The passage of A1414/S2812 was critical to the health of our profession in our state. Graduates who were pursuing licensure as marriage and family therapists were being unnecessarily, and unfairly, impeded in pursuit of that goal.
In New Jersey, LMFTs are required to have a post-master’s degree or a master’s degree plus additional training to become license eligible. In addition to this academic requirement, the aspiring LMFT must also complete 3600 hours of approved post-degree clinical practice under supervision. The situation in our state had made that extremely difficult to achieve.
The existing situation was as follows: when aspiring LMFTs graduated with a license eligible degree (and completed required training), they were able to apply for a marriage and family therapy permit but not an associate license. This semantic difference creates a world of difference for those trying to acquire their needed hours under supervision. They found time and again that they were not able to secure employment that would have provided for the needed supervision because they lacked any sort of license. Insurance plans that recognized an associate license were not recognizing our permit. This has not been an obstacle faced by our in-state colleagues in the clinical social work and professional counseling fields. Those seeking to become Licensed Clinical Social Workers and Licensed Professional Counselors have been able to apply for an associate license upon graduation.
The bill also corrected for another hardship that existed for LMFTs. The bill provides for additional time to earn the required hours under supervision. The associate license can be renewed biennially up to two times. This allows for a total of six years to achieve the required hours under supervision, the same amount of time now allowed for the clinical social workers and the professional counselors. Current MFT permit holders had only been given half that time to complete their hours.
The situation had proved to be immensely discouraging. We received many reports that this discouragement had led to graduates giving up their aspirations to become an LMFT after years of serious study and considerable expense to pursue other careers. Some chose to pursue licensure as Professional Counselors while others chose to pursue paths outside of the helping professions.
Historically, the marriage and family therapist license was established much earlier than those for social workers and professional counselors in New Jersey. New Jersey was also among the earliest states to grant licensure to marriage and family therapists. Licensing laws that came along after ours were able to learn from it and improve the language when constructing their own. Licenses that were created much later than ours have adopted language as presented in A1414/S2812. Some 30 or so states currently use this language in their licensing laws for LMFTs as well. The fact that the outmoded language of permit was never updated had seriously injured our profession in New Jersey.
We are indebted to our lobbyist and the ongoing supportive efforts of our past and present Legislative Committee and Division President, and our membership.
Passage of this bill required persistent, continuous effort over time. Ongoing education and communication with our bill’s sponsors, committee chairs, other legislators, and our membership was necessary to achieve passage.
The bill had been introduced in the 2014-2015 legislative session with bipartisan sponsorship with the Assembly bill. We had a clear, well-articulated problem with a proposed solution that had precedent in the laws of other mental health professions within the state and in the MFT laws of at least 30 other states. There was no known opposition within the Senate or the Assembly, or from other professions. We had secured the endorsement of our licensing board and the State Attorney General. When we had to refile the bill for the 2016-2017, it passed the Assembly unanimously within the first month of the session and was scored as budget neutral by the Office of Legislative Services with the note that it might actually provide a modest increase in revenue due to potential renewals which the bill would allow. Throughout the whole process, the bill only received one vote against in one of the committees in which it was heard, and only one vote against it in the combined voting of both the Assembly and Senate (both votes against were cast by a single Senator).
Yet, even with all the above in place, it took until the last two nail-biting weeks of the legislative session to clear its last committee hearing, be voted on in the Senate, and be signed into law by the Governor.
The learning here is, that it is not enough to have a good, solid, necessary bill with broad support and absent opposition. The bill will not sell itself. Desired legislation requires persistent, active advocacy with the help of an experienced lobbyist representing, not just your bill, but also your profession, in the State House.
The passage of our Associate License Bill creates a whole new, workable reality for our recent and future MFT graduates. It also provides us reason to be excited and optimistic about the health of our profession in New Jersey.
Miles T. Burklow, Jr., Ed.S., LMFT
NJAMFT Legislative Chair