What Is the Difference Between BCBA and RBT?

The Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) defines behavior analysis as “the scientific study of principles of learning and behavior.” Behavior analysis is divided into two areas: experimental analysis of behavior and applied behavior analysis (ABA). Experimental analysis of behavior serves as the foundation of learning more about ABA principles which are then used to improve quality of life.

Those who specialize in behavior analysis are equipped to offer ABA services including running behavioral assessments, data analysis, establishing behavior-analytic treatment plans, providing trainings in the implementation of these plans and overseeing the plans’ implementation. The three primary certifications in the field of ABA include Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA), a Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst (BCaBA), and Registered Behavior Technician (RBT).

Regardless of which career graduates of an ABA program choose to pursue, they can expect to have an impact on many fields. Applied behavior analysis, according to an article by the Association for Behavior Analysis International titled The Evidence-Based Practice of Applied Behavior Analysis, “has produced remarkably powerful interventions in fields such as education, developmental disabilities and autism, clinical psychology, behavioral medicine, organizational behavior management, and a host of other fields and populations.

How Education and Licensing Requirements Differ

To be eligible to apply for the BCBA exam, applicants must meet the requirements presented by one of the following three options. Either they must:

  • Earn a graduate degree from an accredited university, pursue graduate coursework in behavior analysis and complete a period of supervised practical experience; or
  • Earn a graduate degree and secure a full-time faculty position in behavior analysis (which includes research and teaching) and complete supervised practical experience; or
  • Possess a doctoral degree that was earned within the past 10 years, and follow it up with at least 10 years’ postdoctoral relevant experience.
  • Must finish a minimum of 500 hours of Supervised Independent Fieldwork that satisfies current Experience Standards. These standards specify training requirements for supervisors and trainees. The hours must start following the 10 years of postdoctoral experience.

To maintain BCBA credentials, BCBAs must meet ongoing continuing education requirements, submit complete recertification applications every two years and adhere to the BACB’s ethics requirements. There are additional requirements for BCBAs who supervise others.

To obtain an RBT credential from the BACB, applicants must be at least 18 years old, possess a minimum of a high school diploma or national equivalent, complete a criminal background check, pass the RBT Competency Assessment, undergo at least 40 hours of training and pass the RBT exam.

To maintain the RBT credential, RBTs must annually pass the RBT Competency Assessment, receive ongoing supervision, complete a renewal application and comply with the BACB’s ethics requirements relevant to RBTs.

The Difference Between BCBA and RBT Responsibilities

In the Fourth Edition Task List, the BACB divides the tasks of BCBAs into two sections. The first section, Basic Behavior-Analytics Skills, covers tasks that include measurement, experimental design, behavioral-change considerations, fundamental elements of behavior change, specific behavior change procedures and behavior change systems. Under this section, BCBAs are responsible for measuring behavior responses, evaluating the accuracy and reliability of measurement procedures, and using various intervention procedures and strategies to change behavior.

Under the second section, Client-Centered Responsibilities, BACB task categories include identification of the problem, measurement, assessment, intervention, implementation, management and supervision. BCBA client-centered responsibilities may include reviewing records and data of client behavior and health, selecting a measurement system, defining behavior in observable and measurable terms, selecting intervention strategies and documenting behavioral services.

The BACB divides the tasks of Registered Behavior Technicians into six areas: measuring, assessing, acquiring skills, reducing behaviors, documenting and reporting, and maintaining professional conduct and wide scope of practice. A few of the RBT’s responsibilities include implementing continuous measurement procedures, assisting with individualized assessment procedures, engineering generalization and maintenance procedures, carrying out interventions, communicating observations to the supervisor and communicating with stakeholders.

The main difference between the BCBA and RBT is that the BCBA may practice independently and supervises the RBT in his or her practice. A BCBA is responsible for designing and implementing the services that RBTs frequently carried out.

Career Outlook and Salary Expectations

Average salaries for BCBAs range from $56,000 to $70,000 and over $33,000 for RBTs, according to Salary.com, but will vary based on experience, location, and demand. BCBAs and RBTs work in school, home or medical facility settings. Eighty-five percent of job postings for behavior analysts fall into the health care, educational services and social assistance industries, with 45 percent of the demand concentrated in three states: California, New Jersey and Massachusetts.

According to the “U.S. Behavior Analyst Workforce: Understanding the National Demand for Behavior Analysts” report produced by Burning Glass Technologies for the BACB, the number of behavior analyst positions doubled between 2012, when there were 1,414 job postings, and 2014, when the number shot up to 3,083. The top skills needed by employers between 2012 and 2014 included experience with autism, psychology, treatment planning and experience working with individuals with developmental disabilities. These statistics indicate that graduates pursuing careers in applied behavior analysis have very good job prospects.

Looking Ahead

For graduates considering a career in applied behavior analysis, it’s important to realize that success in BCBA and RBT positions is closely tied to the successes and progress of clients. “At times, working in the field of applied behavior analysis can be tiring both physically and emotionally; some clients may have long learning histories of behaviors that may be challenging to overcome. It’s important to make time for self-care and appreciate small successes,” says University of Cincinnati faculty member, assistant professor and BACB liaison Dacia McCoy. Every step forward a client makes is a victory made possible by the BCBA and the RBT.

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