How to Become an Applied Behavior Analyst (ABA) Therapist

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The role of the applied behavioral analyst, or ABA, is one of the most crucial in the field of behavioral therapy. The ability of ABAs to glean information about a person’s habits — based on observable behavior — can make it possible to create better connections among individuals, their family members, and peers, making this a pivotal position for general well-being. Because of this, the question of how to become an ABA therapist can occur to people who feel drawn to the profession and a calling to help others.

According to the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB), more than 48,000 individuals had become board certified behavior analysts as of July 2021. If you are considering becoming an ABA therapist, and pursuing an online Master of Science in Applied Behavior Analysis degree, it can be beneficial to know more about what it’s like to work as an ABA, and the steps involved in joining the profession.

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.
An ABA therapist takes notes while sitting and talking with a patient.

At its core, the role of the ABA is centrally 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.

Becoming an ABA Therapist

Learning how to become an ABA therapist can help those with an interest in the profession decide whether to pursue ABA therapy as a career. The requirements for entering the profession are outlined below.

Step 1: Earn an Undergraduate Degree

The first step in becoming an ABA therapist is to obtain an undergraduate degree. Ideally, earning a bachelor’s degree in a field such as psychology or education is preferable.

Step 2: Earn a Graduate Degree

The next step in becoming an ABA therapist 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 at least a master’s degree in a field such as applied behavior analysis.

Step 3: Obtain Licensure and Certification

Most states require ABA therapists to become licensed to practice, although the actual prerequisites vary from state to state. It’s important for ABA therapists to be familiar with the licensing and renewal requirements of the state in which they will practice. In addition to becoming licensed, employers typically require ABA therapists to be certified. Certification is essential if ABA therapists wish to open their own practice.

ABA Career Outcomes and Salaries

Individuals who are interested in learning how to become an ABA therapist also might be interested to know that ABAs can pursue numerous roles in their field. Some examples of those roles are described below.

ABA Therapist

ABA therapists apply their expertise in behavior analysis to help clients decrease harmful behaviors and increase behaviors that will be helpful. Using positive reinforcement and other treatment techniques, ABA therapists focus on the antecedents of behavior (that is, what occurs before a behavior), the resulting behavior, and the consequences of that behavior. They assess clients, set treatment goals, provide therapy, and measure a client’s progress.

ABA Therapist Salary

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), individuals who worked as substance abuse, behavioral disorder, or mental health counselors earned a median annual salary of $47,660 as of May 2020.

ABA Training Coordinator

ABAs who serve as ABA training coordinators act somewhat like consultants. They provide educational and training opportunities to individuals in an organization.

ABA Training Coordinator Salary

The compensation website PayScale reported the median annual salary for a training coordinator was about $50,700 as of August 2021.

Clinical Supervisor

Some ABAs choose to work as clinical supervisors. In this role, they typically oversee behavioral analysts or trainees who provide services to clients.

Clinical Supervisor Salary

PayScale reported the median annual salary for clinical supervisors was about $59,900 as of August 2021.

University Professor

Becoming an ABA can also position individuals to become university professors. When ABAs work in higher education, they have the opportunity to apply their behavioral analysis acumen to the classroom to help prepare others to enter the ABA profession.

University Professor Salary

According to the BLS, the median annual salary for postsecondary teachers was $80,790 as of May 2020.

Clinical Director

ABAs also can opt to work as clinical directors. In this position, they are typically charged with overseeing a facility’s clinical operations as they relate to client or patient behavioral treatment.

Clinical Director Salary

PayScale reported the median annual salary for clinical directors was about $79,100 as of August 2021.

Regardless of position, ABAs play a vital role in the field of therapy. 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.

Applied Behavior Analyst Skills

One of the most interesting things about how to become an ABA analyst is the opportunity to develop a wide range of competencies. In completing the steps to become an ABA, an individual has the opportunity to develop skills such as:

  • Applying ABA procedures to modify patient behavior
  • Explaining concepts regarding behavior and learning
  • Conducting behavioral assessments
  • Designing experiments
  • Developing intervention strategies
  • Developing target behaviors
  • Measuring behavior
  • Presenting data regarding changes in behavior
  • Selecting methods for assessing behavior

Earning Your ABA Degree

If what you’ve learned about how to become an ABA therapist makes the profession sound appealing, then spend some time exploring the Regis College online Master of Science in Applied Behavior Analysis program.

The program blends both research and hands-on experience, offering coursework in behavior assessment, treatment evaluation, ethical practices, and other related areas. A rewarding career in applied behavior analysis could be on the horizon. Consider embarking on your career path today.

 

Recommended Readings

ABA Therapy Examples, Definition, and Techniques

Behavior Intervention: Definition, Strategies, and Resources

What Is Applied Behavioral Science and Why Is It Important?

 

Sources:

Autism Speaks, Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)

Behavior Analyst Certification Board, BACB Certificant Data

Behavior Analyst Certification Board, Certifications

PayScale, Average Clinical Director Salary

PayScale, Average Clinical Supervisor Salary

PayScale, Average Training Coordinator Salary

Psychology Today, Applied Behavior Analysis

Regis College, Course Catalog

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Postsecondary Teachers

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors