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5 Ethical Quandaries Faced by Applied Behavior Analysts

Five Ethical Issues Applied Behavioral Analysts Must Consider

  • Self-Care Concerns
  • Friendships with Clients or Families
  • Inappropriate Parenting
  • Financial Concerns
  • Ethical Concerns with Employer

As an applied behavior analyst, ethical concerns are common. Few professions involve the level of intimacy and in-home care that ABA does, so therapists must be aware of the potential pitfalls of their profession. From overbearing parents to overbooked schedules, therapists must bring compassion and commitment to their work to overcome these five potential ethical issues.

Related resource: Top 20 Online Applied Behavior Analysis Bachelor’s Degree and BCaBA Coursework Programs

Self-Care Concerns

Becoming an ABA therapist requires a high level of compassion for others. Therapists may be yelled at or even physically assaulted while caring for children with developmental disabilities. More commonly, therapists may feel emotionally overwhelmed by their jobs. Although it’s important for helping professionals to care for themselves, in-home behavioral therapists have a special obligation to uphold their scheduling commitments. Children with autism benefit from consistent schedules, so frequently calling in for mental health days is harmful to clients.

Friendships with Clients or Families

With long hours spent working with a single client, often in a family’s home, it’s easy for ABA therapists to build relationships. However, as professionals, ABA providers must maintain appropriate boundaries. This might mean turning down an invitation to stay for dinner, declining to meet the family outside of the home or redirecting intimate conversations. Training programs in ABA techniques can help students learn how to gracefully set boundaries with clients and families.

Inappropriate Parenting

Children with autism can be stressful. Between emotional meltdowns, toilet training issues and the need for constant supervision, parents can quickly reach the breaking point. ABA therapists may witness inappropriate behavior, such as a parent yelling at a child, locking a child in a room for time-out or even using pseudoscientific “cures” for autism, like essential oils or bleach. In these situations, ABA therapists must balance the obligation to protect their clients with the need to allow families to manage their own lives. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Treatment, up to one-third of parents of children with autism try alternative medical therapies, some of which may be harmful, so ABA providers must be prepared to encounter this issue.

Financial Concerns

As service providers, ABA specialists may struggle with charging appropriate prices for their services. If a family claims they cannot afford their co-pay or begs for additional, non-compensated therapy, it may be hard for a compassionate provider to say no. ABA therapists must be willing to stand up for themselves, refuse to work for free and follow up on unpaid bills. Some of this difficulty can be alleviated by working for an organization that handles billing, leaving the therapist free to concentrate on providing excellent services.

Ethical Concerns with Employer

Although most people who start an ABA therapy business have their hearts in the right place, it’s easy to get sidelined by regulations, overhead costs and a competitive market. Small companies might find themselves cutting corners, and large corporations may be more concerned with turning a profit than helping clients. Entry-level ABA professionals may not have the confidence to stand up to a boss or raise ethical concerns in the workplace.

As the ABA field grows and distinguishes itself from other psychology specialties, therapists will develop their own ethical code. For now, applied behavioral analysts facing ethical dilemmas can rely on professors, coworkers, mentors, and employers for help.