Five Journeys, Part II

Click for low res full-color pdf version of Five Journeys, Part II.
Click to read Five Journeys, Part Two in the Therapist Magazine Online.

  • Levis, R.V. (2013). Five Journeys, One Destination: Part Two. The Therapist, 25(5), 28-37.

The idea for “Five Journeys, One Destination” was born out of an essay that Rajani wrote as a prelicensee back in 2004. As adjunct faculty, and as a therapist in private practice, Rajani often encounters prelicensees who are thirsty for first-hand information about the journey to licensure. Recently, she invited four of her colleagues to share their lively and multifaceted perspectives on this important rite of passage for therapists. Laura Siniego Benenati helped to expand the scope of this essay into a three part series, Kristina Blachere suggested the title and everyone generously contributed words and ideas. Rajani welcomes questions, comments and feedback from prelicensees (and others) via email at therapy [at] levistherapy [dot] com

Five Journeys, One Destination ~ Part Two

In part one of this three part series, we met the five intrepid travelers who mapped out for us their hero’s journey to licensure, and delighted us by sharing their own secret destination on the road to licensure.

Here, in part two, we sit down with them to learn more about the final step in the licensing process. We hope that by reading the range of their answers on timing, study methods, challenges, tips, tricks and strategies, you will be encouraged in the examination process. Walt Whitman wrote:
Not I, nor anyone else can travel that road for you.
You must travel it by yourself.
It is not far. It is within reach.

We hope that you will find comfort in knowing that the goal is within reach and you are not alone; each of our travelers is committed to supporting you on your journey to licensure.

five travelersFrom Left to Right: Laura Siniego, Kristina Blachere, Rajani Levis, Nicole Dadasovich, Veronika Gold

Meet the Travelers:

Rajani Venkatraman Levis, MS, PPS, MFT

With almost two decades of cross-cultural experiences in living, studying, and working on two continents, Rajani brings a richly multicultural perspective to her work as a therapist. Rajani is a traveler and a certified EMDR therapist who has found a way to integrate her two passions. She now finds her bliss in helping clients (especially prelicensees) discover what brings them alive and encouraging them on their unique journey.

Laura Siniego Benenati, MA, MFT

Born in Argentina, raised in Mexico and redefined as a psychotherapist in California, Laura is a chef, an artist, a mother, a psicologa, an English language learner, an EMDR trained therapist and a bilingual family clinician.

Laura speaks the nuanced language of flavors in the kitchen, the language of color on the canvas and the language of compassionate process in the therapeutic context.

Kristina Blachere, MA, MFT

Kristina Blachere, MFT, is a psychotherapist, consultant, and writer. She has a private practice in San Francisco, where she uses somatic and mindfulness techniques to help introverts (and others) reduce anxiety and self-criticism and accept themselves just as they are.

Nicole Dadasovich, MA, MFT

Born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, Nicole has over 15 years of experience working as teacher, counselor and administrator for both elementary and high school students. This work has included: Spanish language and literature instruction; nutrition, drug/alcohol and sexuality education; career and college planning; and coaching for people with social skills struggles.  She also has extensive experience working with adults on relationship issues and life transitions.

Veronika Gold, MA, MFT

Passionate, dedicated, and innovative, Veronika is an EMDR and EFT trained psychotherapist certified to teach the Subtle Self Work aspect of The Realization Process. Born under the communist rule in the Czech Republic before making California her home, she has traveled the world and learned from people of diverse cultures. Spiritual practice is an important part of her life that shapes her approach to therapy.

1. How long did it take you to collect the 3000 supervised hours and how many sites did you work at?

Nicole: I entered into intern status with approximately 300 hours that I had received as a trainee. It took me over 4 years, logging 5-10 clinical hours a week, to complete the 3000 hours. I chose to work at 5 different sites in order to gain experience with a wide variety of clients.

Laura: Like Nicole, it took me about four years to collect my hours. I was fortunate to only work at two sites, both of which were paid positions.

Rajani: As I mentioned in part 1, I took the scenic road to licensure which spanned seven plus years including a three year break. Among the six sites where I collected hours, I had the wonderful opportunity to help set up a mental health program in India, where I was supervised by a psychiatrist. I applied for and received a second intern registration number a few months before I finished my hours and I was grateful for the extra time.

Kristina: The whole process, from receiving my intern number to getting my license, took me five and a half years. For most of this time, I was only logging 10 clinical hours a week.

Veronika: My motto on this journey was “Take your time and savor each step.” I was looking for internships that resonated with me deeply and where I believed I would learn the most. I worked at four different sites, each of which provided me with unique opportunities to work with a diverse clientele and a range of presenting problems, while having supportive community and getting excellent training and supervision. It took me four years to complete the 3000 hours requirement. As with most journeys, the last steps seemed the longest as I was feeling ready to be licensed and move into the private practice.

2. How did you accrue your required Child and Family hours?

Rajani: I had a dual emphasis in MFT and School counseling in my Masters program, so my early placements were in school settings in order to meet the requirements for both specializations. By the time I completed the requirements for the Pupil Personnel Services (PPS) credential, I had most of my child and family hours, so it was never a concern for me.

Veronika: Working with couples and families was a passion of mine since the beginning of my training. Even though I was accruing these hours at all my internships, I underestimated how long it was going to take me, and that requirement kept me from sending in my hours. I would encourage pre-licensees to keep this requirement in mind from the beginning of training.

Nicole: I worked with both children and families in all but one of my internships, so finishing those hours was never a concern.

3. How long did you prepare for the Standard Written Exam (SWE)? What was your strategy?

Laura: I began to prepare for the SWE 8 months ahead of time. Being a parent and a full time employee I have to carefully budget my time, so I decided to use the tortoise’s slow and steady strategy! I could only spare fifteen minutes a day during the week so I used test banks and focused on only ten questions each day.
I found it very helpful to study with a buddy each weekend and we would spend three hours dedicated to the test banks. The workshops offered by the testing companies were helpful and I also took two mock tests.

Kristina: I studied for about six weeks, starting with a test prep class and then studying independently after that. I studied with a friend a few times, but found that I got more done on my own. I used the test banks until I started consistently scoring above 80% on the practice tests. At that point, having heard that the actual exam had very little in common with the test bank questions, I decided to take it before I became too indoctrinated into the style my test prep company used.
I have to say that my test prep company was very far off the mark with its study material and practice question style and content. I had been coached to memorize things like the minor consent laws, and minute details of certain diagnoses. Although this may have helped to assuage my anxiety somewhat, virtually nothing of what I memorized was on the actual exam.

Veronika: I decided to take enough time to make the exam process a good experience. I had some concerns about English being my second language, as well as not having a lot of test taking experiences. I had finished reading all the text material when my journey took a detour. I went through a personal loss that was emotionally challenging and I took time off from studying to process and heal. I knew it was what I needed to do, but it was difficult to postpone the exam. A few months after my hours were approved, I reactivated the preparation process and studied consistently four to six hours on most days for two months. I took numerous practice exams and focused on the areas that needed improvement. I also studied in the mornings, as that was consistent with the time I was planning to take the exam. I enjoy walking and I used that time to listen repeatedly to the audio materials.

Nicole: Initially, I posted online stating that I was looking for a study partner. I knew that I worked well with a schedule and in social study environment and was fortunate to connect with Rajani.
I also used practice tests from 3 different study programs. Although I enjoyed learning the styles of each system and challenging myself to learn content at a very high level of specificity, the actual exam was dissimilar to the practice programs.

4. Having passed the first exam, what were your thoughts around timing and study strategies for the Clinical Vignette exam (CVE)?

Laura: I began to prepare for the CVE immediately after I passed the first exam. I used test banks and attended a mock test as well as other workshops. I did not have a study buddy for this second exam. As you might remember from the previous issue, I did not pass on my first try. The second time around, I felt more confident because I had more experience; I knew the logistics, the required skills and the format, so I felt less anxious. However, I did also have an increased fear of failure.

Rajani: I began studying for the CVE a week after I passed the first exam. I saw a posting on craigslist for an MFT study buddy and that’s how I met Nicole. She was just beginning to study for the SWE, but we decided to study together anyway. I have always known that I learn better by teaching, so I began to review out loud, the DSM-IV diagnosis, laws, ethical codes and theories, sharing with Nicole my mnemonics and tips, so that I would learn them really well. Our study sessions lasted from 2 hours to 8 hours sometimes, with breaks for lunch, walks and other self-care activities. Mostly, we helped each other stay in good spirits. By having to explain out loud the logic behind our choice of answer, we kept each other accountable and on track. This is a winning strategy for the clinical vignette exam. And who knows, you might also make a friend for life – thanks Nicole!

