How to Become an Applied Behavior Analyst (ABA) Therapist
The role of the applied behavioral analyst, or ABA, is one of the most crucial in the field of behavioral therapy. Their ability to glean information about a person’s habits — based on observable behavior — can make it possible to create better connections between individuals, their family members, and peers, making this a pivotal position. Because of this, the question of how to become an applied behavior analyst is one that’s answered through the completion of several key steps.
The ABA Position at a Glance
The primary function of an applied behavior analyst is to assess an individual’s behavioral tendencies and patterns in various situations or environments. Through research and analysis, ABAs are able to derive information about an individual in the context of various influence-based situations, such as changes in their environment. The interpretation of this information can help identify the causes of various behavioral patterns, which could then lead to the development of therapeutic strategies.
While the role of the ABA strongly focuses on working with individuals who are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), their work is not exclusive to autism. ABA therapists also apply their skills to assist individuals with traumatic brain injuries and developmental disabilities. They typically apply their skills in various settings such as hospitals, schools, community centers, and government agencies.
At its core, the role of the ABA is important to the human condition. Their work produces a fuller exploration of human behavior in individuals. This not only allows for a deeper insight into individuals with conditions ranging from autism to developmental disabilities, but it also allows for the creation of more efficient interaction strategies and coping mechanisms for use by family members and peers.
Education and Certification Requirements
The first step in becoming an applied behavioral analyst is to obtain an advanced degree. While there may be some relevant jobs in the field that require only a bachelor’s degree in psychology or education, the standard expectation is for candidates to hold a master’s degree in a related field such as applied behavior analysis.
Most states require that ABAs be licensed to practice, although the actual prerequisites vary from state to state. It’s important for ABAs to be familiar with the licensing and renewal requirements of each state prior to establishing their practice.
Additionally, employers typically require ABAs to be certified. Certification is essential if an ABA professional wishes to open their own practice. The Behavior Analyst Certification Board offers two types of certification: Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA), and the Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst (BCaBA). The former is a graduate-level program for ABAs which allows them to practice independently. The latter is an undergraduate certification that does not allow its holders to practice on their own.
There are specific educational and employment prerequisites associated with gaining certification. In the case of the BCBA certification, for instance, applicants typically must have earned a graduate degree, completed coursework from a qualifying institution, and have worked a set number of supervised clinical hours. Because of these requirements, gaining experience in the field through either an internship or an entry-level position is an essential part of becoming an applied behavioral analyst.
Positions in Behavioral Therapy
Once an individual completes an advanced degree such as a Master of Science in Applied Behavior Analysis, they can gain experience as an applied behavior analysis therapist. This experience, coupled with completed educational goals, may allow them to explore a larger slice of an industry projected to have a 23 percent growth through 2026, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Specifically, they could be in a position to pursue various administrative roles in the field, such as the following.
- ABA Training Coordinator — Those in this role act as consultants, providing educational and training opportunities to individuals in an organization. The average annual salary for the position is around $59,000 according to Payscale.com.
- Clinical Supervisor — This position typically oversees behavioral analysts or trainees who provide services to clients. The average annual salary for this position is about $61,000 according to Payscale.com.
- University Professor — These advanced degree-holders apply their behavioral analysis acumen to the classroom. The average annual salary for this position is approximately $76,000 according to the BLS.
- Clinical Director — This role is typically charged with overseeing a facility’s clinical operations as they relate to client or patient treatment. The average annual salary is roughly $73,600 according to Payscale.com.
Regardless of position, applied behavior analysts play a vital role in the therapy field. Their ability to understand behavior patterns, as well as their capacity to create strategies based on this understanding, can be fundamental to enabling treated individuals and their families to live better lives.
Designed for students from a wide variety of health science backgrounds, the online Master of Science in Applied Behavior Analysis program at Regis College prepares graduates for success in a variety of fields, including careers as an applied behavior analyst. The program blends research and hands-on experience, offering coursework in behavior assessment, treatment evaluation, ethical practices, and other related areas. The Behavior Analyst Certification Board has approved Regis’ ABA course sequence as meeting the requirements for eligibility to take the BACB exam.
If you are interested in developing a deeper understanding of human behavior to prepare for your current or future career, learn more about the MS ABA degree program today.