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Common Mistakes When Dealing with the BBS

The California Board of Behavioral Sciences (BBS) tends to elicit negative responses from MFT registered interns, trainees, and students, and probably for good reason. The “horror stories” relating to therapists’ experiences with the BBS seem endless at times, and unfortunately, these stories can contribute to feelings of stress that are already being experienced by aspiring marriage and family therapists. Avoiding these five common mistakes can help reduce those feelings of stress when dealing with the BBS.

Mistake #1: Not understanding the BBS’ role

According to their website, “The Board of Behavioral Sciences is a California state regulatory agency responsible for licensing, examination, and enforcement of […] Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists (LMFTs) [… and] Marriage and Family Therapist Interns (IMF).” Their mission is to “protect and serve Californians by setting, communicating, and enforcing standards for safe and competent mental health practice.”

When a customer visits a local hair salon or barber shop, they trust that the staff can provide their services in a safe manner. The customer may not like the resulting haircut, but at the very least, they should expect the stylist or barber to avoid injuring them in the process! Keep this example in mind when thinking about the BBS and their mission.

Ultimately, the BBS is concerned about consumers (aka “clients” and “patients”) being treated appropriately by the professionals who are providing psychotherapy and other services. This is reflected in the licensing exams (heavy emphasis on legal and ethical issues) and continuing education requirements for LMFTs (36 hours every 2 years, with at least 6 of those being about law and ethics). While the hoops and hurdles to jump through in order to become registered or licensed through the BBS may seem arduous and unfair at times, the ultimate goal is to ensure that marriage and family therapists are able to practice psychotherapy in a manner that won’t result in harm to the clients they’re working with.

Mistake #2: Confusing the BBS with CAMFT, AAMFT, or other professional organizations

The BBS is a state regulatory agency whose responsibility is to protect consumers and oversee the licensing of marriage and family therapists. The California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists (CAMFT), the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT), and similar entities are professional associations that represent the interests of marriage and family therapists through advocacy.

It’s important for MFT registered interns, trainees, and students to know when to contact the BBS vs. a professional association. For example, if an MFT registered intern has recently changed their last name and needs that to be reflected on their registration, then they will need to contact the BBS. On the other hand, if that MFT registered intern needs to consult with an attorney about a legal or ethical issue, then they may want to contact CAMFT or AAMFT.

When in doubt, it may be helpful to think about the type of issue, who would have an interest in that issue, and who would have the resources to address that issue. Information about the registration/licensing process, including forms and a list of CE providers, can be found on the BBS website. Other useful information that relates to the field of marriage and family therapy can be found on the CAMFT and AAMFT websites.

Mistake #3: Not staying up-to-date on changes

Prior to January 1, 2016, MFT registered interns would take the two licensing exams after the 3000 hours toward licensure were completed and accepted by the BBS. Starting in 2016, the BBS has changed the process so that MFT registered interns are required to take the Law and Ethics exam in order to renew their registration (or pass the Law and Ethics exam if they are applying for a 2nd or 3rd registration number).

The changes were announced through a videopublication on the BBS website, postcards to interns’ mailing addresses, and other methods. However, despite being given advance notice, many MFT registered interns found themselves caught off-guard when it was time to renew their registrations. They weren’t aware they needed to take (or pass) the Law and Ethics exam, and they became engaged in a stressful race against the clock. Unfortunately, some MFT registered interns discovered they were practicing with an expired/delinquent registration, which put them in a serious legal and ethical bind with clients and employers.

Some marriage and family therapists are under the impression that the BBS website only needs to be visited when it’s time to renew their registration/license or obtain forms. This couldn’t be farther from the truth, as there are always changes taking place within the field of marriage and family therapy. Updates from the BBS need to be treated with the utmost importance, as failing to remain apprised of regulatory changes can result in significant problems for marriage and family therapists.

Mistake #4: Ineffectively communicating with the BBS

It’s not easy to get in touch with a live person at the BBS. Marriage and family therapists who contact the BBS through their main phone line are often sent straight to voicemail, and while some people receive calls back within a couple of days, others can go weeks or even months without receiving a response. Emailing the BBS seems to lead to better outcomes, but ineffective communication can result in slow email responses as well.

When contacting the BBS, it may be helpful to think about which email address best relates to the type of issue or inquiry that needs to be answered. Once the best email address has been identified, it’s time to choose the subject line of the email. The BBS is chronically short-staffed and receives many messages throughout the day, so the subject line should accurately identify the issue/inquiry. Finally, the body of the email should briefly state the issue/inquiry and include information that would be relevant for the BBS to know.

It should go without saying, but leaving multiple voicemail messages, sending duplicate messages to multiple email addresses, and/or addressing the BBS in a hostile manner will only slow the process down further (not to mention that it will take that much longer for the BBS to respond to messages from other marriage and family therapists). Members from the MFTGuide Facebook group have reported that they occasionally experience faster response times when contacting specific individuals at the BBS, so that’s an option worth exploring if the BBS doesn’t respond within several business days.

Mistake #5: Villainizing the BBS

As mentioned in the beginning of this article, there is no shortage of “horror stories” when it comes to the BBS. Knowing the BBS’ noble mission of protecting consumers, and knowing the BBS’ limitations due to being chronically short-staffed, may do little to provide relief from feelings of anxiety, depression, and anger. While it’s perfectly understandable that a marriage and family therapist may experience these feelings from time to time, it can become problematic when these feelings have a negative, long-lasting impact on the way one thinks and behaves.

The BBS is not the “final boss” in a video game that needs to be defeated. Casting the BBS in such a role can lead to having a more pessimistic mindset whenever a BBS-related matter needs to be addressed, or it can lead to outright avoidance of the BBS (which can result in missing important information about changes, as demonstrated under Mistake #3). After all, the BBS doesn’t simply “go away” once an MFT registered intern passes their licensing exams. The BBS will always be around when it’s time to renew a license, comply with continuing education requirements, or review legislative changes that impact the practice of marriage and family therapy.

CAMFT, AAMFT, and individuals within the field of marriage and family therapy frequently advocate for changes to take place within the BBS, and the BBS encourages the public to attend its board meetings in order to have their voice heard. MFT registered interns, trainees, and students who have concerns about the BBS can channel their energy toward supporting change within the BBS by getting involved with these professional organizations and individuals, rather than feeling resentful and powerless!

About the Author

Robin Andersen is the founder of Prelicensed. She is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT 100070) who is passionate about giving back to MFT registered interns, trainees, and students by maintaining this valuable resource. More information about Robin can be found here.

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