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Californians face long waits as they seek therapist licenses

A tree stands in the Trail of 100 Giants grove
A tree stands in the Trail of 100 Giants grove as flames from the Windy fire burn behind in Sequoia National Forest on Sept. 19.
(Noah Berger / Associated Press )

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Friday, Sept. 24. I’m Emily Alpert Reyes, filling in for Justin Ray.

It’s been a rough time for our mental health. And thanks to a bureaucratic backlog in Sacramento, it’s been rough for many of the Californians who want to help us.

When the state changed its rules for how some therapists-in-training would track the hours of experience they need to get licensed, supporters greeted it as a “welcome simplification” of the law. But many applicants were eager to get approved under the old rules — so many that they deluged the licensing board with applications before the rules changed.

The result was a bulky backlog that has frustrated people who thought they were close to becoming licensed therapists at a time when mental health has loomed large as a public health issue.

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As of early September, the Board of Behavioral Sciences said it was processing applications for licensed marriage and family therapists that had been sent in roughly seven months earlier, with a few applications still lingering from December. This week, the board said on Facebook that it would soon be handling applications sent in about six months ago.

The delays are not only aggravating, but financially costly for people seeking to become licensed marriage and family therapists — LMFTs for short. Before getting licensed, people who have finished a graduate program can work as an “associate” under supervision but typically earn much less than a licensed marriage and family therapist.

Supervisors can charge fees — sometimes significant ones — to oversee their work. “It really affects you financially,” said Casey Mouton, an associate marriage and family therapist who turned in her application last month and is worried about the backlog. “If you work in private practice as an associate, if you’re lucky you’re getting to split your fee 50-50.”

Despite being called, well, marriage and family therapists, LMFTs don’t just talk to people about their marriages or families. “The title is somewhat of a misnomer,” since such therapists treat “a whole spectrum of mental health issues,” including depression, anxiety and severe mental illness, said Nabil El-Ghoroury, executive director of the California Assn. of Marriage and Family Therapists.

People seeking to become LMFTs need to log 3,000 hours of supervised experience to seek a license. Under the old system, those hours were broken into as many as nine categories, with limits on how many hours in some categories could count. The new system is streamlined, but “most people who had started down Path A didn’t necessarily want to switch over to Path B,” said Cathy Atkins, deputy executive director of the California Assn. of Marriage and Family Therapists.

The deadline for people to apply under the old system was Dec. 31. More than 1,100 LMFT applications poured in during December — more than four times the usual number per month, according to the Board of Behavioral Sciences.

One associate therapist, who asked to speak anonymously because she did not want to jeopardize her application, said she opted to apply in December because she would be much further from finishing under the new system. Some applicants may have also wanted to get paperwork in before a fee increase went into effect in January.

The state board knew the change was coming, so “why didn’t they prepare for it?” the associate therapist asked.

The board said wait times had been compounded by problems with nearly a third of December applications, plus losing some staff to promotions. To cut down on the wait, the state board said it had redirected employees and was trying to fill vacant positions. It “expects to return to the standard processing time of 45 to 60 days by November.”

Mouton, who recently had a baby, was worried about the possible wait for the state board to clear its backlog and give her the green light to take her licensing exam, which could ultimately lead to doubling her pay.

“I love this job. It’s not about greed,” she said. “But we’re all in this limbo right now.”

And now, here’s what’s happening across California.

Note: Some of the sites we link to may limit the number of stories you can access without subscribing.

Sequoia lovers are deeply alarmed about the threat posed by California wildfires. The giant sequoia, called the Ancient Ones by Native Americans, are witnesses to centuries and one of the largest living things on Earth, writes Times reporter Diana Marcum. Until very recently many thought of them as nearly immortal. For now, officials say that the Giant Grove in Sequoia National Park appears spared. But other nearby groves, with trees thousands of years old, are in danger from the still-burning KNP Complex fire. Los Angeles Times

L.A. County sheriff’s unit accused of targeting political enemies, vocal critics. As some of the investigations handled by a little-known team formed by Sheriff Alex Villanueva and other top department officials have come to light, a common thread has emerged: Their targets are outspoken critics of Villanueva or the department. On Thursday, a watchdog panel that oversees the department voted to ask county attorneys to determine whether Villanueva or his agency broke the law in the handling of the special unit. Los Angeles Times

Sheriff Alex Villanueva
L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva speaks at a news conference at the Hall of Justice on Wednesday in Los Angeles.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

L.A. STORIES

Appeals court strikes down order to house people on L.A.'s skid row. A three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously overturned a judge’s decision that would have required Los Angeles to offer some form of shelter or housing to the entire homeless population of skid row by October. The order, issued by U.S. District Judge David O. Carter in the spring, had sent shock waves through local government. Los Angeles Times

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POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT

After a $500,000 fine, he spent nearly four times as much trying to recall the local D.A. A wealthy and politically active developer spent nearly $1.8 million to drive Sonoma County’s chief prosecutor from office, carpet-bombing the district attorney with ads that attacked her on the airwaves, social media and through the mail. The effort was an overwhelming failure. Times columnist Mark Barabak calls it “another example of why California and local governments need to reform the recall.” Los Angeles Times

