How to Become a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA)

The Association for Behavior Analysis International (ABAI) defines behavior analysis as “a natural science that seeks to understand the behavior of individuals.” Applied behavior analysis (ABA) can, therefore, be defined as the process of studying and modifying behavior. Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is related to studying behavior, and working on solutions to improve the lives of individuals.

What Is a BCBA?

Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs) are involved in the study of how to conduct assessments to determine what is influencing behavior and then offer consultations for parents, caregivers, and clients on how to avoid challenging behavior and increase adaptive behavior, such as academic and daily living skills. Discoveries in the field of behavior analysis have been very impactful for individuals with developmental or intellectual disabilities, however, behavior analysts also work toward applying solutions to societal issues such as drug addiction, workplace safety, and educational settings.

Applied behavior analysis (ABA) uses a variety of models for treatment. The ABC Model, for example, involves three steps and has been used by those tracking data of an individual to identify what factors contribute to the behavior of interest, so that we may intervene more effectively.

  • Step A (for antecedent) highlights what precedes the behavior, and these can be almost anything, including requests, loud sounds, another individual receiving attention, etc.
  • Step B (behavior) is the child’s response.
  • Step C (consequence) is defined as what happens as a result of the behavior, e.g. gets out of work, is able to get attention from others, or gets access to tangible toys, etc.

Techniques used in applied behavior analysis may include task analysis, chaining, fading, prompting, shaping, generalization, differential reinforcement, and video modeling. These are all very powerful procedures in helping to build skills, and get clients to be able to request what they need without resorting to challenging behavior.

The Path to Become a BCBA

#1 Earn a Graduate Degree

Obtaining a graduate degree is the first step to become a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA). A typical graduate program includes the study of ethics for behavioral practice, child development, functional behavioral assessment,  work with cultural and linguistic diversity, applied behavior analysis and research.

#2 Gain Experience in the Field

Aspiring BCBAs should also receive field experience that meets the experiential standards and documentation requirements of the Behavior Analyst Certification Board. The field experience may be taken either during the degree program or after graduation, depending on the program’s requirements, but a specific number of hours must be accrued to be eligible to sit for the certification exam.

#3 Take the BCBA Exam

BCBA certification is provided by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board upon successful completion of the BCBA exam. To qualify for the certification exam, applicants must meet all of the following sets of requirements. They must either hold a graduate degree from an accredited university and have hands-on experience that has been monitored by a fellow certified professional; have a graduate degree, along with an on-staff behavior analysis teaching position with research and teaching responsibilities, as well as supervised heuristic experience. Those degrees that are an acceptable field of study may include behavior analysis, education, or psychology.

To date, nearly 30 states have established professional associations with regulatory licensing boards in the field of behavior analysis. The demand for the BCBA credential as a job requirement, rather than as a preference, is increasing much more quickly than demand for the BCaBA or BCBA-D credentials. In light of this, it is prudent for aspiring BCBAs to seriously consider the value of obtaining the BCBA credential.

Career Outlook

Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs) are employed in numerous settings and demand for this credential is increasing. According to research from the Behavior Analyst Certification Board, the annual number of job postings that either required or preferred BCBA/BCBA-D certification rose from 7,091 in 2017 to 65,366 in 2023—an increase of 821% in only 6 years.

BCBA roles in health care settings may involve treatment planning with transdisciplinary teams, case management, and the demonstration of therapy skills in residential treatment centers. Regardless of the industry, BCBAs play a vital role in shaping, delivering and advancing therapy services and behavioral care.

Overall, the demand for BCBAs has been increasing nationwide. The top three states that hire behavior analysts are California, Massachusetts and New Jersey. BCBAs may work in schools, counseling and therapy offices, social work agencies and health care settings. Professional backgrounds that are in the highest demand include experience with autism, developmental disabilities, psychology, treatment planning and therapy.

Making the Decision to Become a Board Certified Behavior Analyst

Pursuing a career in behavior analysis comes with its own unique set of challenges and opportunities. BCBAs must be compassionate and patient. They must be impeccably trained in both practice and research, and skilled at working with culturally and linguistically diverse clients. Every day, BCBAs must make decisions that demonstrate the highest professional ethics, respecting the rights and freedoms of their clients. The efforts of BCBAs to promote positive outcomes for individuals with developmental disabilities or behavioral social issues do much to make a lasting impact on communities.

Want to learn more about how you can kickstart your BCBA career? Then contact an enrollment service advisor today for one-on-one support for how UC Online can help you.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What does a BCBA do?

A Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) conducts assessments to understand what influences behavior and develops strategies to improve adaptive behavior while reducing challenging behavior. They work with individuals with developmental or intellectual disabilities and apply behavioral principles to various societal issues. BCBAs provide consultations and support to parents, caregivers, and clients to enhance daily living and academic skills.

How long does it take to become a BCBA?

Becoming a BCBA typically takes about two to four years, depending on the pace of completing a graduate degree and the required field experience. The process involves earning a master’s degree, accumulating supervised fieldwork hours, and passing the BCBA certification exam. Specific timelines may vary based on individual circumstances and program requirements.

Do you need a master’s to be a BCBA?

Yes, a master’s degree is required to become a BCBA. The degree must be in behavior analysis, education, psychology, or a related field from an accredited institution. Additionally, candidates must complete supervised fieldwork and pass the BCBA certification exam.

Is a career in BCBA worth it?

A career as a BCBA is highly rewarding due to the positive impact on individuals’ lives and its growing demand. With opportunities in diverse settings such as schools, healthcare, and social services, BCBAs can find fulfilling roles that match their interests and expertise.

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