Help, I just failed my licensing exam

Failed my licensing exam

There is little more devastating for a therapist than failing a licensing exam. The only way to be taking a licensing exam is if you have spent years being successful taking exam. SATs, GREs, Mid-terms, finals, exam papers... you have to get past all of those to even come close to sitting for a licensing exam. 

If you have failed a licensing exam, you are not alone! 

And you don't want to hear this- but it's not the end of the world. In fact, I'm extremely grateful for my experience of failing my licensing exam. So today, I wanted to give you a few tangible tips of what to do after failing your licensing exam: 

1. Be kind to yourself. 

Nobody will be harder on you than you will be. 99% of your colleagues will not think of you any differently, and will have compassion for your experience. Your colleagues know you are a good therapist from working with you- a silly exam isn't going to change that. 

2. Take a rest.

The preparations you made up to the day of your exam were probably exhausting. Your body and mind truly need rest before you will be able to make sense of all of this and make a game plan to pass on your next attempt. Now is NOT the time to make any long term decisions. 

3. Celebrate. 

You took the exam. You made the attempt. The are therapists out there avoiding this exam like the plague- afraid of failing- you did it- and guess what- you are still standing! And you still get to do therapy. And you still get to be you! 

4. Explore your anxiety. 

There is nothing people hate more than me letting them know that the biggest preparation they need to be successful on their next attempt is anxiety reduction. I talked to a wonderful woman who called me for exam coaching after she failed her exam by 1 or 2 points. We talked about what happened- turned out her child had to be rushed to the doctors at 2am... and she had gotten some pitiful amount of sleep. 

Guess what I told her? She is fine! She needs to do very little to prep- missing by 1 or 2 points on no sleep after your child's sick is fabulous! Now, she just needs to watch the anxiety the next time she takes the exam and realize that the first exam experience was not representative of her ability to pass the exam. 

5. Reach out to community

Connect with great people. Be social. Have fun. Use this as opportunity to build some great connections and network with other people. You might just meet some of your favorite humans through this experience. 

6. Take your power back. 

Tap into your strengths, take care of your body, your mind- and make a game plan to pass on attempt #2. You can and you will do this! 

Hope this helps inspire you today! 

Miranda Palmer

I have successfully built a cash pay psychotherapy practice from scratch on a shoestring budget. I have also failed a licensed exam by 1 point (only to have the licensing board send me a later months later saying I passed), started an online study group to ease my own isolation and have now reached thousands of therapists across the country, helped other therapists market their psychotherapy practices, and helped awesome business owners move from close to closing their doors, to being profitable in less than 6 weeks. I've failed at launching online programs. I've had wild success at launching online programs. I've made mistakes in private practice I've taught others how to avoid my mistakes. You can do this. You were called to this work. Now- go do it! Find some help or inspiration as you need it- but do the work!

Pre-Licensed Therapists Building Community

We talk a lot about the free online study group for therapists on here. Why? Because it is awe-some. And, I'll be honest- it has very little to do with me!

Today, I logged into the free study group and could have cried with everything I saw on there: 

  • Therapists sharing their exam success and getting cheers. 
  • Therapists sharing failing their exam and getting support, empathy, and encouragement. 
  • Therapists sharing study tips and tricks.
  • Therapists sharing job opportunities with one another. 
  • Therapists sharing important information and getting answers to specific questions that can really help them succeed!  

Ultimately, it is simple a place where we've somehow attracted thousands of awesome counselors, marriage and family therapists, social workers and more into one place. Everyone has the same basic goal: Help and be helpful- and it works! 

It sounds silly, but my favorite example today are people sharing that there is a heating and cooling issue in one of the California testing sites. To be honest, I wouldn't have ever considered calling a testing center to find out if they were having an issue, or been prepared for it being NINETY degrees in a professional testing center! 

I'd be prepared with warm clothes for the traditional ice box that is testing centers- wouldn't you? But, several people have shared that this has been an issue for several weeks, people have dressed in summer clothes (in the Fall) just in case- and some have been able to make the determination to drive a little farther to take their exam so they could be more comfortable. 

Those little gems make me SO happy! The study group that I started out of my own selfish needs back in 2005 is more than I ever imagined, and here it is 10 years later provided support and encouragement to people who are looking for study materials, therapists who have failed the written licensing exam and don't know what to do, and therapists who just need a community to keep them inspired! 

How are you creating community in your life? How are you being helpful? Where are you getting help? Sign up for the free online study group today if you need some awesome community! 

So let's talk about the 5 steps to building community as a pre-licensed therapist. Realize that the work you do NOW to build an awesome community- will also build up your professional reputation and help you when you start a counseling practice! 

  1. Be on the lookout for a great community. Look, search, and be dogged about finding people you can trust to connect with. 
  2. Start with clear boundaries as you watch and learn the culture of the group, and determine how safe it is to be "real" in the group (online or offline). 
  3. As you find safe places, be bold, brave, and authentic! 
  4. Be a safe person for other people- hold what people tell you in confidence, be helpful, empathetic, and model what you'd want from others. 
  5. Don't be afraid to "keep looking" if your first attempts at community building lead to some disappointments. 