A union representing California farmworkers is marching to the French Laundry after Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed Assembly Bill 616. The bill would have allowed farmworkers to vote by mail in union elections, a change the United Farm Workers pressed for after the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year dealt a setback to its organizing practices. The UFW, which had been planning a march to Sacramento to advocate for the bill, said it would redirect the march to the French Laundry restaurant, “hoping to finally meet with the governor.” Fresno Bee

Winemakers say California’s wine industry could collapse without federal aid. As the Caldor fire continues to pump smoke into the Sierra foothills, endangering yet another year’s worth of wine there, more farmers and winemakers are clamoring for government assistance. The Wine Institute contends that “it’s about the very survival of a $40-billion statewide industry that employs 325,000 Californians.” San Francisco Chronicle

CRIME AND COURTS

Day after a Black Lives Matter leader announced a lawsuit over ‘swatting’ incident, she’s targeted again. Melina Abdullah, a leader of Black Lives Matter Los Angeles who filed a lawsuit this week alleging the Los Angeles Police Department mishandled a “swatting” incident at her home last summer, was targeted with another false emergency call Thursday, according to LAPD officials. Los Angeles Times

Kern County is under investigation after denying a contract to a nonprofit group over its support for defunding police. The county could end up paying dearly for a decision late last year by the Board of Supervisors to withhold a $1.2-million contract meant to provide door-to-door outreach in communities hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. The California attorney general’s office is investigating whether the county illegally discriminated and violated civil rights in the areas of contracting and employment. Bakersfield Californian

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HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT

Newsom signed a $15-billion package Thursday to fight climate change, wildfire and drought, the largest such investment in state history. Big-ticket items in the package include $5.2 billion for drought response and water resilience; $3.7 billion for issues such as extreme heat and sea level rise; and $3.9 billion for electric vehicle investment and infrastructure. Los Angeles Times

Inland Empire COVID-19 hospitalizations are far worse than in L.A. The Delta variant’s summer surge pummeled hospitals in Inland Empire more than anywhere else in Southern California, according to a Los Angeles Times analysis. Vaccination rates are probably influencing the varied hospitalization numbers: The Inland Empire has the lowest vaccination rate in all of Southern California. Los Angeles Times

A California woman wants a hospital to be ordered to give ivermectin to her 66-year-old husband, who tested positive for COVID-19 and has been in the intensive care unit at San Joaquin Community Hospital. The Bakersfield woman filed a complaint in Kern County Superior Court, one of a string of such cases filed in recent weeks by patients and their relatives.
The American Medical Assn. has called for an “immediate end” to the use of the drug outside of research. San Jose Mercury News

CALIFORNIA CULTURE

How exactly do influencers make money? She’ll tell you how. In a crowded influencer market, Lynette Adkins is carving out a niche by turning the camera on herself in a way few others have: detailing how, exactly, to make good money and a sustainable career from having an online following. Her budgeting videos, a road map of sorts to becoming an influencer, quickly galvanized a fast-growing audience. Los Angeles Times

The “temple of all things movies” is set to open Sept. 30. The new $484 -million Academy Museum of Motion Pictures is arriving after decades of false starts in fundraising, years of construction and pandemic-related delays. Cher recently tweeted in all caps: “IVE BEEN THERE ITS HEAVEN EVERYONE MUST GO WHEN & IF THEY CAN.” Hollywood Reporter

The 40 best California experiences this fall. In this Times subscriber exclusive, travel writer Christopher Reynolds offers up a list of autumn destinations road tested by the author. Perhaps you’d like to explore Bombay Beach, “where the end of the world seems to have arrived already, leaving a ghostly collection of newly minted art, weather-beaten ruins and live-in trailers, tidy and otherwise.” Los Angeles Times

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CALIFORNIA ALMANAC

Los Angeles: The haze from all those wildfires elsewhere may look alarming, but Friday’s temperature is forecast at a perfectly balmy 82. San Diego: Go eat tacos at Las Cuatro Milpas for me, I miss it. 76. San Francisco: Looks like nice weather for a stroll in Golden Gate Park. 71. San Jose: I’m told it’ll be 85. Fresno: Stay hydrated out there. It’ll be 99. Sacramento: Toasty at 96.

AND FINALLY

Today’s California memory is from Glen Williams:

I came to California with my grandmother in 1958. We left her farm in Illinois by train to join my parents, who were staying in a San Jose hotel. When we went to the train depot to buy tickets to San Jose, we were told by the ticket agent, “We don’t have any trains that go to ‘San Josey.’” When asked how close we could get by train, he replied, “We got a train that goes to ‘Valley Joe.’” So that was how I wound up in Vallejo. I learned that ticket agents in California knew a lot more Spanish than did ticket agents in Illinois.

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments to essentialcalifornia@latimes.com.


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