by Brian Carnahan and Margaret-Ann Adorjan
Most mental health professionals have to take steps after earning their first license to qualify for independent practice. Licensees who most successfully navigate the process do so following many of the recommendations below.
First, start early by learning the requirements for advanced practice or independent licensure, and set your plan accordingly. Be aware of the requirements where you are currently licensed, as well as those in jurisdictions to which you may move. If possible, you may want to find employment where available training supervision is already in place. If that is not possible, begin the process of finding a supervisor.
Try to find someone who can be both a mentor and a supervisor. It might be the same person, or it might not. In selecting a supervisor, someone who has been in place for a while, not new to the agency or workplace, may be a good choice. Make sure your supervisors have experience appropriate to your development goals and are committed to your growth as a professional. If supervision is not available where you will be working, you may need to pay for supervision. Depending upon the number of supervision hours needed, this could be a financial challenge.
When identifying a supervisor, be sure you know what the licensing board requires of the supervisor. Take nothing for granted. Ensure that the person meets the requirements necessary for you to be licensed. Verify the supervisor’s credentials with your state licensing board. No licensee wants to complete any steps of supervision and later find that the person or process used for supervision is not valid.
Document the supervision. Check your board’s rules to see if certain information is required to be documented. More documentation is always better than less. If the board has no specific form, consider creating your own, on which you track the date of supervision, topic, expected outcomes, length of time, supervisor signature, and other information that will highlight the supervised time and provide evidence that it occurred. The supervisor may also be required to keep a record of the supervision, but you, the supervisee, should also keep your own. This will serve as a safety mechanism in case of conflicting documentation or in the unforeseen event of a loss of supervisor as a result of illness, death, change of employment, or other reason.
If you switch supervisors, be sure to have any required supervision evaluations completed for the board. Do not plan to follow up later, as later may not happen. Unfortunately, we have experienced licensees scrambling to cover supervised hours when a supervisor dies or leaves an agency suddenly and drops contact with others. Also, be cognizant of possible ramifications of frequently changing supervisors. Although employment changes might necessitate the need for a new supervisor, it will be your responsibility as the supervisee to locate all past supervisors and have them complete the required forms.
Begin studying for the required exam. Consider taking one of the available preparation courses. Those who put in more time preparing appear to do better. Many times, the national board or agency that administers the exam will offer study materials specific to those exams.
Know the time frames for applying. Usually, the board cannot waive any standards. For example, in Ohio, an LSW, LPC, or MFT has to work under supervision for two full years (i.e., 24 months), before being eligible for an independent license. There may be other paperwork or requirements to be met for your application to be considered complete, so contacting your state board before your supervision is finished may be helpful.
Be prepared to explain any gaps in supervision. Did you change supervisors? Did you take time off for family or personal reasons? Every board differs, but a gap of a month or more might mean that you will need to make up that lost time. Also, be aware of any minimum or maximum timeframes for supervision. For instance, Ohio requires a minimum of two years, but there is no maximum time in which the supervision must be completed. Other states require that the supervision be completed within a given time frame from the time you start the supervision or obtain your intern or associate level license.
Similarly, be ready to discuss with the Board any information shared by a supervisor that might reflect negatively on your performance. Although these issues sometimes arise from personality conflicts, not everything can be dismissed with that explanation. If the supervisor identifies an issue with your skills and abilities as a professional, be sure you can demonstrate training you took or changes you implemented to address the problem. You can help to avoid such problems by contributing to a frequent dialogue with your supervisor(s) regarding your developing performance. Ask them for continued feedback and periodic evaluations, so if they have a concern or suggestions for potential growth, you are learning of these in a timely manner and not at the end of your overall supervision period.
Although these steps will help a professional gain independent licensure, the decision to practice independently in a private practice setting is one that should be given considerable thought and planning. There is much work that goes into “hanging a shingle.” Consultation with private practitioners, along with research on the responsibilities that come with owning or partnering in a business, are highly recommended so an independent licensee is prepared and knowledgeable when deciding whether private practice is the right fit.
With the right plan in place, advancing in your career can be less stressful. Following the steps outlined above will allow you to focus on being the best mental health professional, while developing the skills to advance in your practice.
Brian Carnahan is Executive Director of the State of Ohio Counselor, Social Worker, & Marriage and Family Therapist Board.
Margaret-Ann Adorjan is the MFT Licensure Coordinator and Investigative Compliance Officer for the State of Ohio Counselor, Social Worker, & Marriage and Family Therapist Board.