The Use of ABA in Social Assistance and Public Health

As applied behavior analysis (ABA) gains recognition as an effective and flexible treatment strategy for a wide range of behavioral and developmental disorders, it serves an increasingly important role in social assistance and public health settings. There are many current and potential applications for both experimental and practical behavior analysis in these environments. Academic programs centered around ABA often focus on many public and social health issues to prepare students to provide services in this context. Both experimental and practical behavior analysts can find professional positions related to social services or public health throughout the United States.

Related resource: Top 20 ABA Online Bachelor’s in Applied Behavior Analysis

The Value of Evidence-Based Methodology

A focus on quantification and evidence-based methods are the main reasons why ABA is an appropriate and desirable practice in the field of public health. This scientific approach allows analysts to develop strategies that have measurable results, which allows them to improve and exhibit the efficacy of their practice. This is particularly important in the context of social assistance, as it allows practitioners to show the value of their work alongside other types of treatment and intervention services. Since many outreach and health programs use a limited budget to serve communities, it’s important that behavior analysts can prove that their work has lasting and efficient value.

Experimental Behavior Analysis

Many experimental behavior analysts begin and continue their professional career in the fields of social assistance and public health. This branch of behavior analysis focuses on studying the behavior of individuals and groups as they relate to community wellness. Essentially, they try to identify risky behaviors across a population and develop ways to mitigate their negative impact on health across a broad demographic.

Experimental analysts study a wide range of issues, including use of addictive substances, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), domestic violence and other public health hazards. This also includes basic lifestyle choices, like eating and exercise habits, which are linked to up to half of the major causes of death in the US, according to the American Psychological Association. Practitioners of practical ABA often rely on the research and treatment strategies developed by experimental analysts when providing direct therapy and other intervention services.

Research, Policy and Supervisory Roles

Experimental behavior analysts often fill senior positions at public health institutions, taking on supervisory and oversight responsibilities. Many work with outreach organizations and public institutions in the development and implementation of policy. Others provide services as private consultants or in a research firm that focuses on specific concerns that are relevant to a particular community or demographic. Requirements for candidates seeking experimental positions are typically higher than those for practical work, so many of these professionals have a doctoral degree and extensive experience in the field.

Practical Applications of ABA

Practical behavior analysis describes the “hands-on” application of ABA by dealing directly with groups and individuals. These intervention services are effective when dealing with a wide range of behavioral, mental and developmental disorders. While many practitioners focus on providing treatment for children and adults suffering from an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), there are plenty of other areas to focus on as well. Practical behavior analysts also work with victims of addiction, aging adults and individuals recovering from traumatic brain injuries to help improve their ability to live safely and independently.

Intervention, Counseling, and Therapy

Practical behavior analysis is relatively flexible, so it can be tailored to the needs of each individual patient. While all forms of ABA utilize the principles of operant conditioning, there are many ways for therapists to actually put these ideas into practice. Discrete trial training is a simple and methodical form of intervention that breaks down behavior modification into small, measurable steps. Behavior analysts may also provide therapy in the form of counseling, helping patients and their families or caregivers adopt an effective approach to handling behavioral disorders throughout daily life.

There are many types of organizations, businesses and institutions that rely on the skills of practical behavior analysts to serve their clients or patients. Many ABA practitioners work in academic environments, ranging from elementary to college-level, to manage the psychological health needs of students. They may also serve adults with diagnosed behavioral disorders in clinical or medical environments, as well as transitional and long-term living facilities. ABA therapy has also proven effective as a component in treatment for individual suffering from severe drug or alcohol dependency.

Preparing for a Career as a Behavior Analyst

Positions at the top of the field are quite demanding in terms of education and experience, but individuals interested in behavior analysis can get started with a bachelor’s degree. An undergraduate degree related to ABA can qualify students for some entry-level positions in both private and public health environments. However, practitioners need to pursue a master’s degree to achieve full certification and progress their career further. Those interested in experimental behavior analysis, particularly those who want to be involved in research and public policy, typically need a doctoral degree as well as substantial experience in the field to qualify.

Additional Information and Resources

Students and professionals who want to develop their professional skills and career prospects should prepare to pursue licensing through the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB). While it isn’t necessarily mandatory, many professional positions prefer or require applicants to obtain this certification to qualify for the job. ABA practitioners should also seek out opportunities to learn and explore their field further through participation in conferences, continuing education and research. The Association for Behavior Analysis International (ABAI) is a central source where professional can learn about industry events, niche specializations, emerging issues and other developments in their field.

The study of psychology often straddles a line between a scientific and philosophical approach, which can result in competing views and opinions on methodology. Even though many applied behavior analysts are mindful of these competing perspectives, they are trained to focus on tangible, practical and measurable factors. The combination of an evidence-based approach, adaptable methods and variety of applications makes ABA an essential tool in handling modernsocial assistance and public health issues.