Attorney Articles | New Scope of Practice for Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists in California

Articles by Legal Department Staff

The Legal Department articles are not intended to serve as legal advice and are offered for educational purposes only. The information provided should not be used as a substitute for independent legal advice and it is not intended to address every situation that could potentially arise. Please be aware that laws, regulations and technical standards change over time. As a result, it is important to verify and update any reference or information that is provided in the article.

New Scope of Practice for Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists in California

New Scope of Practice for Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists in California

New Scope of Practice for Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists in California

January 2022
Jennifer Alley (Former CAMFT State Government Affairs Specialist)
Reviewed November 2022 by Mike Griffin, JD, (CAMFT Staff Attorney)

In 2021, CAMFT sponsored legislation to modernize and clarify the scope of practice for California’s Marriage and Family Therapists (MFT) by more accurately capturing the types of care that MFTs currently provide. It is important to note that the proposed scope of practice (SOP) language collates the statute and regulations to reflect the work of today’s MFTs and does not expand the services that MFTs currently provide in California.

MFTs in California provide diverse treatment to patients in a wide arrange of settings that include private practices, agencies and clinics, schools, hospitals, substance use disorder treatment centers, and more. MFTs may specialize in depression, anxiety, eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), among other specialties. In preparation for practice, MFTs receive a master’s degree in counseling or therapy, conduct 3,000 hours of supervised training, and must pass two state exams before earning their license.

California has made significant strides in recognizing the impact of behavioral conditions and substance use disorders on society. However, nearly five decades have passed since the MFTs statute was drafted in the 1960s, and only minor changes to the MFT SOP have been made since that time. The existing statute no longer reflects the diverse education, therapeutic terms, modalities utilized, or diverse conditions and disorders that MFTs currently treat. The present-day MFT practice statute contains a brief and antiquated description that refers to other statutes rather than specifying the MFT scope of practice.

Update the scope of practice to accurately portray the clinical skill set possessed by MFTs currently practicing in California.

The need to revamp the scope of practice for MFTs has been a point of discussion for more than a decade. In anticipation of our 2021 effort, CAMFT established a SOP Task Force of clinicians who evaluated the scope of practice of California MFTs, for other behavioral health professionals in California, and the MFT Scope in other states like Colorado, Hawaii, Washington, and New Hampshire. The SOP Task Force conducted a robust evaluation, holistic review, and several discussions over numerous years to develop an MFT scope of practice to reflect the education, skill set, and treatment modalities that MFTs currently provide.

The Language
Existing law outlines the services provided by MFTs through a reference in MFT education and training requirements rather than identifying what it is that MFTs actually do.

The new language maintains the education and training references and adds modern therapeutic concepts and treatment regularly utilized by MFTs:

Section 4980.02 of the Business and Professions Code:

(a) For the purposes of this chapter, the practice of marriage and family therapy shall mean the application of psychotherapeutic and family systems theories, principles, and methods in the delivery of services to individuals, couples, or groups in order to assess, evaluate, and treat relational issues, emotional disorders, behavioral problems, mental illness, alcohol and substance use, and to modify intrapersonal and interpersonal behaviors.

(b) The application of marriage and family therapy principles and methods includes, but is not limited to, all of the following:
(1) Assessment, evaluation, and prognosis.
(2) Treatment, planning, and evaluation.
(3) Individual, relationship, family, or group therapeutic interventions.
(4) Relational therapy.
(5) Psychotherapy.
(6) Client education.
(7) Clinical case management.
(8) Consultation.
(9) Supervision.
(10) Use, application, and integration of the coursework and training required by Sections 4980.36, 4980.37, and 4980.41, as applicable.

(c) The amendments to this section made by the act adding this subdivision do not constitute a change in, but are declaratory of, existing law. It is the intent of the Legislature that these amendments shall not be construed to expand or constrict the existing scope of practice of a person licensed pursuant to this chapter.