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An Open Letter to the Board of Behavioral Sciences

(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.

Sincerely,
Robin Andersen, LMFT

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.

19 Comments

  1. Diane says:

    Agreed, well said, and thank you! I hope they are willing to learn and grow.

    • Nancy Strong says:

      Glad you passed the exam! I have tried I almost passed the 2nd time. I took it for a 3rd time 2 weeks ago through Pearson. The test center was one large classroom. Other test takers were going in and out. There wasn’t a restroom in the building so I had to trek over to another building across a few parking lots. I didn’t finish the exam! I am so frustrated. I graduated over 20yrs ago. Was licensed in another state (OK) and moved to CA 5 yrs ago. I took additional courses BBS required completed my 3,000 hours. I used TDC the first time. Then I tried Grossman’s in person $500 and this time I had 3 sessions with Nancy Kline-I really benefited from her strategies but unfortunately I couldn’t afford anymore at $150 an hr. I hate to give up and know I have somewhat of a learning disability-it takes me longer to read and comprehend questions) but making a lousy $22 hr as an associate I can’t afford anymore. The cost to retake the exam has gone up from $100 to $250. Thanks for listening!

  2. Carol says:

    Thanks for sharing your story Robin. I look forward to watching the entire video, thanks for posting. I had read about the response by the BBS by Wendy V on MFT Guide. Its so discouraging that with all the increased advocacy and avenues to speak up the complaints continue to fall on deaf ears. The only thing we can do is continue to speak up and hope that one day the system will change for the better.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Thank you Robin for this post and your concern for interns. It’s a rough journey. I’m so sorry you experienced this horrible confusion, but congratulations!

    I’m hoping to pass the first time around.

  4. RR says:

    I too am finding the process frustrating. I’ve completed two of the most used Prep-programs in CA and scored in the 85-95 % on each and didn’t pass.. It is daunting, I’ve quite my intern job just to focus on the exam, I’m starting to doubt myself. I hope they do find a way to make the test more achievable, most of my colleagues are finding themselves are dumbfounded as to why we aren’t passing!

  5. Frustrated! says:

    I have been beating myself up because I have failed this exam 4 times! Yes, I admit I may not be the world’s best test taker but never have I had to take such a poorly written exam! I watched the video Ben Caldwell posted on his website when he addressed the exam’s low passing statistics. I was dumbfounded by the board’s response regarding interns waiting too long to take the exam and not knowing the material well enough to pass. How degrading and devaluing of a comment was that! The board kept telling Ben they have changed nothing about that exam and that MFT’s are the writer’s of the exam. It seems as if the concern is the poor writing of the questions on the exam…then if that is so…we need better MFT writers! This would be my suggestion to the board.

    • Christina says:

      I just failed it for the third time after also receiving 80-90% on several practice exams and going through a 2 day prep course. I believe there is something seriously wrong with this exam set up. It’s excruciatingly painful. With as many people failing the exam and having to pay $100 each time to retest, as well as paying for study courses and renewing registration numbers, it seems California would be the most wealthy state in the country! It seems criminal to me. We are taught as therapists to “do no wrong.” What about the BBS??? Seems like a huge double standard to me.

      • Liz says:

        Hi Christina,

        I also was scoring high on my mock exams and failed it today for the 2nd time. I’m frustrated and was wondering what you might use to study moving forward? I’m reluctant to use the same prep course, but also acknowledge that it might be a test scoring issue or terribly written questions by the bbs??

  6. Confused, too. says:

    Does anyone know what is a failing score currently? Did they provide the scores at PSI? I know BBS no longer wants to post what is considered a passing score, which was typically in the 60%s from what they claimed but I’m wondering if the BBS raised the passing score?

  7. Liana Sinapyan says:

    I’m so frustrated myself! Failed the exam for the 3rd time today and can’t imagine having to sit through it again :( I got a 97 and researched what the passing score is and couldn’t find it anywhere!

    • Anonymous says:

      Took my LMFT exam for the 2nd time and “failed.” First score was 99, and after waiting for 4 months to retake, got a score of 97. I actually felt more prepared and confident this second time, though it appears I wasn’t prepared? I even took TDC twice! Failing the first time is so depressing because you start to question your clinical skills and the work you do as a therapist. The second time around just makes me angry because of the way the exam is written. It’s frustrating.

      • Anonymous says:

        Hello,

        Since you received your score of 99 and 97. How much more did you need to pass? Did they tell you? I too, cannot find any information on the passing score.

        Thanks much!

  8. Anonymous says:

    Yes, this exam is crazy…all over the place. Just reading this information makes me question if this entire process is fair. Seriously, I have friends/co-workers sharing their stories with me of not even completing the exam and still passing (like getting to question 95 or something like that). No, more that one person have shared that with me from other companies. So, I was a little confused how this is possible… to pass the exam and only complete 95 or less questions. I know someone is probably saying I’m making this is…but why would someone tell me that? (they passed. My score was a 86…well I’m just saying….someone really need to look into this process. Anyway, Good Luck!

