(The letter and viewpoints expressed in this blog article are solely those of Robin Andersen, LMFT.)
Last month, I wrote a blog article about common mistakes MFT registered interns, trainees, and students make when dealing with the BBS (Board of Behavioral Sciences). I acknowledged that many prelicensed MFTs have negative experiences with the BBS, and it’s perfectly understandable that they would harbor negative feelings about the BBS. I also encouraged prelicensed MFTs to channel their feelings of frustration, resentment, and helplessness into advocacy for meaningful change within the BBS.
On August 25, 2017, the BBS held a board meeting in Sacramento and provided time for mental health professionals in attendance to voice their concerns. Ben Caldwell, PsyD, presented data on California Clinical Exam pass rates for first-time test takers and concluded that something has gone awry with the exam. One would think the BBS would be concerned after seeing this data and take steps to explore why MFT registered interns are suddenly failing the exam at a much higher rate compared to six months ago.
The following is a video excerpt from the BBS board meeting. As Ben addresses representatives from the BBS and OPES (Office of Professional Examination Services), it becomes painfully clear that neither entity is willing to even explore the possibility of there being a flaw with the exam. Essentially, the BBS and OPES suggest MFT registered interns are to blame for the high fail rate (even though there is no evidence to suggest that the pool of test takers has changed within the past six months). One BBS representative even went so far as to theorize “the folks that have made a career being a registrant” are the ones failing the clinical exam (does this imply that some people choose to make careers out of being MFT registered interns?!).
As a recently licensed MFT who remembers all too clearly what it’s like to be a prelicensed MFT, I found myself becoming increasingly frustrated as I watched the full-length version of the video. I didn’t understand why the BBS was so quickly dismissing the data presented before them. It occurred to me, as it has many times over the past couple of months, that I could have been one of those MFT registered interns who failed the clinical exam.
In fact, at one point, I believed I was one of them… after I was told I failed the exam.
Let me stop for a moment and provide context.
Back in April 2017, I took the clinical exam. Unfortunately, I made one of the mistakes I discussed in my blog article: I didn’t check the BBS website to confirm if a statistical analysis period was in effect! This meant that I would have to wait several weeks before receiving my exam results in the mail. I was disappointed, but I decided to maintain a positive mindset and carry on as usual.
One week later, I found myself at a CAMFT chapter event promoting Prelicensed to attendees. As a sponsor, we had a table set up on one end of the room, and the BBS happened to have a table set up next to mine. A handful of BBS representatives were there to help answer questions about forms, wait times, etc. One of the BBS representatives overheard me state that I was waiting for my exam results. They pulled me aside and quietly informed me that they had just received the exam results and could show me whether I had passed or failed on their laptop, before I received the results in the mail! Naturally, I wanted to find out right away instead of waiting several more weeks, so I agreed to have my information looked up and shared with me on the spot.
I’ll never forget the look on the BBS representative’s face – and I can certainly imagine the look on my face – as I saw the word “FAIL” on the laptop screen.
I checked the first and last name, exam ID, and other identifying information once, twice, thrice. All the information was correct, I wasn’t looking at the wrong person’s information. That was my name, my exam ID, and my result was “FAIL.” The BBS representative began offering explanations as to why I might have failed. I didn’t know what to say in response. I turned away and tried to accept what I had just seen. The rest of the day dragged on like a horrible nightmare, except that I couldn’t wake up. This was my reality, as has been the reality for many MFT registered interns over the past six months.
Like many other MFT registered interns, I had to come to terms with taking the exam a second time in the future. I thought about all that I wanted to accomplish as a licensed MFT, and how those plans would need to be put on hold until I could pass the exam. I literally screamed as I thought about studying for the exam all over again (I’ve never enjoyed studying, even though I did well in graduate school). I tried to recreate that positive mindset by counting my blessings; I still had a paid internship, and I had a long vacation to look forward to in a few weeks.
Fast forward to late May 2017. I had just returned from my two week vacation and found a letter sitting at my desk. I knew it contained my exam results. Crossing my fingers and hoping to see that I only failed by a point or two, I opened the envelope and began to read the letter.
I passed the exam.
You read that correctly. I PASSED THE EXAM.
“How is this possible?” I asked myself. It occurred to me that I spoke with the BBS representative on April 21; however, the statistical analysis period didn’t conclude until April 27. Did this mean that the passing score was changed after I saw my results on the BBS representative’s computer? Did someone at the BBS, PSI, or OPES make a mistake, initially labeling my results with a “FAIL” instead of a “PASS”? I’ve talked to a number of colleagues since then, and to this day, I still don’t have a clear answer as to what happened.
In the meantime, I’ve made my feelings known to the BBS in the open letter below. I hope you’ll share your thoughts and stories in the comments section at the end of this blog article. We need to keep talking about this. We need to come together and advocate for prelicensed MFTs in California.
Dear Board of Behavioral Sciences,
My name is Robin Andersen, and I’m a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in California. I was fortunate to pass the clinical exam on April 12, but that hasn’t been the case for many of my colleagues.
I realize it’s an exam. You need a way to test us, to verify that we are ready to practice independently as LMFTs. As you’ve said on your website, your mission is to “protect and serve Californians by setting, communicating, and enforcing standards for safe and competent mental health practice.” I understand and respect your mission. In fact, I’m grateful for it. I don’t want clients to get hurt any more than you do.
Your website also states that you are “responsible for licensing, examination, and enforcement of […] Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists (LMFTs) [… and] Marriage and Family Therapist Interns (IMF).” So naturally, I would expect you to take great care when making changes to the clinical exam, and I would also expect you to keep a close eye on the exam’s performance over the course of time.
Unfortunately, my story is an example of how the BBS is capable of making mistakes, just like any individual or agency is capable of making mistakes. Hoping for perfection is unrealistic; we can only hope to learn from our mistakes and try to remedy the situation, whatever it may be. However, after seeing how quickly you dismissed Ben Caldwell’s concerns on August 25, I wonder if you are truly open to addressing problems that we all know exist within the BBS.
Please prove me wrong by increasing transparency within your agency and showing the MFT community what steps you are taking to address these problems. Evaluate your procedures and communicate how you plan to proceed when members of the MFT community express concerns at your board meetings. I believe that all my clients are capable of changing for the better, and I want to believe the same is true for the BBS as well.
Thank you for granting me the ability to serve others within the capacity of Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. I take my work seriously and trust you’ll do the same as well.
Robin Andersen, LMFT