In California, the law requires that anyone independently providing professional services to diagnose and treat mental disorders must be licensed, or be in pursuit of a license and in the employment and working under the supervision of a licensed clinician. All licensed clinicians in California have passed rigorous state exams and are required to regularly complete continuing education.
Marriage and family therapists earn their licenses through a rigorous education, training, and licensing process similar to other mental health profession. A competent marriage and family therapist in California will be licensed by the Board of Behavioral Sciences and participate in a professional association such as the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists (CAMFT). A competent therapist will treat patients within the scope of their license and competence and will refer patients to other qualified practitioners when appropriate.
CAMFT Clinical Members have met the stringent education and training requirements that qualify them for marriage and family therapist licensure. Membership in CAMFT indicates a marriage and family therapist's dedication to their professional development. Members of CAMFT are expected to be familiar with and abide by the CAMFT Ethical Standards for Marriage and Family Therapists and applicable California laws and regulations governing the conduct of licensed marriage and family therapists, registered interns and trainees.
Before obtaining the MFT license, marriage and family therapists must first complete a two-year masters or doctoral degree program accredited by a regionally accepted body such as the Western Association of Schools and Colleges or approved by the California Bureau on Private Post-Secondary and Vocational Education. The law specifies an integrated course of study that includes "marital and family systems approaches to treatment," "developmental issues and life events from infancy to old age," and "a variety of approaches to the treatment of children."
While a minimum of a master's degree is required, nearly one-fifth of California's marriage and family therapists also hold doctoral or other advanced degrees.
Applicants for the license must also complete 3,000 hours of supervised experience. Many often choose to complete a portion of the hours during the degree program to integrate their coursework with insights born of practical experience and apply the coursework while it is being learned. Post-degree registered interns may train with a qualified supervisor in governmental entities, schools, colleges, or universities as well as licensed health facilities, non-profit and charitable corporations and private practices.
An emphasis of the marriage and family therapist's training is diagnosis and treatment of psychopathology from a family systems and relationship perspective. The MFT's integrated course of study includes general training in a variety of other theoretical frameworks and in the use of various psychotherapeutic techniques. Students also have specific training in alcoholism and chemical dependency issues, human sexuality, child abuse detection and treatment, psychopharmacology, domestic violence, psychological testing, amongst other types of training. They may also obtain experience in administering and evaluating psychological tests.
Marriage and family therapists are licensed by the State of California pursuant to the Healing Arts Division of the California Business and Professions Code (beginning with Section 4980). The Board of Behavioral Sciences is the licensing and regulatory body for MFTs as well as for clinical social workers and educational psychologists. The MFT licensing exams, which are occupationally-oriented, competency-based tests, are a challenging undertaking. Among other key competencies, applicants are tested for their ability to assess, diagnose, and treat a range of presenting problems.