Let's create more community! That is how we are therapists grow, develop, and stay inspired (just like we did in grad school!). Share your ideas for creating great community below! 

p.s. I'll be in Seattle, LA, and San Diego in November, and have free trainings every month on all aspects of starting a counseling practice. Check out the upcoming events here


What I wish I’d known about a Private Practice Internship

by Kimberly Sandstrom, LMFT

Well, first, I wish I’d known that private practice would challenge every “I’m not good enough” crack in my “I’ve got it all together” veneer. Yep, people think I’ve got it all together. I don’t. Every time I called a client and they asked if I took insurance or how long I’d been in practice, or what my fees were…the hesitation took over.  “The ruse is over. They will know I’m a poser.” If they find out, they are going to run for the hills…or the therapist next door!”

These are things I wish I could tell you as you begin your journey in private practice as an intern.

  1. No one will EVER ask you what your GPA was in grad school. (Well, one client did, but his son was in my practice for anxiety…hmmm.) So, don’t stress it while you are studying. Just learn what you are supposed to and enjoy the journey—you will miss the opportunities to learn and discuss (but not the papers and exams).

  2. I would feel like a poser for a while. Sometimes I would catch myself in the middle of a session thinking, “Wow, look at me! I’m a therapist!”

  3. I know more than my clients do. Telling clients I was an “intern under supervision” was one of the scariest things in the beginning. I was sure they would say, “I’m outta here. I want someone who can actually help me!” No one did run or tell me that. In fact, once they were in the office, they stayed—I’m good at connecting with people. My life experience couples with my clinical training and awesome supervision gave me the edge I needed.

  4. I can charge what I’m worth. I thought I would have to charge $25 per session because that’s what all the interns before me did. I sat down and made a list of what I knew and what I need to learn. Surprisingly, all the extra training and interests, books I’ve read over the years, and my life experience being married 20+ years, raising 3 daughters, actually gave me a competitive edge. I started out lower than I am now, but worked my way up. I’m worth it. You are too. You have unique experiences no matter how old you are. You have a reason you pursued this career. Capitalize on that and think about all the work you’ve done in that area for yourself.

  5. Helping people heal is like taking ecstasy! Well, I’ve never taken ecstasy but I hear it’s like the love drug. That’s exactly how I feel when a couple I’m working with begins to heal, lowers their escalation and begins to fall in love again. All the dopamine centers in my brain begin firing. It motivates me while working with the tougher couples I work with. There is hope and I’m a vessel for healing in their lives (not the only one, but one vessel they can access).

  6. Transparency is okay in the therapy room. Remember #2? I thought I had to pretend I knew everything. I don’t. When I’m stuck with a couple, it’s okay to share that. “Hey guys, I’m feeling like we are getting stuck in this same place, are you feeling that too?” Usually this opens up conversation for where they are getting stuck and I don’t have to do all the work.

  7. Opportunities don’t “present themselves” you have to go find them! During my practicum, the site I was at had to send me clients and there was no shortage—they took on students to provide for their clients and I needed the hours to graduate. Private practice, no one hands you clients (my supervisor was very generous with referrals). You have to go out and get them. This meant asking people to meet for coffee, asking people if I could blog for them (like here) and emailing audiences I wanted to speak to and asking them if they needed me. My name was unknown and I had to make myself known to others. While you may not like to speak, you can certainly put yourself out there in other ways. I networked with key people in my area and the referrals begin to trickle in. Now licensed, I have a steady stream of clients and community referral sources that I can rely on to keep my practice full. Oh, and about “full”…

  8. I don’t have to see 45 clients a week. I’m exaggerating, of course, but I found a good number of clients that I feel comfortable with each week. They get the best of me when I stay within that client-hour range. There was one month during my internship that I saw 25+ clients a week. I was exhausted, irritable with my family, and not doing my best work. I got sick the moment I slowed down. I made a decision that this was not in my best interest. So, I raised my fees a bit with new clients and see less.

  9. The BBS does eventually approve your hours. The past few years it has been a long seemingly endless wait for hours to get approved, but it meant I got an extra year of supervision and experience. Silver lining.

  10. I don’t have to know everything and I don’t have to figure it all out on my own. Are you seeing a theme here? There are people out there, like Miranda, who LOVE to help you succeed. There are free resources available and ones worth paying for. They are investments in your current and future practice. Take advantage of them!

Want more specifics on how I did it? Feel free to contact me. Miranda has amazing resources and is so willing to connect with you and connect you with others, don’t miss out on what she provides.

