What Should You Know About Records for the LCSW & MFT Exam?

By Bethany Vanderbilt on September 26, 2012

Colored files and folders I've never met a therapist who relished doing paperwork, but keeping appropriate records and understanding who has rights regarding the records will ensure that you're protected as a clinician.  If you're getting ready for a social work exam or MFT exam, chances are your understanding of this topic is about to be tested! Let's look at one way this might come up on a social work exam or MFT exam.


A therapist with a previous private practice is getting ready to move out of state and is packing up her office.  It's been 5 years since she's actively seen clients, but she still has boxes of records and client files.  What is the MOST appropriate course of action for the therapist to take?

A. Consult state guidelines regarding keeping and disposing of records

B. Ensure the records are disposed of appropriately

C. Keep the records for an additional 2 years to comply with federal guidelines

D. Consult with a colleague to ensure ethical practice

The social work exam or MFT exam that you're preparing for might ask questions about what to include in the record, who has rights to the record, what to release when a client requests information from their record, or what to do with a record after a client dies.  The question above, though, speaks to the issue of  how long you need to keep the record -- and the answer's actually simple: it varies.  If you happen to be taking the social work exam or MFT exam in California, then you probably already know that the answer for you is 7 years.  But if you're preparing for the National social work exam or MFT exam, then what you need to know is that how long records are kept varies state-by-state and your responsibility is to learn your individual state's regulations and guidelines in preparation for clinical practice.


Regardless of where you live, the correct answer to the question above is A: consult state guidelines regarding keeping and disposing of records.  B is no the best answer because state guidelines might require keeping the records longer than 5 years (like Cali).  C is not the best answer, even if you are in California, because it references federal guidelines which, to my knowledge, don't exist.  And D is not the best answer because a colleague may not know the proper state regulations and guidelines; it's better to go directly to the source on an issue like this that has a clear "right" answer.

Coming up next week: Releases & Referrals

Think our straightforward, sensible approach could help you PASS your social work or MFT exam? If you're preparing for a social work exam, check out our Social Work Study Materials. If you're preparing for an MFT exam, check out our MFT Study Materials. Learn more about our offerings at The Therapist Development Center.

Looking for more practice questions and some study tips? Check out our new Social Work Exam Study Guide:

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