How to Become a Behavioral Analyst

A board-certified behavior analyst (BCBA) is a professional, graduate-level practitioner who can provide behavior-analytic services in a range of settings and with a variety of different types of clients. The BCBA offers thorough assessments and evaluations for each client and identifies appropriate plans to intervene and improve targeted behaviors.

Wondering how to become a behavior analyst? Let’s look at the following pathways for how to become a BCBA.  

According to the Board Analyst Certification Board (BACB), potential BCBA candidates must complete one of three pathways

  • Option 1: Coursework: This option entails obtaining a graduate degree from an accredited university with designated coursework and supervised practical experience.
  • Option 2: Faculty Teaching And Research: This option entails having a graduate degree (in an acceptable discipline like psychology or education), full-time behavior analysis faculty position, and appropriate practical experience.
  • Option 3: Postdoctoral Experience: This option entails having an acceptable doctoral degree conferred over 10 years ago with 10+ years of postdoctoral practical experience.

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Steps to Become a BCBA

Step 1: Enroll in a Masters in Applied Behavioral Analysis

All professionals seeking a BCBA career must have a graduate degree. For individuals following Option 1, this is typically a Masters in Applied Behavior Analysis. Students may earn these graduate degrees on traditional college campuses or online. The program length varies depending on the school.

That said, coursework must be completed from a qualifying institution, meet the requirements designated in the BACB’s Fourth Edition Task List and Course Content Allocation list. Additional coursework may also come from the Association for Behavior Analysis International (ABAI) Verified Course Sequence (VCS).

Like with most graduate programs, all students must earn passing grades (“C” or better) to receive appropriate credit.

Step 2: Complete Required Coursework

The BACB outlines that qualified candidates must complete designated coursework from an eligible institution. Applicants must successfully complete 270 classroom hours of academic classes in specified concentrations. Such coursework includes the following core concepts:

  • Ethical and professional conduct
  • Concepts and principles of behavior analysis
  • Research methods in behavior analysis
  • Applied behavior analysis

For individuals who already possess a master’s degree, supplementary coursework includes:

  • BACB Compliance Code and Disciplinary Systems
  • Philosophical Underpinnings
  • Behavioral Assessment
  • Personnel Supervision and Management
  • Behavior-Change Procedures
  • Measurement, Data Display, and Interpretation

Step 3: Complete Experience Hours

All applicants must complete relevant, supervised experience as part of their education and training.

Supervisors must have a BCBA/BCBA-D in good standing, work as a licensed or registered psychologist, or work as an authorized Verified Course Sequence (VCS) Instructor.

Trainees can start accruing experience hours after starting qualifying coursework and obtaining a qualified supervisor. The BCBA can engage in three different experience types during training.

Supervised Independent Fieldwork: This option mandates that trainees receive relevant experience placement with appropriate supervision. Candidates need a minimum of 1500 hours.  

Practicum: Practicum allows professionals to complete their experience in fewer hours but with more supervision than those receiving supervised independent fieldwork. Experience is only available within a VCS with verified experience. Candidates need a minimum of 1000 hours.

Intensive Practicum: Intensive practicum provides fewer hours of coursework with the highest level of supervision. Like practicum, the experience is only available within a VCS with Verified Experience. Candidates need a minimum of 750 hours.

Trainees can accrue hours in a single category, or they can combine any of the types to meet the baseline requirements. The trainee is responsible for documenting and saving records for all experience hours. In the event of an audit, trainees must be able to provide proof of such experience.

Step 4: Take the BCBA Exam

The BCBA exam evaluates knowledge of the BCBA/BCaBA task list. The test consists of 150 multiple-choice questions and 10 ungraded, pilot questions. All candidates receive 4 hours to complete the exam.

The exam focuses on the significant disciplines associated with BCBA including:

  • Basic behavior analytic skills
  • Specific behavior-change procedures
  • Experimental design
  • Measurement
  • Assessment

Like most tests, there are several third-party materials and study guides available for BCBA exam prep. Using these tools can familiarize candidates with content material and also reduce test anxiety. Some companies also provide mock exams to resemble the real exam.

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What Does a BCBA Do?

While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all BCBA job description, there are a few specific tasks and duties required for most professionals.

Providing Individualized Treatment

A BCBA treats each client as an unique individual with distinct needs, interests, and behaviors. Thus, the BCBA develops individualized treatment plans based on the client’s unique abilities. To develop this treatment plan, the BCBA often spends extensive time with the individual and his or her support group to observe behavior and patterns.

Supervision of Client's Care

Often, many professionals work together to provide wraparound care for clients. The BCBA may be responsible for supervising and overseeing the client’s care. This may entail training, teaching, and observing other analysts and therapists.

Training on Behalf of the Client

The BCBA may work with family members, teachers, and medical professionals to implement training for the client. This training aims to ensure that everyone is “on the same page” when it comes to reinforcing and promoting client behavioral changes.

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Regardless of the particular job, BCBAs needs excellent communication and writing skills. They are usually responsible for maintaining detailed notes, creating curriculum, analyzing and editing reports, and discussing cases with other colleagues and service providers. Additionally, they are also responsible for staying aware of recent trends and research in the industry.

Career Paths for BCBAs

There are numerous applied behavior analysis career options, and there are also many different work settings available for employment.

The majority of BCBA jobs involve some form of counseling. Counseling can occur in a variety of settings including schools, private or public residential programs, hospitals, and clinics. Moreover, counselors can work with individuals of all ages and demographics.

Psychological Assistants: These professionals support licensed psychologists with clinical tasks related to both counseling and research.

Special Education Assistants: These assistants work in schools and facilities and hospitals. They often work directly with teachers and families to provide effective care for the client. Some BCBA professionals obtain additional coursework to become a special education teacher.

Occupational Therapy Assistants (OTA): OTAs support individuals with various conditions restore independent living skills through exercise and behavior change techniques. They can be employed in a variety of sectors.

Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselors: These specific counselors work in a variety of settings that provide change for people challenged with substance use disorders. They may work in either inpatient or outpatient units providing both short-term or long-term care.

Certified Personal Trainers (CPT): CPTs support and motivate clients towards wellness and fitness intentions. As behavior analysts receive training in rewarding positive behavior, this can be an excellent choice for individuals who enjoy exercise and want to help others achieve their goals.

BCBA Job Outlook and Salary

According to Payscale, the average behavior analyst earns an annual salary of $57,053, although salaries range from $39k to $77k. From 2010 to 2017, research shows that demand for BCBA certification has grown by 800%. The demand is highest in California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Washington, and Illinois.

Research shows that one out of every 68 children is born on the autism spectrum. ABA is one of the only evidence-based therapy treatments designed to help individuals on the spectrum. Thus, there will likely be an increased demand for professional service providers who can help clients and their families.

While the Board of Labor Statistics does not have a specific category examining Behavior Analysts, the job description appears mostly in line with occupational therapists.

Occupational therapists earn an average of $82,200 per year. Moreover, employment is expected to rise by 24% from 2016-2026 (which is much faster than the average for all occupations.

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