Nicole: I took the CVE one month after completing the first exam. I studied using test banks from two different testing companies and completed 50-100 questions each day. I found that the best exam prep came from a “boutique” company; it was more personalized and fewer practice exams. The quality of the preparation was much better and seemed more inline with the actual exam structure.

5. During the exam preparation phase, how did you overcome procrastination, anxiety or frustration?

Laura: I had a mantra that I chanted all the time.
“Si puedo, Si quiero, Y es facil lograrlo ~ I can do it, I want to do it, It is easy”.
This mantra and my commitment to my beliefs really helped me. In addition, EMDR was pivotal in overcoming the dark places.

Rajani: As I began to prepare for the exams, I decided that it was a good time to revitalize my meditation practice. I made a pact with myself that I would meditate every day to set the intention for peak concentration. In addition, I found it helpful to take a long walk each day to offset the endless hours of sitting while studying.
And when I felt resistant to the idea of studying, I reminded myself of Laura’s strategy and just did ten questions before taking a long break. I also gave myself a day off every now and then so as to prevent burnout.

Kristina: At some point in the study period, I noticed that I was doing a lot of “stress baking.” Rather than fight this behavior, I decided to let it happen. I don’t know if it helped, but it was certainly enjoyable (and delicious). Overall, I allowed myself quite a bit of indulgence as a reward for time spent studying. It was also helpful to be realistic with myself about how stressful this time was, and how important it was to me to pass these exams and get licensed.

Veronika: One of my mentors told me with great joy in her voice: “The wonderful thing about this exam is that you can take it over and over again!” It definitely was not what I wanted to do, but it brought a sense of ease into the process.  I also got lots of support from colleagues who were a step ahead of me, such as Kristina and Rajani.

6. Tell us about your pre-exam strategies – what did you do the day before the exam?

Laura: I woke up early and wanted to take the exam earlier in the day when I am more focused. I didn’t study the day before; in fact I hardly touched my books that week except to review law and ethics. And I received EMDR for exam anxiety.

Rajani: Laura’s right – EMDR rocks! I received EMDR prior to each exam, which helped me to feel relaxed and confident. As EMDR practitioners, Veronika, Laura and I wholeheartedly endorse it!
The day before each exam, I would stop studying at noon, and then treat myself to a massage in order to relax my mind and body. I also made sure to go to bed early and get plenty of sleep. I took the SWE in the morning, but when it came to the CVE, I made the decision to take it in the afternoon, so that I could have a leisurely morning.

Kristina: A few days before the first exam, I drove over to the test center, found the room and met the guys who manage the place. I chose to take both exams in the morning so that I could just get up, get there, and get it over with. I also ate a banana right before each exam because I had heard that bananas have natural beta blockers that help alleviate stress and anxiety. I don’t know if this is true, but I figured it couldn’t hurt. For the second exam, I actually moved my test date forward a few days, in part to coincide with a friend’s test date, but also because I just couldn’t study any more. It felt good to have a friend there, especially to decompress with afterwards. But it might have been a different experience if we hadn’t both passed.

Veronika: I dedicated the day before the exam to self-care. I meditated, took a walk, got a massage, cooked a delicious meal, prepared snacks for the day, and went to sleep early. I took two breaks during the exam to refocus and replenish my energy. When I was not sure about an answer I chose one, marked the question, and kept moving. I took several deep breaths when I pressed the “Finish the exam” button.

Nicole: Relaxation! Don’t spend the day cramming. Take care of your brain (breathing, meditation) and your body (healthy eats and some exercise). Repeat a positive and calming mantra as you sit to take the exam: “I’m focused and I’m prepared”.

7. What was the biggest challenge you faced on the way to licensure?

Laura: Failing the CVE on the first attempt was demoralizing. In addition, receiving advice filled with fear, or demoralizing advice was challenging. I found it best to avoid people who highlight the negatives.

Kristina: There are so many challenges to being an MFT intern that it’s hard to know where to begin. It helps to hold the journey as an initiation process, but often it just feels infantilizing. I think the worst part is the norm that interns should work for years for free. This is very difficult to do—especially in a state with such a high cost of living—and I think it significantly limits the diversity of practitioners in this field.

Nicole: The biggest challenge was waiting (and then waiting again…see Part One) for my hours to be approved. Once I had a timeframe, then I could make a plan and stick to a study schedule.

Veronika: I addressed some of this in a previous answer. A personal loss prompted me to take time off from the exam preparation phase. I knew it was what I needed to do, but it was difficult to take that detour and postpone my exam date.

