What Licensure Means
When a therapist is licensed in the state of California, they will possess a designation after their name, such as: LCSW, MFT or PhD (see below for an explanation of each of these). This indicates that, not only have they completed an accredited Masters or Doctoral program, but they have also submitted to the rigorous licensing standards of the California Board of Behavioral Sciences (BBS). Requisites of licensure include hundreds of hours of supervised clinical work under licensed professionals, an extensive background check and passing two challenging licensing exams. Licensing also requires that the individual participate in continuing education throughout their carreers.
When you enter therapy with a licensed mental health professional, you can be sure that they have been well-prepared to provide competent and ethical therapeutic treatment. You can also be sure that if you have a concern or complaint about your therapist, that the BBS will support your concern, as they enforce strict legal and ethical policies among licensed therapists.
A Word About Interns
Even the best therapists begin as interns. Internship and supervision are crucial piece of experiential learning that provide a foundation for professional competence.
Should you determine that working with a licensed therapist is not available to you, you may find a “registered intern” available to provide therapy.
Interns register with the Board of Behavioral Sciences to acknowledge their intention of becoming licensed. Interns fall into two categories, either MFTI (Marriage and Family Therapist Intern) or ASW (Associate Social Worker). Generally, these individuals have completed a master’s degree at an accredited university and work “under the license” of specially-trained, licensed clinical supervisors who provide experiential teaching of the therapeutic practice. After a minimum of two years of internship, interns are eligible to sit for exams which result in licensure.
If you choose to work with an intern, they must disclose to you the identity of their supervisor and provide you with a way to contact the supervisor, should you have a concern about your treatment. You would be well advised to ask about the intern’s experience and the clinical oversite process.
To find information on the licensure status of your therapist, go to www.bbs.ca.gov and follow links to Online License Verification.
For information on specific types of licensed therapists, see “What’s the Difference?” section.