Why (Y)OUR License Matters
Recently, there has been an uptick in conversation regarding licensure, coaching, the future of this field, etc. The reality is, this is a really important conversation and requires some further input. Being licensed as a Marriage and Family Therapist is a pretty awesome thing however if you aren’t equipped with the right information and support system, being an unlicensed practitioner or a coach might appear to be a really appealing option. Addressing some of the reasons why people choose to ditch their license and justification for how to make having a license easier might convince people otherwise.
What’s the purpose of my license, anyway?
E: Well, the basic answer is, to protect the public. The MN Board of Marriage and Family Therapy originated in 1991 to provide the public with the opportunity to challenge if the care they were receiving from their LMFT was unethical. “The mission of the Board of Marriage and Family Therapy is to protect the public through effective licensure, and enforcement of the statutes and rules governing the practice of Marriage and Family Therapists to ensure a standard of competent and ethical practice.” Seems pretty basic. The reality is, as a marriage and family therapist, you are also a consumer. As a consumer of lets say medical goods, aren’t you glad some sort of rogue physician can’t treat your illness? Or operate surgery on your child? Or how about the nurses who support the physicians; they are all obligated to licensed by a board, too.
So while the Board of Marriage and Family Therapy might give off vibes that they are around to get therapists in “trouble,” they aren’t. Their only job is to ensure that the care offered by marriage and family therapist in the glorious state of Minnesota is ethical, to protect the public, and the greater field as a whole.
T: Having a license regulated means that there is a baseline standard of ethics and laws that someone who earns the license must abide by. It gives the public and other referring professionals an understanding that someone who has earned this credential should be experienced and competent to practice MFT.
Most importantly, the public needs to have recourse when a clinician is practicing unethically. Believe it or not, people do bad work. We hear about it from clients’ previous experiences and we may have even experienced it ourselves (therapists have therapists!). Without effective regulation, clients have nowhere to turn when a clinician is practicing unethically.
Ultimately, the Board isn’t there to protect you and me directly. Where in the mission statement does it say it protects clinicians? It protects the public, our clients. It helps to ensure that the work being done in the name of “Marriage and Family Therapy” is of a standard quality and basic framework. It protects our field.
L: The work that is done in the name of marriage and family therapy applies to both practitioners and professionals. A practitioner is someone who obtained their graduate course work and practicum hours and is not licensed yet. This means that if someone decided after graduating that they were going to open a private practice, they can not be advertising themselves as a marriage and family therapist, or mental health professional. That person is still a mental health practitioner and should be operating under the supervision of a board approved supervisor. When they talk about their cases with other professionals, it is not consulting, it is supervision. Again, this is to ensure that all practitioners are working and interacting in way that is ethical and protects the public.
T: The license process is not there to be convenient for us. It is a daunting process. And I believe it should be. When I go to see a professional, I want to know that there is a minimum requirement for their knowledge and skill. I want to know that they are required to continue to learn and hone their skill through continuing education requirements. None of this would be possible without a regulating body overseeing their practice. The Board of MFT is no different. I want to know that others in my field are meeting basic requirements ethically and if they are not, that their clients have a place to bring a complaint and find resolution.
Fearing the License
E: There has been talk about how some people don’t like living with the “fear of the board.” This is the notion that the board will get you in trouble for something you did or didn’t do. While reporting to a licensing board can be a little nerve-wracking, most of the time it’s not. Most therapists only interact with the board annually when they renew their license or turn in information for CEU’s. If we want to debunk the biggest myth of the board; The reality is, you can’t get in trouble unless you violate one of the ethical rules (noted in the 5300’s). Even if you make a mistake and lose track of fees from a client, or slip confidentiality, and they find you “guilty” you still likely will get on a plan to correct the mistakes and you will get a chance to keep on practicing. Unless you are found in a violation that directly causes harm to a client, it is unlikely you will lose your license. And to be fair, if you lose your license, you probably shouldn’t have been practicing in the first place.