  9. john owen says:

    This is by no means a fair exam. Or it is by no means a fair determination of my skill and is therefore the most unfair assessment ever.

  10. Nina says:

    Does anyone know why Ben Caldwell stop avocating for us? I was really hoping to stand behind him and possibly start a petition to change the test and have a standard passing score. I wish that we could start a movement to really change this test. I’ve taken it twice, scored a 84 without studying and with studying a 98. I heard you need a 105 to secure passing. When I spoke to BBS about my score of 98 being a passing score they told me that it depends on what test I took. If I get a easy test, the score required is higher, If get a harder test, the score required can be lower. .

  11. Erica says:

    I am taking the national exam and it is still hard. As I read everyone’s stories I see how frustrated everyone is. Everytime I fail I have to pay 350 dollars to retake the national mft exam. I used two other study guides the first and second time one being gerry grossman and then the third time around I used TDC and went through the study guide twice. When I started to sit for the exam it was nothing like I had planned or was the hardest exam I’ve ever seen and I am sure I failed. I won’t know for a month. I agree with everyone here this exam has made me question myself, I want to give up It feels like I will never pass this thing and I try so hard to be positive. I watched the video and got so upset when the woman said we weren’t prepared and took our times getting supervision hours. This is not the case I went straight from school to supervision to preparing for this test and it seems as thought all that hard work and effort wasn’t enough and I am heartbroken over here as I wait for my results to come in.

  12. Maggie says:

    I totally agree with you Nina , count me to support any movement regards test changing structure, it’s frustrating how the bbs
    standard passing score & time frame of fours hrs to answer long questions . English is my second language , I am having difficulty passing the clinical exam, going for the third round ..
    hopefully soon there is more support ,
    Ben Caldwell can you help us start a movement for the BBS to hear our voices?
    Thank you ..

  13. Michele says:

    I passed the exam on the first try but nearly didn’t! I used an expensive Gerry Grossman program which confused me horribly and I realized I didn’t know what I needed to, to pass the exam. Prior to using GG I was scoring 73% after a month of intense studying, 61%! I ditched GG and switched to Ben Caldwell’s MFT 2020 exam prep book, studied a week and passed in Feb 2021. I knew I passed before getting the results, I felt I really knew my stuff. Thank you BC!

    My biggest frustration with the BBS now is actually how long it takes for them to process paperwork. My hrs are done and turned in Dec 2020, but the BBS is saying that they will take 7 months to process my application. Geeze! It took 2 months for them to cash the check. This is nuts, keeping me from helping more people and making enough money to live. It seems horribly irresponsible.

  14. Vicky APW says:

    I feel totally deafeated, I can’t express into words how I feel right now so I decided to write it out. Today 3/17/2021 was the sixth time taking this exam . I graduated in 2010, accumulated my hours in 2-3 years. Took the Law in Ethics in 2013 the first time and failed. I took the exam 3 more times, before finally passing in 2016. Since then I’ve been on a journey to pass this CMFT exam. I have used TDC, I have used Gerry Grossman paid for their study Prep-materials with both, had two 2-day weekend seminars groups, and took a 1-day seminar with Nancy Kline who made me more aware of certain mistakes that I might be making. It’s just so frustrating because have i have spent so much money on the best and widley advertised study prep courses. Im still here trying to pass this Exam. More than anything I’m just mentally defeated!!! I took the exam on October 5th 2020 while working full time at home going through this Covid-2019 pandemic. It was the closest I had ever gotten to passing with a score of 100. Although the board says that they don’t provide actual passing number I was told it’s around about 105. Out of six scorable area’s I passed 4 and failed 2 areas. So i decided once again to give it My All since I was Very Close. I started Studying 3x weekly and attending 2 weekend seminars course prep. I waited my 120 days. Gave myself an extra 3 more weeks to study because I was informed that as of January 1st, 2021 the BBS decided to change the exam materials once again and new content material relating to the Military, Assilum and Gender Identity, EFT, DBT ect would be on this new version of this exam….Now the way the Exam is scored has also changed. So this time I did worst that I ever have.. out of six scorable areas I only passed 2 areas and failed the other 4 area’s with an overall score of 83. I’m sorry but that doesn’t sound right to me. I have always finished this exam with 5 minutes left to spare. Paced myself Not changed any answers…and yet I still failed…Ughhhhhhh something has to give. Its NOT RIGHT AND ITS DEFINITELY NOT FAIR WHAT the BBS is DOING!!!! On top of all that now I have to pay $2o0 dollars to retake this Exam…This is a totally joke. We are in a pandemic most associate interns are struggling to keep a job or receiving unemployment benefits. Im sorry for the rant. I just believe that something across the board needs to happen to ensure that Pre-licensed therapist are being treated fairly when it’s come down to this California Clinical Exam. Im a Great Skilled and Knowledgeable Therapist but Most Importantly Im FAITHFUL!!! And I WILL PASS this Exam!!!! Thanks for listening. Good Luck to Everyone out there..

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