The 7 real reasons why psychotherapists flunk their licensing and certification exams By Howard Rosenthal, EdD on 5/12/11 - 11:37 PM

A friend of mine (let's call him Kurt to preserve confidentiality and perhaps more importantly not to embarrass him) told me was gearing up to take his state licensing exam. Had he prepared for the exam?
 "Come on Rosenthal, I just spent two of the best years of life in grad school and another three or so in supervision. I think I know this stuff by now."
 "Really," I remarked. "Who is the father of rational emotive behavior therapy?"
"Come on dude, that's easy, "Glasser is the father of REBT."
"Sorry, my friend, but that distinction, belongs to Albert Ellis.  Glasser created reality therapy with choice theory."
"Hey, look, I said I was prepared, I never said I was a psychotherapy savant."
 I continued, "What was REBT called before it was REBT?"
"Alright Rosenthal, so I would have missed two questions on the exam. Big deal."
I challenged him once more. "Who was the father of guidance?"
"Duh, it's Freud, any first year psychology student has committed that one to memory."
"Sorry, but Freud was the father of psychoanalysis. The name they will be looking for on your exam would be Frank Parsons."
"Say what? Frank who?"
As the author of licensing and certification exam preparation materials I am often asked why therapists don't pass their tests. Here, on the head of a pin, are the top reasons.
1. A little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing. Hmm? Somehow the name Kurt is ringing a bell. Thinking Ellis is Glasser or Glasser is Ellis . . . well you get the point.
2. Waiting until the eleventh hour to crack a book or a study guide. "Can you send the material overnight Dr. R., I'll be taking the test in 48 hours?"  Oh sure, maybe the Air Force would let us borrow an F-15 fighter plane to make certain you receive your materials at Mach speed. Is this insane or what? Imagine if this therapist had a client who was taking the Bar Exam. Would he or she advise the client to wait two days before the test to begin preparation? I'd say six months or more would be a tad more realistic.
3. Believing in the psychotherapeutic exam prep tooth fairy.  You scan the Internet and discover a card deck which takes just 15 minutes to read for just $29.95 or whatever. Most serious complete exam prep packages will set you back a bare minimum of $150 or $200. Sorry, but that's the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. In fact, in some disciplines like psychology the price tag can soar over the $1000 mark.  Just for the record, I speak with thousands of folks who have taken these exams and have never conversed with a single individual who only used a bargain basement card deck as his or her sole method of preparation. If you do use one and pass then you are probably the one person in 500 who didn't need a study guide anyway.
4. Relying on marathon study sessions. These folks boast that they plan to lock themselves in a vault with a seven foot stack of text books, enough exam prep guides to capsize a small battleship, and a case of diet soda. Moreover, folks of this ilk won't come out until they study all areas on the exam. To be sure, they may come out bloated due to the excessive diet soda intake, but there is little, if any, chance they will remember much of anything. Keep your study sessions short. Twenty minute study sessions are good, but fifteen minutes is even better.
5. Failing to use simple memory devices. How do you remember that stationery is spelled "ery" and not "ary" when it means a letterhead? Simple. The word letter has an "e" and so does stationery when it means letterhead. How do you remember that in Pavlov's famous experiments with dogs that the conditioned stimulus (CS) comes before the unconditioned stimulus (US)? Simple: C comes before U in the alphabet. How can you recall what the meat was in the experiment? That's easy, because in the US we eat a lot of meat. When you see the meat in the experiment in will be the US. Memory devices only need to make sense to you and sometimes the crazier they are, the better they work.
6.  Giving up during the actual exam.  You wouldn't believe some of the horror stories I have heard. I remember a woman who told me she bolted out of the exam site because just before she finished.  Why? Simply put, because she was certain she had already missed 40 or more questions and failed the test. The amazing thing is that on her particular exam, 40 items were not being graded. These questions were used to test their suitability on future exams. Thus, instead of telling herself she was failing, she should have told herself that if she really only missed 40 or so items, she might be flirting with a perfect score.
7.  Cheating We all know that cheating is morally and ethically wrong, but did there is another reason not to cheat that never occurs to most people.  At most test sites you can't see the paper or computer screen next to you, so that's not an issue. But let's say you've been struggling with question 143 dealing with Wolpe's systematic desensitization. You don't have a clue what the answer is. Nevertheless, as you stroll over to the drinking fountain your eyes accidentally glance at another test taker's computer screen and you see "d" as the answer. Now, needless to say, you would never do this, but our hypothetical examinee goes back to his computer terminal and clicks "d" as his answer. There is just one problem. The person he copied off of was taking the cosmetology exam and was answering a question on administering a permanent wave!
I rest my case.

File under: Musings and Reflections, Therapy Training