Additional fun-fact, MFTs have one of the shorter codes of ethics. Have you ever taken time to sit and read the social work code of ethics? You should, it’s got some good info in there. But ultimately, one of the reasons it’s so challenging to become a marriage and family therapist, is because once you get licensed, you’re operating at the highest level in our field, and you are trained to be great. The nitty gritty of our ethical code is to eliminate people from our field who don’t operate at such a high standard, or help people have advanced training (corrective action) in some areas to continue to support the high level of professional and ethical work we are trained to do.
L: “Suspicion always haunts the guilty mind” King Henry VI-William Shakespeare. I pause when I hear people say they fear the board, and I always ask, “Why?” Are you operating in an ethical manner? If so, what do you have to fear? Those of us who have gone through our programs and then the arduous task of supervision usually come out the other side of licensure with a clear understanding of the ethics and standards of our profession. I know that I can consult with other professionals to talk out whatever I am facing. If I have a question about something, like rules or ethical considerations, I know that I can email the board and get an answer from the people who interpret our rules and statutes. An answer that protects the public and also ensures that I am meeting the standards of our field; as a bonus the people answering aren’t scary! As practitioners earning our license we should be embracing the oversight in knowing that supervisors are responsible for training us! When we become professionals we should be fiercely defending our profession against those who may bring us down by unethical behavior.
Why Does It Matter?
E: If the previous few paragraphs didn’t convince you that having a license is important, this next one surely will. Aside from protecting the public, being licensed gives the work you do standing in the greater medical community. Again, would you see a doctor who wasn’t licensed? Or even a hair stylist (They are regulated by the Dept. of Health too!)? When you see that someone has a license, you know they are respected in their work and you have instant confidence that they would be at minimum an ethical choice for picking as a therapist. In addition, therapists were not so highly regarded in the recent past. We still fight stigma every single day from people who think they should just “deal with it,” “it” being their mental health. Until recently (last 20 years or so), therapy was pretty taboo and people in the medical community didn’t refer to them much. Now they do. And to keep being a part of the mainstream medical culture, we need to show that we care about not only our profession but about our clients (their patients) as well. To note: the insurance companies only decided to put us “in network” and pay for our work, because we are licensed and regulated….
We are also here to remind you, YOU WORKED DAMN HARD FOR THOSE LETTERS AFTER YOUR NAME!! The reason why you worked so hard is because you believed that you could make change and impact people’s lives. Not to sound cliché, but are you really going to give up that easy because it’s not always pretty? I think it’s fair to acknowledge that a lot of people have doubts about the mental health field as a whole. We are definitely in dynamic times and there is major reform coming to the health industry, but that’s an opportunity to power through and create change. The likelihoods of anyone taking you seriously without that license? No clue. But I know first-hand, it helps get the change makers to listen.
T: I’m proud of the letters after my name. I know the effort that went into accomplishing it. It’s hard for me to put a word on it exactly, but I feel different after accomplishing this. there was a change in myself personally and professionally when I transitioned from LAMFT to LMFT. I know that it means something in my field, to other mental health professionals, other healthcare professionals, and my clients. They know that I have jumped through hoops and have proven a level of competence. Not one part of me regrets taking the 5 years that I did to get licensed. I did it at my own pace, in my own way, and with excellent mentorship and supervision along the way.
Changing the System From Within
So, we know what you might be thinking, the 3 authors of this article, are involved in the system. We all volunteer our time to be part of the MAMFT board. Which is the professional association for Marriage and Family Therapists in MN and the distributors of this article. We are not members of the regulatory board. IF anything we know first-hand that there are lots of ways to get involved that can take a lot of time (if you’ve got it!) or next to nothing when it comes to making an impact and create change. It just takes dedication to your future, and faith in what we offer the community. Getting involved in the MAMFT, the legislation, showing up, sharing an article, or just being proud of your license are all small ways you can get involved. As a licensed professional in our community, it comes with some rules, some power, and a lot of respect. Respect that can create new laws, that can save lives, and create a future for mental health.
Erin Pash, MA, LMFT
MAMFT Legislative Chair
Tamara Statz, MA, LMFT
MAMFT Legislative Co-Chair
LynAnne Evenson, MS, LMFT
MAMFT Elections Committee
The above article is a Commentary piece. Opinions expressed in the MAMFT NEWS do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Editors or of MAMFT.