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When Should you Take your California Law & Ethics Exam?

Once you register as an Associate MFT, CSW, or PCC with the Board of Behavioral Sciences, you have a year to attempt the California Law and Ethics Exam for your profession. There are basically two schools of thought about when you should take that exam. One of them is wrong.

If you’re in your first year as an associate, you should take the exam right now.

Here are the competing views:

Take it as early as possible

There are three big benefits to this approach. One, your legal and ethical knowledge should still be fresh from graduate school. Two, assuming you pass, you’ll have a meaningful stressor out of the way. Third and perhaps most importantly, if you take the test early enough in your first year of registration, failing is basically inconsequential. You just need to wait 90 days, and try again. (Yes, paying the cost of the test again doesn’t feel great. But that’s the only real consequence.) You don’t need to take a CE course to attempt the test again unless you renewed your registration in between exam attempts.

Take it as part of the renewal process

It’s understandable why a lot of folks put off their tests. As a new Associate, your primary focus can easily be on finding a job. Once you have that job, it’s easy to get into a routine of focusing on client care, supervision, and whatever else the job entails. Your job probably doesn’t give you the luxury of several hours a day to study for a test — and also, you just finished grad school! It’s okay to want a break from testing.

But don’t wait too long. You would miss out on those benefits that come with taking the exam early. And far too many associate MFTs, PCCs, and CSWs wait until the very, very end of that first year to take the test. They often suffer for it. You need to plan at least some time for the simple logistics of the test. It takes couple of weeks for your application for exam eligibility to process. It will likely take at least a few more days to schedule the test at a convenient time and location for you to actually take the exam. And then it takes a couple of days for PSI to send your test results back to the BBS, and for the BBS to update their system.

If you don’t adequately plan for these logistical delays, you might find that your registration number lapses. At that point, in many work settings you can no longer see clients under California law. You must attempt the test and renew your registration to resume clinical work.

Even if you’re a procrastinator, and I haven’t convinced you to take the test early, it’s a good guideline to submit your application for exam eligibility at least 30 days before your number lapses in order to avoid any gap in your registration. And even that assumes that everything will process smoothly, which isn’t always the case.

You can do it!

I know, none of us look forward to tests. Especially law and ethics tests. But the exam covers a fairly limited scope of knowledge, you have to do it eventually, and most people pass on the first attempt. Do it! Do it now! Get it out of the way!

You’ll be glad you did.

About the Author

Benjamin E. Caldwell, PsyD, is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Los Angeles. He wrote Basics of California Law for LMFTs, LPCCs, and LCSWs, which is now required reading at dozens of graduate programs around the state. He is also the lead author of the Psychotherapy Notes blog. He serves as adjunct faculty for California State University Northridge and the Wright Institute in Berkeley. License no. CA MFT 42723.


  1. Eli Gifford says:

    I am a little confused. Perhaps you can help me. I received my MFT degree while still teaching so I delayed getting my intern number for seven years until I retired from teaching. I have been interning at a local high school as a therapist under supervision for the last 2 years, but have not taken the Law and Ethics Exam. Are you saying legally I can no longer see clients?

    • Hello, Eli! I would encourage you to start by visiting the BBS’ website and confirming your registration status:
      If you select the Board of Behavioral Sciences, then enter your first and last name (or registration number), you will be able to confirm whether you are “renewed and current” or “delinquent.” All associate marriage and family therapists must renew their registration every year… and as this article explained, you’re now required to attempt the Law and Ethics exam before you can renew. If you pass, then you will be able to renew once the BBS receives confirmation of that. If you do not pass, then you will need to take a 12-hour Law and Ethics course and submit proof of that to the BBS before you can renew.

      If your status is “delinquent,” then that means you CAN NOT provide psychotherapy, regardless of whether you’re supervised, until you have renewed your registration. It is illegal to provide psychotherapy without a current registration, and you will not be able to count the hours you earn during that “delinquent” time period.

  2. Maritza says:


    I am currently a masters student who will be taking Law & Ethics next semester, and I will also be starting my practicum in the fall. Do you recommend that I take the test right after my class? Is that possible or do I have to be a graduate of the program before I take the test?

    • Ronan says:

      You will have to be an Associate MFT first in order to sit for the exam, which can only happen once you have completed your master’s degree.

  3. Thank you very much! Great article!

  4. Veronica Harris says:

    Hello and Blessings,
    What study material can I purchase or classes should I attend to help me prepare for the California Law and Ethics exam?

  5. Marcia says:

    I received my LMSW in the state of GA a few months ago and I am thinking about moving to California. So I will need to register for California and take the Law and Ethics exam before I can start a SW job with an organization and start counting my hours?

  6. Manasi Shankar says:

    Hi! Thank you for all this helpful information. I took your Law and Ethics course and it was super helpful!
    I am an Associate MFT and my registration (for the first time) expires 02/28. Today is 12/05. I just submitted my application for the Law and Ethics exam. My questions are 1) Am I too late and will the application be processed in time? 2) Do I need to PASS the test for the renewal to be approved? 3) AFTER 01/23, there is a requirement to take a 3-credit law & ethics course. I already submitted my renewal application in December. Do I still need to do this course? I have contacted BBS but of course, have still not heard back. Any advice you have will be incredibly helpful. Thank you so so much!!

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