are Licensed Clinical Social Workers and Licensed Professional Clinical Counselors. Psychologists are licensed by the Board of Psychology. Both licensing boards are within the Department of Consumer Affairs and all four licensing laws are found within Division 2 (Healing Arts Division) of the Business and Professions Code. The LMFT, CSW, and PCC licensing laws require a master’s degree, while the Psychologist licensing law requires a doctorate degree. The LMFT, CSW, and Psychologist licensing laws require approximately the same amount of supervised experience, and all three currently require passage of two examinations prior to licensure. The PCC licensing law requires passage of national exams, or national exams plus one or more Board-developed exams, or just one or more Board-developed exams.