Theories: Top 7 Tips for Studying for the MFT Licensing Exam

Congratulations! You are close to taking your state’s MFT exam! Starting to study for the exam may be daunting to think about. It does not have to be though. Having a plan in place for yourself will help ease you into the mindset you need during your study time and test day.

First, I would suggest scheduling your exam 3 months after you begin to study. Scheduling your exam on the PSI system makes it more real. You will feel committed to studying. I rescheduled my exam 5 times; I was given 2 days prior to my scheduled day to reschedule or cancel. I kept pushing it because I knew I was not ready. My results? I passed on my first try in February 2017! I used TDC (Therapist Development Center) and went over their lectures twice, if I felt confused. I also reached out to their coaches, at no extra cost, in which I highly recommend if using TDC. 

Secondly, keep these tips in mind when studying the material:

  1. Regardless of which study prep course company you are using, the first thing that helped me was to memorize the categories of different theories and their associated theories (e.g. These are the categories:  Cognitive, Psychodynamic, Modern, Structural, Humanistic/Client Centered).
  2. I read all the theories under each category and created one sentence that would sum up the idea of all theories as if I was going to explain it to another MFT. For example, for Cognitive theories, I kept in mind that this was the theory where there was a lot of thinking, psychodynamic, skills building and homework.
  3. I moved on to organizing all the interventions under each theory and alphabetized them in this way, as an example:

A- avoid past problems/symptoms discussion

C-challenge clt to examine and evaluate own beliefs

D^2- Direct & Doing- focus on what clt is doing/thinking currently

E- examine needs, wants, perceptions

F- focus on where the clts have choices in the moment

F- formulate action plan for thoughts/ behaviors

H- humor

R-review results, adjust accordingly

T- teach self-evaluation

This method helped me keep in mind the order of the letters. I recall information easier this way. I know it isn’t for everyone. Rephrase the above as you need.

  1. I moved on to breaking down each theory and defining it. Keep it simple but bring in key words from the interventions.
    1. Ex) Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy- irrational beliefs to rational to overcome psychological distress
    2. Ex) Existential Therapy- recognizing pain (and other symptoms) by living through it in the moment because one who exists is responsible for all human conditions
  2. Studies show that color coded words are recalled easier by the brain. I used brown for modern, green for humanistic/CC, blue for structural, orange for psychodynamic and grey for cognitive). The colors for myself were not random. I focused on the theme of each theory category and applied the color that could captured that in one color.
  3. I created flashcards at the very end once I had basic knowledge of the theories. The traditional way I learned to create flashcards was to put the term in the front and memorize the definition. I did it backwards for this test.

I opted for putting the intervention definition in the front of the card, with its designated color, and learning the term it belonged to in random order from the start. The ones that were too easy for you, just note them on a document and highlight them as “Mastered.” Relaxation training, homework, beliefs, mindfulness, etc. were too easy for me.

  1. I repeated step 6 for all phases of each theory. I felt that this step benefited me most on my test.

Keep in mind that the test will not be asking for all of this. I needed this much structure for theories because it was the most difficult section for me to learn. You can apply these tips to other sections of the test. Best of luck to all of you! 

Feel free to reach out if you have any questions.