If you’re interested in a career in applied behavior analysis (ABA), you may wonder what occupations are available in this field. Do you need a bachelor’s or master’s degree in ABA to qualify for entry-level jobs? What are the requirements for ABA certification?
ABA therapy is based on the science of behavior and the concept that behavior can be modified over time by managing environmental triggers and reinforcing positive responses. Behavior analysts primarily work to improve behavior in people who are struggling with developmental disabilities, but can apply their training to helping any individual who would like to modify their behavior.
As the leading form of therapy for children with autism, ABA is a highly sought after skill. Between 2019 and 2020 alone, demand for Board Certified Behavior Analysts® (BCBA®) increased by 17 percent, according to the Behavior Analyst Certification Board® (BACB®).
To satisfy the growing need for specialists, the BACB offers a number of potential ABA certifications you can earn at different education levels. Here are the most common career paths to consider and the basic steps you should take to get certified.
A Board Certified Behavior Analyst® (BCBA®) is a master’s degree holder who has passed the BACB exam. BCBAs observe patterns of behavior and try to understand how clients relate to their environment, so they can develop a treatment plan to modify harmful habits and replace them with beneficial ones.
The goal is to help clients build skills that allow them to live more productive, independent lives or overcome habits or behavior which causes ongoing problems. ABAs may work with individuals with autism, substance abuse, obsessive rituals, or injury-related cognitive impairment, or other behaviors—across the lifespan.
Analysts conduct research and gather evidence to choose the right therapeutic interventions for each client. While analysts use a variety of techniques, some common practices include breaking skills into small, manageable steps and establishing a positive-reinforcement model with rewards. BCBAs can practice independently and provide supervised on-the-job training for behavior analysts with lower certifications.
To be eligible for BCBA certification, you must complete graduate-level ABA coursework at a qualifying institution or from a degree program accredited by the Association for Behavior Analysis International (ABAI). Another option is to earn a related master’s degree and satisfy the coursework requirements through a faculty teaching and research position. Regardless of which path you choose, the next steps are to complete 1,500 to 2,000 hours of supervised fieldwork and pass the certification exam.
A Board Certified Behavior Analyst - Doctoral® (BCBA-D®) functions in the same capacity as a BCBA, but has completed their training at the doctoral or postdoctoral level.
On the surface, these qualifications may seem steep. However, a BCBA-D typically practices as a BCBA for several years and may decide to complete more education for higher credentials and income. In a well-established ABA practice, it’s common for experienced BCBAs and BCBA-Ds to move into administrative roles and oversee a team of analysts who more frequently work one on one with clients. Because they hold a PhD, BCBA-Ds also have the option to become professors in the field.
A Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst® (BCaBA®) holds an undergraduate-level certification in behavior analysis. BCaBAs aren’t authorized to practice independently and must work under the guidance of a BCBA.
An assistant often begins with support tasks, such as collecting data, observing ABA sessions, and writing progress reports. As they gain experience, BCaBAs spend more time engaging with patients and putting research methodology into action in order to prepare for certification as a BCBA. They also assist in training behavior technicians.
Someone who wants to earn a BCaBA certification must obtain a bachelor’s degree from an ABAI-accredited program or complete a related degree that includes eligible ABA coursework. After finishing 1000 to 1,300 hours of supervised fieldwork, graduates must pass the BCaBA certification exam.
A Registered Behavior Technician® (RBT®) is a paraprofessional who works alongside certified behavior analysts in support roles. RBTs are closely supervised by BCBAs and BCaBAs. They help to implement behavioral strategies and may report feedback about client experiences, but technicians aren’t responsible for developing or evaluating the treatment plans.
To become an RBT, you must have a high school diploma or equivalent, be 18 years of age, and pass a background check. Next, you’re required to receive 40 hours of qualified training overseen by a BCBA. The training can be completed at colleges and vocational programs or through the agency where you’re planning to work.
If you meet all of the above eligibility standards, you can have the initial competency assessment administered by a BCBA supervisor. The final step is to take the certification exam.
A master’s in ABA is an excellent way of gaining the background and experience needed to pursue the BCBA certification. Programs are structured to meet all the objectives covered in the certification exams and prepare you for critical thinking on the job.
For example, the Regis College Master of Science in Applied Behavior Analysis program is designed to offer a multidimensional learning experience, combining research and investigative studies with peer presentations, role-playing, and field training.
ABA clinicians make a positive impact in the lives of clients who are coping with developmental disabilities and other challenges, and applications of behavior analysis are continually expanding. If you still have questions about behavior analysis, consider speaking to an admission counselor or an ABA professional to decide whether an ABA degree is right for you.