The Bureau of Labor Statistics says the average American spends 7.61 hours every day at work. How do you want to spend that time? If you enjoy helping people and hope for a career that comes with good job security and a decent salary, working as a behavioral analyst could be right for you.
Before you start your work, you'll need to complete some education, spend time in a supervised practicum, and apply for certifications. In some states, you'll need a license too.
All of your hard work will result in a job that truly helps people.
What Does a Behavioral Analyst Do?
A behavioral analyst is a type of therapist. If you picture someone lying on a couch while you sit in a chair and take notes, pause. The work you'll do as a behavioral analyst is active, collaborative, and playful. Chances are, neither you nor your clients will have time to lie down and chat.
Experts explain that behavior lies at the heart of the work you'll do. Behavioral analysts believe that changing the way their clients act and react can improve their quality of life. Influencing change will be your specialty.
Behavioral analysts tackle many different tasks during a workday. You might:
- Design therapeutic interventions. You’ll meet with a client and develop an understanding of how they behave now and how a shift might help. You’ll then craft a treatment plan in consultation with your client.
- Implement plans. With a therapy path approved, you'll put it to work. Meet with your client regularly (sometimes daily) and work through the steps you've identified.
- Evaluate. Determine if your plan is working, and document your success. If you don't see improvement, modify your plans accordingly.
Behavioral analysts choose their workplace. Your office might be located in:
- Private clinics.
- Schools (private or public).
- Nursing homes.
- Business headquarters.
Some clients request at-home therapy sessions. In those situations, you'll spend a chunk of your day driving from one client to another.
Every applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapeutic plan is different, but they share core elements.
- Instruction: You’ll tell your clients what you're working on for the session, and outline exactly what's required.
- Reward: It helps to offer a snack, a kind word, a smile, or something pleasant when the task is completed. This reinforces positive behavior.
- Repeat: Follow the steps again until the reward isn't required for task completion. This helps change to take hold.
- Adjust: If the client simply can't tackle the task at hand, identify opportunities to simplify the process. Multi-step processes are easier to accomplish when they're broken into smaller pieces.
Trained ABA professionals don't use punishment, including physical reprimands, to entice behavioral shifts. Instead, they use logic and rewards to make the change seem more appealing.
What Type of Analyst Credential Is Right for You?
The Behavior Analyst Certification Board handles all certifications for ABA professionals (as the name implies). If you choose this career path, you'll work with this organization to prove your qualifications to your clients. The board offers several different types of credentials, based on the work you'd like to do.
Choose from these ABA professions:
- Board certified assistant behavior analyst (BCaBA): Get your bachelor's degree from an accredited school, complete about 2,000 hours of supervised fieldwork, and pass a test. With a BCaBA certification, you’ll work under the license of a board certified behavior analyst. You can supervise a team of RBTs with this certification.
- Board certified behavior analyst (BCBA): Get your master's degree from an accredited school, complete about 2,000 hours of supervised fieldwork, and pass a test. With a BCBA certification, you can manage ABA programs, RBTs, and BCaBAs.
- Board certified behavior analyst – doctoral (BCBA-D): Get your doctoral degree from an accredited school, complete about 2,000 hours of supervised fieldwork, and pass a test. With a BCBA-D, you'll work in the same capacity as a BCBA, but you'll have the added distinction of the word doctor in your title.
One more option exists for people who don't want to attain a bachelor's degree or higher. The registered behavior technician (RBT) designation allows you to administer treatment plans that are developed by others.
Where to Find an Education
Your school options are limited if you hope to work in the ABA field. You must enroll in a program approved by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board, and not all organizations are certified.
The Association for Behavior Analysis International collects information on all accredited programs, and officials update the list regularly. Look at the website and ensure that your school appears here before you sign enrollment paperwork.
The time you'll spend in school varies depending on your degree type. Choose a bachelor's degree, and you'll leave the classroom behind in about four years. Select a doctoral degree, and you could be studying for another three to four years.
When your classwork is complete, you must look to your practicum. As George Mason University explains, students can't sit for the qualification test with the Behavior Analyst Certification Board until they prove completion. Typically, you'll need a month of full-time work to check off all of the required boxes.
During your practicum, work closely with an ABA professional. Learn how to:
- Develop an ABA program.
- Conduct behavioral assessments.
- Interpret test results.
- Implement ABA treatment plans.
- Adjust your approach as needed.
- Gather data and update client charts.
- Conduct yourself professionally and appropriately.
With your degree in hand and practicum completed, you can sit for your certification exam. But in some states, you must do more before you can start work.
State Licensing Requirements
ABA is a form of therapy, and families deserve to work with talented, trained, and accountable professionals. Some states keep tight control over licenses, so they can ensure that families are protected. If you work in one of these states, you'll need an official stamp of approval before you work with your first client.
Licensing rules vary dramatically from state to state. Here’s a sampling of the requirements in some states:
- Texas: Offer proof of your certification from the Behavior Analyst Certification Board, and pay a fee of $165.
- Alabama: Provide proof of your certification from the Behavior Analyst Certification Board, and pass a background check with the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency. Pay a fee ranging between $25 and $150, depending on license type. You must pay for the background check too.
- Michigan: Complete an online application form broken into several sections. Prepare to answer questions about your education, criminal background, moral character, and more. Pay a fee of $443.70.
- New Mexico: No state license is required. Get certified from national organizations, and you're ready to work.
- New Jersey: In January 2020, the governor signed the Applied Behavior Analyst Licensing Act into law. You must get a license to work, but the rules and regulations are still under consideration.
Talk with your school's guidance counselor about your home state and where you want to work. Find out if you need a license, and if you do, get one. In most cases, filling out the form means accessing a provisional license. But not applying at all before you work could mean vulnerability to steep fines.
Demand for Behavioral Analysts
Researchers say demand for qualified ABA practitioners far outstrips availability. People hoping to use this form of therapy sometimes have to search for help for months, or they are resigned to driving for hours to connect with a professional. Get qualified, and you're almost certain to have clients ready to work with you.
Job security is critical for many people, including those who hope to raise a family. You need a steady income to ensure your family stays fed and protected. Given the research, it's clear that a career in ABA comes with plenty of protection.
A quick search on Indeed confirms those suspicions. More than 1,500 jobs for ABA therapists were available in June 2020. Many of those open positions concerned autism.
Is This a Meaningful Job?
People with autism often use ABA to develop basic life skills. You might help clients learn to get dressed in the morning, talk with family members about preferences, or handle strong emotions. You could be the bridge a family needs to start solving, rather than simply suppressing, problems.
Your salary will vary depending on your employer, your state, your education level, and your experience. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says the median pay for psychologists is more than $80,000 per year.
Intangibles involve job satisfaction. ABA professionals see their clients grow and change with each session they complete. They often develop close ties with their clients and their families, and they celebrate the successes as a team.
Every day, when you head to work, you'll know that you're making a difference for someone in need. For some people, that sense of value makes the job truly worthwhile.
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Board-Certified Behavior Analyst. Behavior Analyst Certification Board.
Board Certified Behavior Analyst—Doctoral. Behavior Analyst Certification Board.
Accredited Programs. ABAI Accreditation Board.
Applied Behavior Analysis Practicum Handbook. (2017). George Mason University.
Apply for a Behavior Analyst License. Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation.
Alabama Behavior Analyst Licensure Board. Alabama Department of Mental Health.
Behavior Analysts. Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs.
What Is Behavior Analysis? New Mexico Association for Behavior Analysis.
Behavior Analyst Licensing Act Becomes Law. (January 2020). Autism New Jersey.
Supply of Certified Applied Behavior Analysts in the United States: Implications for Service Delivery for Children with Autism. (December 2019). Psychiatric Services.
ABA Therapist Autism. Indeed.
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Early Intensive Behavioral Intervention for Children With Autism: Parental Therapeutic Self-Efficacy. (September – October 2002). Research in Developmental Disabilities.
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