Applied behavior analysis, or ABA, is an evidence-based behavior therapy that focuses on developing appropriate behaviors in patients, while minimizing negative behaviors, such as aggression or self-injury. ABA can be effective for children and adults. It is most commonly practiced as a therapeutic intervention for individuals on the autism spectrum as well as for those with ADHD, brain injuries, and other behavior issues. It is even effective in reducing workplace injuries and improving athletic performance, according to the Association of Professional Behavior Analysts, or APBA. ABA can be practiced in a variety of settings and helps individuals manage the lifestyle challenges that accompany their conditions.
For students exploring careers in the health sciences, it might be useful to understand what it means to be a behavior analyst.
What Is a Behavior Analyst’s Role in Patient Treatment?
Applied behavior analysts work in a wide variety of settings, including homes, workplaces, schools, and clinics. Patients’ treatment plans depend on their individual needs, and ABA interventions require monitoring and continuous evaluation from session to session. ABA therapists evaluate patients’ behaviors to develop treatment plans to improve their communication and behavioral skills over time.
When ABA was first developed in the 1960s, it focused on a highly structured teaching system where desired behaviors were broken down into specific components. The behavior analyst would then lead the patient through an activity designed to teach the component. The therapist rewarded the patient for each successful activity completion. The patient repeated the process many times for each of the behavior’s components until the patient assembled all components into a whole, modified behavior.
As ABA evolved, the process became less strict. Therapists chose activities based on their patients’ interests and interactions within their environment. This technique still employs the methods of repeating and rewarding desirable behaviors, but in a more fluid and natural way.
The approaches of behavior analysts have evolved based on the specific needs of patients. These approaches can be placed into two categories: discrete trial training and natural environment training.
● Discrete trial training is the more traditional behavior training approach that involves highly structured one-on-one activities where complex behaviors are broken down into specific, or discrete, components and repeated and rewarded in a clinical setting. Once patients learn the components, therapists link them together until patients can complete the entire complex behavioral task.
● Natural environment training occurs in natural environments, such as patients’ homes, workplaces, or schools. Therapists do not immediately start training, but rather wait for patients’ natural inclinations and interests to guide the therapy. Once patients express interest in a naturally occurring situation, therapists use graduated reinforcement to elicit desirable responses from them. This approach allows patients to employ the skills they learn in more generalized, everyday situations.
How to Become an Applied Behavior Analyst
A graduate with a bachelor’s degree in a health science can become a behavior analyst by earning a Master of Science in Applied Behavior Analysis, Education, or Psychology. Upon graduating from the master’s program, prospective behavior analysts must acquire work experience through either supervised clinical work. The next, and sometimes final, step is to pass the national certification exam, which is required to qualify for board certification. Some states also require state licensure.
There are many potential career paths available for qualified, credentialed behavior analysts. These professionals often work in health care, education, mental health clinics, or even with private clients in social settings. They can advance their careers by enrolling in continuing education programs and joining professional organizations. There are also PhD programs for further ABA studies.
Salaries in ABA-related fields vary depending on qualifications, education, and career path, but job seekers with advanced degrees, certifications, and other credentials are more likely to find higher paying work. For those wondering how much they could potentially earn following graduation, a 2014 professional employment report by the Association of Professional Behavior Analysts indicated that the largest number of survey respondents earned more than $75,000 per year, while some earned significantly more ($145,000+).
As the field of behavioral science continues to develop, behavioral disorders are becoming more widely understood and prevalent. Applied behavior analysts are crucial in helping patients develop the critical skills they need to improve their daily lives. Furthermore, O*Net projects that job growth for this and related counseling psychologist occupations will increase by a rate of 14 percent through 2026. Regardless of their chosen career paths, behavior analysts can have financially and emotionally rewarding careers by helping patients overcome behavioral challenges to improve their daily 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 is structured to prepare graduates for success in a variety of career fields. The program blends research and hands-on experience, and offers coursework in behavior assessment, treatment evaluation, ethical practices, and other related areas.
Individuals who are interested in developing a deeper understanding of human behavior and preparing for an exciting career are encouraged to learn more about the MS ABA degree program offered by Regis College.
National Center for O*Net Development, Counseling Psychologists