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Applied Behavior Analysis in the Telebehavioral Health Setting

ABA in the Telebehavioral Health Setting

The convention of practicing applied behavior analysis (ABA) in-person used to be the only real option for many therapy recipients, but the expansion of telebehavioral health settings promises to change this. Telehealth and telemental health aren’t exactly new concepts. In fact, some service providers and federal agencies have been supporting this type of technology and patient interaction for decades. However, modern behavior analysts now have an unprecedented opportunity to maximize their skills and focus their careers through the use of real-time remote communication and other digital tools.

Related resource: Top 25 Best Applied Behavior Analysis Programs

The Rise of Modern Telemedicine

There are several factors and trends that contributed to the exponential growth of telehealth practices throughout the country, particularly in mental health services. A growing number of diagnosed mental and behavioral disorders combined with a limited number of qualified professionals created a serious national need for more efficient and accessible service. This discrepancy between service need and availability is only exacerbated by concentrations of qualified professionals in areas with more work opportunities, which further limits access in less-populated areas.

There has always been a widespread need for accessible and qualified care providers, but recent innovations in digital and information technology have actually made it a feasible possibility. Applying ABA in a telebehavioral health environment generally requires access to a computer, a stable internet connection, and video capturing tools. Public adoption of smartphones and household computers is one of the most important trends that has made telemedicine a practical and popular solution in recent years.

Growth and Integration of Telemental Health Services

Compared to other health service providers, psychologists and therapists are uniquely well-adapted to work with clients remotely. Applied behavior analysis and other common intervention techniques require little direct interaction with recipients. Verbal discussion, observation, and instruction can all be delivered through video just as well as face-to-face. A telehealth environment also allows for the establishment of professional networks that include various types of specialists, like social workers, behavior analysts and family counselors. This makes it much easier for various professionals to collaborate or refer cases to people who have the right qualifications and experience.

Opportunities for Service Providers

Providers of ABA, counseling and other forms of therapy have a lot to gain by incorporating telemedicine into their service structure. The chance of cutting costs without compromising service is appealing for almost any provider. In fact, research released in 2013 showed an exponential reduction in cost for delivering functional assessments (FA) and similar services remotely rather than in-person, according to the California Association for Behavior Analysis.

The benefits to providers aren’t just limited to cost savings either. Access to therapy through digital tools offers clients more privacy, which can encourage fuller participation in therapy programs. It also allows providers to maximize the time of their limited staff of qualified and certified behavior analysts. Therapists can work with many more clients in telehealth settings compared to in-person and at-home visits. Cutting down on clinic traffic can also ease some of the organization’s logistical and administrative burdens.

Benefits for Therapy Recipients

Telehealth technology presents plenty of opportunities and benefits for those in need of therapy as well. The ability to access treatment without travel can make life much easier for older individuals as well as people with physical impairments. It also allows for more consistent therapy sessions for families that don’t have the time or resources to make frequent trips to a local clinic. Therapy recipients with social aversions can also feel more comfortable and receptive to treatment without the pressure of direct interpersonal interactions.

Potential Limitations and Considerations

The rise of telehealth has serious implications for ABA and all other therapeutic practices, but it’s not a solution to all problems either. Practitioners who work remotely have to take extra steps to gather information about clients and their environment, since they don’t have direct access to them personally. They also need to be aware of complicating factors, like uncooperative or disruptive family members, that could impact remote treatment. Behavior analysis in a telehealth setting requires strong coordination and communication between all parties involved.

Practicing ABA from a Remote Site

In telemedicine terminology, behavior analysis and other services can be rendered either synchronously or asynchronously. Synchronous interactions involve real-time communications, like talk therapy or directed trial training sessions, with feedback and interaction on both ends. Asynchronous interactions usually involve recordings and notes that are forwarded to the professional who analyzes and conveys relevant instruction or feedback. Some types of therapy, including most forms of direct treatment, can only be applied in synchronous sessions.

Working in Telebehavioral Health

Practicing professionals working in a telebehavioral environment implement all the same skills that they would in a conventional setting. They spend a lot of time researching and working with patients as well as providing training to family members and caregivers. ABA in a telehealth environment often relies heavily on parent involvement in therapy sessions, so practitioners need strong communication skills to provide proper instruction and education. Since remote practitioners often work with a larger number of clients on a regular basis, they may also need to make an extra effort to stay organized and maintain their schedule.

Career Preparation and Additional Resources

Students and active professionals interested in providing ABA in a telebehavioral health setting should start with the basics required of other behavior analysts. This usually entails an appropriate graduate or doctoral degree as well as board certification. Since telehealth services are rendered through digital tools, candidates should also have a firm understanding of computer systems, relevant software and the physical components needed to conference with clients. Individuals interested in telehealth can learn more about its applications and available certifications through organizations like the Telebehavioral Health Institute.

While the basic practices of ABA have remained relatively stable over the last few years, the way they are delivered to recipients certainly has not. Telehealth is a daunting prospect to some service providers and patients, but its potential benefits have fueled a massive gain in popularity and availability throughout the United States. This development allows people from across the country to access applied behavior analysis from qualified professionals in a convenient and flexible telebehavioral health setting.