Rajani: During my very first placement, I was forced to confront the biggest challenge I would face during the licensing process. This has also turned out to be the blessing that has helped shape my career. Stay tuned for Part Three of Five Journeys, One Destination, to read more about this challenge and how it helped me to discover my niche.
Burnout (see Part One) and vicarious trauma are real challenges, especially when combined with the stress of making little or no money, as Kristina rightly pointed out. Attending to self-care is definitely a challenge but one that we cannot afford to neglect.

8. Did you contemplate the possibility of failure? What was your Plan B if you failed?

Laura: Having failed the CVE on my first attempt, I contemplated the possibility a lot. My Plan B was not to tell a lot of people about the exam, re-evaluate the material and my strategy, and most importantly, to receive EMDR for anxiety. I held onto my belief that we are given exactly the experiences that we need. I felt confident in my preparation but told myself that if I failed it would be because there is something I need to learn from failure in order to better serve my clients.

Nicole: I never contemplated failure. Doubt and fear are erosive to confidence and, while I was nervous, I always knew I would pass. That said, I was mentally prepared “to roll with it” and start again if I had to. I had been plugging away for nearly 10 years; what was another six months in the scheme of things?

Kristina: For me, this was a perfect opportunity for the positive application of defense mechanisms such as compartmentalization. I found the office I wanted to rent right before I took my first exam, so I was extremely motivated. Of course, I had moments of fear and doubt, but I was very firm about not entertaining them. It helped to imagine myself as a warrior on a mission, and I would tell myself (and others) that “failure is not an option.”

Veronika: Even though I had a time frame in mind I decided to study until I felt very comfortable to take the exam. Therefore I did not consider the possibility of failing. But deep inside I knew that even if that happened, I would be OK. I would continue working with my clients, study more, and take it again until I passed.

9. What did you learn from the exam process and can you share a memorable event from this phase?

Rajani: As I began to prepare for the exam phase, my former supervisor Kathy said to me: “You’ll enjoy this because you will realize how much you already know and you can integrate everything you’ve already learned.” I took Kathy’s statement to heart, over all the fear-filled and negative notions against exams that most of us are familiar with. So I decided to enjoy the exam phase.
Meeting Nicole as a study buddy and becoming friends is the other great highlight of my exam phase.

Kristina: This was probably the most important, and most challenging, professional rite of passage I’ve ever been through. One year later, it still feels great to think of myself as a licensed MFT.

Nicole: My best memories of the exam process are camping out at Rajani’s table and tackling the material together while she fed me delicious home cooked meals. I was also continually reminded that the lessons are often in the journey so it was in my best interest to stay present and calm throughout.

10. How do you currently support prelicensees in your practice?

Veronika: I recognize the importance of our own personal therapy and the financial constraints during the long journey to licensure, so I offer a sliding scale for pre-licensees. I also provide EMDR to help with exam stress and anxiety.

Laura: In my agency, I have the opportunity to mentor interns and guide them through the process of licensure. This has also brought me full circle in another very interesting way. When I wrote my essay for part 1 of Five Journeys, One Destination, I had never met another intern in my situation of being fully licensed in another country and having to undertake the arduous journey of 3000 supervised hours in order to be licensed in California. Now, I find myself in the position of mentoring a prelicensee who was fully licensed in Argentina and has just begun her 3000 hour journey in California.

Rajani: In my practice, I see a number of prelicensees as well as newly licensed clinicians who would like to explore and experience EMDR as an evidence-based therapeutic modality. I also provide pre-exam EMDR for performance enhancement and anxiety reduction.
I run a group called “Identities beyond Boundaries” for prelicensees and newly licensed clinicians who are learning the art and science of integrating their personal and professional identities. I am a mentor for SFCAMFT’s mentoring program as well. In addition, I am able to give back by teaching a graduate level class for the Counseling Department at San Francisco State University.
I am honored to share what I know with my colleagues-in-training and in turn, I am enriched by their wisdom, experience, courage and resilience on the journey to licensure.


Stay tuned for Five Journeys, One Destination~ Part Three, where the five travelers invite us into what was once hallowed ground for them as prelicensees – their own private practice. They share with us their post-licensure process of discovery that led them to uncover their passion, their theoretical orientation, and their future direction in the field.

The third and final part of Five Journeys, One Destination pays homage to Henry Miller’s words: “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.