Counselors and behavior analysts both play a part in helping people to overcome challenges and lead better lives. However, these two types of professionals serve different functions and take a different approach to providing therapy.

Each career comes with degree requirements that are closely aligned with the responsibilities of the job. By understanding the function of ABA vs. Mental Health Counseling, you can better decide which educational path to follow.

Who is a Masters in ABA the Better Degree For?

Earning a master’s degree in applied behavioral analysis makes more sense if you’re interested in a career in the field of ABA, as it is a requirement for licensure.

The Behavior Analyst Certification Board® (BACB®) defines ABA as the science of behavior and the concept that a person’s quality of life can be improved through targeted behavioral change. ABA therapy is widely known as a treatment for children with autism, but analysts also work with people who struggle with other behavioral disorders stemming from environmental factors, injuries, illness, aging, or cognitive impairment.

Specialists in this field evaluate a person’s behavior and use demonstrative techniques, such as positive reinforcement, behavior intervention, and visual aids, to promote more beneficial methods of learning and interaction. A typical patient needs to learn skills that will help them in their daily lives. ABA treatment is highly individualized to each person’s needs, but common goals include improving social interactions, motor functions, cognitive learning, communication, anxiety management, and personal independence.

An ABA program prepares you for two main career paths: a Board Certified Behavior Analyst® (BCBA®) or a Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst® (BCaBA®).

A BCBA is a graduate-level certification that allows you to work as an independent practitioner in behavior analysis. The average salary for a BCBA is $87,535, according to ZipRecruiter. As a BCBA, you complete additional training to act as a supervisor for BCaBAs and Registered Behavior Technicians® (RBTs®). If you’re passionate about this field and want to develop your career even further, you have the option to become a BCBA-D by completing doctoral or postdoctoral education in behavior analysis.

A BCaBA is an undergraduate certification that allows you to work in behavior analysis under the supervision of a BCBA. BCaBAs may also oversee training and competency assessments for RBTs. The average salary of a BCaBA is $71,738, according to ZipRecruiter.

Job opportunities for BCBAs and BCaBAs are increasing as more people seek out evidence-based therapy for problem behaviors. A study by the BACB indicates that demand for BCBA or BCBA-D professionals rose by 1,942 percent from 2010 to 2018, while demand for BCaBAs increased 1,098 percent in the same period.

Individuals with a background in ABA have traditionally been employed heavily in the educational space, but are increasingly in demand in the fields of healthcare and social services. Common job titles held by those with a background in ABA, aside from those listed above, can include:

  • Licensed Behavior Analyst
  • Special Education Teacher
  • Teacher Assistant
  • Education Administrator
  • Educational Counselor
  • Guidance Counselor
  • Vocational Counselor

Just as a note, some of these careers may require additional training and licensure beyond an ABA degree.

Register now for an online information session.

Information Session

Who is a Master’s in Counseling Better For?

A master’s degree in counseling is a better choice if you’re interested in becoming a Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC). Professional counselors work with people of all ages to provide treatment for mental, emotional, and behavioral issues or disorders that are causing distress in their daily lives. Using a variety of theoretically-informed therapy techniques, counselors help people discover healthy ways to cope with challenges of life and replace harmful behavior with positive, productive habits.

Getting licensed as a mental health counselor opens the door to a variety of specialties and career settings. Depending on where they work, counselors may treat individuals, couples, families, or groups for problems such as mental illness, grief, substance abuse, domestic abuse, eating disorders, aging, chronic illness, and other life events. Common fields include:

  • Mental health counseling
  • Addiction counseling
  • Marriage and family counseling
  • Gerontological counseling
  • K-12 school counseling
  • College counseling
  • Career counseling
  • Correctional counseling

A master’s degree in counseling is a requirement for a career as an LMHC. If you decide to go to graduate school in this field, you will likely choose a few areas to focus on in your studies.

The specialized skills you develop in a master’s program can have a huge impact on your long-term earnings potential. According to, the median salary for Licensed Mental Health Counselors is $66,663, with most earning a salary in the range of $59,689 and $73,174. Location impacts pay as well. In the Boston area, the average LMHC earns a salary of $75,110.

Employment in this field is expected to grow by 23 percent between 2020 and 2030, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

While it’s possible to perform some mental health jobs with only an undergraduate degree, you will be limited to roles that don’t require a master’s degree and license.

Advancing Your Career

Choosing whether to pursue counseling vs. ABA isn’t a decision you have to make alone. By contacting the schools you’re interested in, you can speak with enrollment specialists who can answer any questions you have about their degree programs. At the same time, think about what motivates you professionally and which skills you prefer to utilize most at work.

An ABA degree is geared toward professionals who are fascinated by behavioral patterns and enjoy using data to identify methods of self-improvement. BCBAs and BCaBAs frequently work one on one with patients for several years and advise family members on how to implement helpful techniques at home as well. A graduate degree in counseling is better suited for professionals who are interested in the personal experiences that shape each client’s manner of thinking and interaction. Counseling careers are focused on the mental and emotional perspective of the patient, and the counselor’s role is often to help clients gain self-awareness, insight, and a new perspective on their lives.

Are you still unsure of which career appeals to you? Consider shadowing a professional or working in an entry-level position in both an ABA clinic and a mental health counseling treatment facility before applying to a master’s degree program.

Observing the day-to-day functions of different roles is the best way to find out what career is right for you. Keep in mind, BCBAs, BCaBAs, and Licensed Mental Health Counselors work in diverse environments ranging from hospitals and private practices to schools and government agencies. Finding an environment that is well-suited to your personality and career goals is just as important as the job itself.

Published Date