A note from Miranda: Ahh thanks Kim! A huge shout out to Kim for sharing a piece of her journey with all of you! Comment below with what you learned in today's article, or what wisdom you would like to share with others! (Maybe even just say "Thank You" to Kim for taking the time to give back to the MFT Interns out there!) If you aren't on the list yet- be sure you are getting these awesome articles delivered right to your inbox! If you are looking to start a private practice internship, here are some other articles that might be of interest: 

Finding a paid private practice internship

Learning to network to find a paid position

Your MFT Resume


Submitting your hours for licensure to the California BBS

About once a week I receive a message from a MFT Intern or ACSW in California stresed out about putting their licensure application together. It is understable, you have spent years going to school, gathering hours, there is bound to be a bit of anxiety about submitting the paperwork. And, of course, we usually only hear the horror stories about the BBS. Nobody shouts from the rooftops when their application is processed quickly without any issues! However, here are a few of the things I have realized about the anxiety associated with submitting paperwork. It can lead to:
Read More

In the Trenches: Good Supervision

Miranda Palmer, LMFT (Your MFTGuide) here to introduce our very first "in the trenches" post from an MFT Intern current gathering hours. I had the pleasure of meeting Michaela Renee Johnson at the 2013 California MFT (CAMFT) Conference in Sacramento, CA. I would love for you to hear her thoughts and recommendations about finding a good clinical supervisor while gathering hours for California licensure! 

When I was in Grad school, people talked about the concept of a “good” supervisor and a “bad” supervisor.

The concept was lost on me as people told horror stories of “bad” supervisors in practicum.
It wasn’t until I was half way through my practicum that I finally understood. The first supervisor I had was everything I had envisioned a supervisor to be, she was easy going, a great listener, educated, theoretical yet tactical and humorous. She was exactly what I needed in that first experience to get my bearings and build confidence at such a pivotal moment. But, I only could only fully "see" that in retrospect. 

Halfway through my practicum she announced she was moving out of State, and we would be assigned a new supervisor.

I was incredibly sad, because I’d come to appreciate and enjoy her as a supervisor and a mentor, but it wasn’t until my new supervisor was assigned that I started to truly appreciate what I’d had, and lost.

Every supervisor has a different skillset and style that they bring to the experience.

And not knowing what I didn't know- I sort of expected supervision was a standard thing. That there was a specific formula and that my new supervisor would be just like my old supervisor. 

Supervision is a very personal thing, and every supervisor has strengths, and areas that could be improved.

  • There are supervisors who are more oriented toward the technical details of being a therapist, making sure to verify your assessments match your treatment goals and that your prog notes have every “I” dotted. This can really help build your confidence with record-keeping. 
  • Then there are supervisors who are lackadaisical, letting you swim the river of BBS paperwork, insurance paperwork and clients on your own. You almost have to track them down to get five minutes outside of your weekly hour to ask questions as they come up. This will teach you to own your experience and build assertiveness skills to get what you need. 
  • There are also supervisors who are more focused on your talents and what happens in the office with your clients…you could say, your instinctual ability to be a good therapist (or a bad one). These supervisors sometimes feel like those one in a million experiences. And, that person who "gets you" just perfectly may be different for each of us! 
At some point in your clinical development, finding a supervisor who meshes with your personal style is critical to your success as a therapist. Here’s why:
  1. You aren’t going to be under supervision forever, at some point you are going to have to either work for an agency or branch out into your own private practice.
  2. Your supervisor isn’t going to be sitting next to you as you take the state exam.
  3. It’s ultimately up to you to find your personal style, theoretical orientation and beliefs about finances and insurance.
  4. A supervisor who doesn’t connect with you on a personal level, means you are missing out on a great deal of inherent learning through osmosis.
  5. A supervisor who doesn’t encourage the strengths they see in YOU means you never get the opportunity to feel confident before you are out on your own. 
  6. A supervisor who isn’t the kind of therapist you want to be, isn’t going to make a great coach or mentor.
While as therapists we may be good at letting go of judgment, finding a supervisor that is best for you, is one place you should be able to be clear about your needs and assess whether someone can meet them. At the beginning of internship, 3,000 hours feels like a life time away. I can assure you, 1500 hours  and four supervisors into the process, it goes quicker than you realize.
I have been afforded the opportunity to work with supervisors who fell into all the categories above. I’ve also turned down opportunities to work at some facilities based upon the person who would be supervising me.  
I’ve learned that sometimes we have to accept a supervisor because it’s the best financial position, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t consult with other supervisors who have more experience, or just better match with our personal goals as therapists. After all, the point of supervision is not just to have someone to bounce cases off of, but for our own personal growth.

Michaela Renee Johnson is a Board Registered Marriage and Family Therapist intern who works in private practice as well as in non profit.

(Would you like to submit an article for publication? We are currently accepting anonymous as well as byline pieces to share with therapists around the country. Send to We accept stories that tell a story, and that while they may talk about the difficult parts of this profession- offer real strategies to be successful.) 



Android Users...

Another app has just been released on the android market for MFT studying. What I love about apps is that it takes the price WAY done (introductory price of $9.99) and allows people to start talking, playing, and processing about the exam. 

I have this same app by BTA on Iphone and have found it to be a fun thing to do in group supervision, or even for students to start to demystify (a little bit) the exam process. This is more focused on the written exam. 

And no, I don't know when the price will go up ;0) Happy interning!