As Marriage and Family Therapists (MFTs), we know that we are uniquely trained in addressing mental health needs by treating the system and not just the individual. Unfortunately, as a profession we continue to face threats to our ability to practice to the full extent of our qualifications and training. Sometimes changes in policy and laws that affect MFTs negatively are targeted at us, but often they are simply the result of having no MFT voice at the table when the policies were created.
The latter seems to have happened in the creation of laws related to MFTs in D.C. MFTs living and working in D.C. are currently working to change two major policies that have long limited the practice of MFTs.
First, for MFTs just starting out, there is no ‘licensed graduate marriage and family therapist” qualification although there is a LGPC and LGSW designation. This is peculiar because according to current policy, MFTs working in D.C. for an employer and earning hours towards clinical licensure are able to practice in an essentially identical capacity to LGPCs and LGSWs. What this confusing policy means is that new MFTs must spend more of their job interviews in D.C. explaining that they can legally work in a clinical capacity and little time helping the employer discover if the therapist is a good fit for the position.
Many new MFTs get so frustrated or make such little headway in the job search that they give up on finding a job in D.C. and focus only on Maryland. Obtaining this one small designation of LGMFT not only will enable MFTs to begin careers in D.C. (and continue careers in D.C. for years to come), but would ease the mental health provider shortage that D.C. faces.
The second major policy change that is needed for MFTs in D.C. is to become an “approved qualified provider” under the regulations of the Department of Behavioral Health. Currently, the federal government recognizes five mental health disciplines as core mental health professionals. These are psychiatrists, psychologists, mental health clinical nurse specialists, clinical social workers and marriage and family therapists. Of these five groups, only marriage and family therapists are not recognized as AQP in the DC regulations. Marriage and family therapists are not seeking to expand the scope of mental health services covered by the regulations, nor are they seeking to expand their own scope of practice. Instead, MFTs are simply trying to correct an inequity that restricts beneficiaries’ access to a particular type of qualified mental health provider.
Failure to recognize MFTs as qualified mental healthcare professionals is a waste of valuable resources in the D.C. community. MFTs are licensed to diagnose and treat mental health disorders in D.C. and in all 50 states. Yet, under the DBH regulations, we may only use our skills under supervision even if we have full licensure. This stunts our ability to take on clients independently, use our family systems expertise to train and supervise new therapists, and work towards leadership roles in our clinics. Imagine the growth that community mental health service programs could achieve if MFT credentials were recognized.
As the “youngest” mainstream mental health profession we are still making our unique skills, perspective, and importance known to the wider community—even to other mental health professionals. We have something very important to offer couples, families, and local communities.
Now is the time to take action to advocate on behalf of MFTs. Educate yourself on the legislation in your state. Explain to others why MFTs matter. Meet with your government representatives to advocate for equitable policies for MFTs. If your voice is not at the table, MFTs will be left out.
If you are in D.C. and would like to join in our advocacy work, please contact me.