Aunice Yvonne Reed, M.S., M.A.
A behavioral therapist is an individual who uses various strategies and techniques derived from the behaviorism school of thought in psychology. Techniques can be applied to many different types of situations and conditions, but the primary focus is to change behavior and teach skills to improve day-to-day social functioning.
applied behavioral analysis is essential to behavioral therapists
Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) is the science of behavior modification, a term used interchangeably with "behavioral therapy." ABA is the preferred scientific term when referring to the principles and interventions of behavior modification. Behavioral therapists use ABA extensively in their work with clients who may be exhibiting socially inappropriate behaviors, or those which are unhealthy and harmful. Behavioral therapists obtain certification as a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA).
Behavior therapists are concerned primarily with behavior that is observable. They want to see it in action and they prefer to work with it in the setting it occurs, such as an educational or home setting. For example, a child with a neurodevelopmental disorder like Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) will work with an ABA therapist, someone who is certified in ABA techniques and strategies. These training periods often occur in the child's home with their parents, and in their school with the child's teachers. ABA therapists teach the family of a child with a neurodevelopmental disorder how to reinforce behavior that is appropriate and acceptable. A therapist who specializes in Applied Behavioral Analysis typically begins with an assessment of the individual's behavior. It is referred to as functional behavioral analysis (FBA).
An ABA therapist conducts a functional behavioral assessment (or analysis, if you prefer) to understand more about the individual's behavior. They are more specifically interested in what is sustaining negative behavior, such as a temper tantrum. ABA therapists use the ABC Model, which will help them understand what is happening in sequence:
What Does a Behavior Therapist Do?
Behavior therapists use techniques to help people change their behavior, usually one that they want to stop or reduce. Behavioral therapists and behavior analysts work with people who have conditions such as: Autism Spectrum Disorder, Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Substance Use Disorders, Trichotillomania (hair-pulling disorder) and Neurocognitive difficulties such as Alzheimer's Disease. They also work with people who may have Phobias or a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).
If you have at least a high school education, you can start working with clients who are receiving ABA services while working under supervision of a qualified supervisor.
Steps for becoming a behavior therapist IN the united states
1. Complete your Bachelors degree in a human behavior related major such as psychology, human development, biological psychology or child development. Completing your degree in a behavioral science isn't required, but it's helpful, especially if you desire to work with clients.
2. Complete your Master's or Doctoral degree with Applied Behavioral Analysis as a component. It is important to complete the BCBA coursework that adheres to standards set by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB).
3. Complete hours of supervision in the field. Depending on which pathway you choose, you'll need to either complete 2000 or 1500 fieldwork hours under supervision. This fieldwork time must be completed in not more than 5 years.
4. Apply for certification and have your application approved by the board.
5. Pass the BCBA examination.
Levels of ABA Certification and Practitioner Subtypes
Registered Behavioral Technician (RBT) - If you have at least a high school education, you can start working with clients who are receiving ABA services while working under supervision of a qualified supervisor. To become a behavior therapist working at this level, you will need to complete at least 40 hours of training, pass a criminal background check and pass an examination. Most aspiring RBTs locate an agency to work at first. This agency then provides the training and supervision. The BACB requires that the 40-hour training period be no more than 180 days and no less the 5 days.
Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst (BCaBA) - If you have a bachelors degree, you can work under supervision at this level. BCaBAs are qualified to supervise RBTs. At this level, the behavior therapist has completed one of the educational pathways, and has passed an examination. Under pathway 1, the individual completes a bachelors degree program accredited by the Association for Behavioral Analysis International (ABAI). Under pathway 2, the individual completes a bachelors degree and ABA coursework. If you want to become a Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst providing ABA services to clients, you'll need to finish the educational pathway, meet the hourly supervision requirements and pass the exam. Only after you have met all these requirements can you receive your BCaBA certification.
Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) - This is an individual who has completed a graduate level education, either a masters or doctorate and either the ABAI degree pathway, or the ABA educational coursework component. Fieldwork hours working under supervision are also required. If you've been moving through the various levels and working your way up to this point, some of the ABA training will have already been completed. You only need to complete beginning ABA educational coursework, the initial training, one time. If you are coming into ABA at this level for the first time, you will need to complete the initial training and the graduate level ABA coursework. You'll also need to pass an exam. Those who complete a doctorate degree receive the BCBA-D certification designation.
Watch: ABA therapists at work
further resources for becoming a behavior therapist: