Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is a growing field that enables therapists and educators to help people with different behavior disorders and disabilities. This includes children and adults with autism, developmental disabilities, and anyone else who would benefit from behavior modification. Applied behavior analysis strategies can be used:
- in the workplace
- at home
- out in the community
- at school
- in a clinical environment
There is always a definite need for someone in this particular field. Applied behavior analysis is actually growing as an occupation as more people discover the amazing benefits and the huge need for it.
Anyone who wants to become a Board Certified Behavior Analyst BCBA will need to earn a Master’s degree and complete a supervised practicum. They also will be required to pass specific exams to officially become certified. But before these steps, college students should begin taking courses that coincide with this career such as:
The path to becoming a Board Certified Behavior Analyst is not much different from other college program requirements. You’ll need to:
- take the courses
- do the internship/supervision hours
- pass the exams
- obtain certification/licensure
Continue reading to learn how to become an applied behavior analyst. We discuss the basics of applied behavior analysis. You’ll learn which behavior analyst degree is the right one and which exams are necessary for certification.
What is Applied Behavioral Analysis?
Applied behavioral analysis refers to psychological principles and therapeutic tools that are used to increase appropriate behaviors. ABA works by using positive reinforcement and explicitly teaching new skills. Behavior can also be modified to decrease undesirable behaviors through the use of consequences and behavior interventions based on an intervention plan.
Behavior analysts are generally called upon to work with children or adults who need extra help to improve social/emotional, life, and communication skills.
Other ABA-related jobs often include:
- therapist assistants
- psychology researchers
- assessment assistants
- clinical specialists
- mental health workers
- registered behavior technicians
Applied behavioral analysis is used to maintain behaviors, such as through teaching self-control. It is used for transferable behaviors, which refers to skills that can be used outside in the real world. Strategies used in applied behavior analysis are also used to prevent behaviors that cause self-injury and restrict conditions that interfere with socially acceptable behaviors.
Applied Behavioral Analysis is a scientifically based, objective discipline that uses reliable metrics and evaluations of observable conduct. Reliable measurement means that behaviors cannot be vaguely defined as something like anger or sadness. Instead, metrics must be observable facts and quantifiable factors.
Those who choose this career must be flexible in their job. They may be required to work in various types of environments. They also must be patient, caring, empathetic, and diligent to be successful and create success for their clients/students.
The first step to becoming an applied behavior analyst is to earn the right type of college degree.
What Degree do You Need to be a Behavior Analyst?
While there is no specific behavioral analyst degree, all applied behavior analysis candidates must have at least a bachelor’s degree in a related field, which is usually:
- social work
For example, a general Bachelor’s of Science in Psychology degree will help students build a solid understanding of psychological tools, concepts, and trends. These programs should follow The American Psychological Association’s basic learning goals for psychology degrees. The degree should help students gain a fundamental understanding of the:
- historical trends
- empirical findings
- major concepts
- theoretical perspectives
These frameworks will help them apply psychological principles to behavioral problems. The chosen course of study should also include scientific inquiry and critical thinking, as these are major components of being a great ABA specialist. Learning these concepts will help ABA students:
- interpret behavior
- study research data
- apply principles to draw conclusions
- demonstrate an understanding of psychological literature
Finally, the degree program should include courses that cover:
- occupational ethics
- social responsibility
While a bachelor’s degree is the minimum degree needed to become a Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst, to be eligible to become a Board Certified Behavior Analyst, you’ll need to earn a master’s degree. The most direct path is to become a behavioral analyst is to earn your degree from an Association for Behavior Analysis International (ABAI) accredited or recognized program. Candidates can also complete their master’s degree with sufficient behavior analytic coursework or faculty teaching and research to meet eligibility requirements. Typically, Master’s degree programs come with required internship and supervision hours at an approved site of interest.
Licensed professionals who already have a qualifying master’s degree can earn a graduate-level certificate in applied behavior analysis. The BACB may accept university-supervised practicums and supervised work experiences of 1,500 hours. The actual number of practicum hours depends on the intensity and frequency of supervision. Finally, BACB certification forms the basis for licensure in most states, but this ultimately depends on the student’s state of residence.
Regardless of how you meet the educational requirements to become a Board Certified Behavior Analyst, you’ll need to complete supervised fieldwork in ABA. The Behavior Analyst Certificate Board requires 2,000 clock hours of supervised fieldwork or 1,500 clock hours of concentrated supervised fieldwork.
Once courses and fieldwork have been completed, ABA students must take specific exams to move along in the process.
What Exam Will You Need to Take to Become a Behavior Analyst?
The Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) is considered the standard-setter for this specific field of behavioral psychology. The BACB requires certified behavior analyst candidates to hold a Master’s degree in psychology, education, or applied behavior analysis. All ABA students must pass an exam to become a BCBA, or Board Certified Behavior Analyst. This is done through the Behavior Analyst Certification Board.
The BCBA certification exam includes 150 multiple-choice questions. The exam content covers analytical skills like measurement and experimental design. It also includes client-centered responsibilities like assessment and intervention. The Board Certified Behavior Analyst BCBA exam is a scaled score exam. To pass it, you’ll need to achieve a passing score of 400 and above. For context, the highest score you can achieve is 500.
This exam is rather rigorous, and some people need to take it a few times before passing it. Staying up-to-date on relevant field information, paying close attention during coursework and practicum work, and studying for the exam will be highly beneficial.
How Will You Maintain Certification?
It is important that practicing analysts maintain their BCBA certification so that they can keep practicing as Board Certified Behavior Analysts. This is done by participating in continuing education, complying with ethics requirements, and submitting the recertification application before it expires.
How to Find a Job as a Board Certified Behavior Analyst
Once a Board Certified Behavior Analyst has completed these requirements, the next step to becoming a behavior analyst is to find a job.
Of course, analysts can simply Google “ABA job openings in my area”; however, there are also general places they can look if they want to be more specific and hone in on what they are interested in.
First, analysts can inquire as to whether or not the location of their internship or supervision hours is hiring ABA specialists—but this depends on if that experience was a good one and if that is where they see themselves long-term.
Another easy way to find a job is by looking into school districts. Schools are always in need of behavioral specialists, and districts regularly hire applied behavior analysts to work with students and teachers at their schools.
Mental health clinics and centers are also great places to inquire with. Residential and outpatient centers for people who struggle with addiction, eating disorders, and other mental health disorders are often hiring analysts to join their teams.
Or analysts can simply start their own business and contract themselves out to parents and other individuals who need a behavior specialist. In this case, the analyst can go into clients’ homes, visit them at school, follow them out in the community, or work in whatever capacity they need the analyst in. This gives the analyst more flexibility and control over their schedule and the type of clients they want to work with.
This is a growing field—there are always openings for applied behavior analysts!
Those who are interested in becoming a Board Certified Behavior Analyst must follow these steps toward certification. Choosing courses that complement educational requirements during undergrad is the best thing to do. This will save time and money in the long run for those who know they want to go into the field of ABA. Finding an approved and interesting site to obtain supervision hours is also important. Students benefit the most from gaining experience in a variety of settings. And then there are the exams—taking the BCBA exam is the last step in obtaining ABA certification! Once passed, the student is no longer a student, but an official applied behavior analyst!
Master of Education (M.Ed.) | Northeastern State University
Behavior and Learning Disorders | Georgia State University
Updated December 2022