How to Become an ABA Therapist

This guide will help you understand the steps you need to take to become a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA)

judah schiller
Judah Schiller
August 13, 2023
Published On
August 13, 2023

How To Become An ABA Therapist

ABA therapists must possess extensive knowledge about the human brain and behavior. If you are interested in following this career path, you must complete a bachelor's degree program.

While psychology isn't mandatory, many aspiring therapists choose this degree plan because graduate studies build upon what they learn in their undergraduate coursework.

While completing undergraduate coursework, it is beneficial to locate an internship that allows you to work with an ABA therapist. This internship can help you decide on the right career path.

You'll receive practical experience where you can be hands-on with clients as you develop your skills.

After your bachelor's degree, you should attend a graduate degree program.

While not all employers require ABA therapists to receive a master's degree, many prefer candidates who have completed multiple programs relevant to the field.

Candidates in a master's degree program spend two years completing coursework, with the second year devoted to creating a thesis related to applied behavioral analysis.

ABA Training Requirements

While requirements vary by state, most states require a license to conduct therapy with patients. You can obtain a license by completing between 1,000 and 1,500 hours of relevant clinical work.

These hours are completed under the supervision of a licensed therapist.

Training to become an applied behavioral analysis therapist is challenging. However, it is crucial for a candidate to thoroughly receive the experience and knowledge necessary to become a competent therapist.

During training, you will learn how ABA therapists assess clients.

You will also become familiar with creating an individualized treatment plan and applying and managing reinforcement systems. In addition, you will discover how to evaluate progress and modify treatment plans if you do not see positive results.

BCBA Certification Requirements

All ABA therapists should strive to receive a BCBA certification. A BCBA certification is essential for therapists who want to become independent practitioners who provide high-quality services for their clients.

Some states have specific requirements you must meet to receive BCBA certification. However, most states follow the Board Certified Behavior Analyst experience requirements.

These requirements stem from the Behavior Analyst Certification Board and feature three ways to satisfy these requirements.

The first way is to complete 1500 hours of supervised experience. This path also includes at least two supervised contacts with clients every month. In addition, five percent of all hours should be under supervision.

The second way is to complete 1000 hours of practicum. This path amounts to at least four supervised contacts with clients per month and over seven percent of supervised hours.

The third option is to complete 750 intensive practicum hours. This highly immersive track requires eight supervised visits with clients per month and at least ten percent of hours completed under the supervision of a licensed practitioner.

ABA Therapy Experience

ABA therapists receive plenty of experience through supervised practicum training. Practical experience is essential, as it allows therapists to learn how to work with clients from various backgrounds.

While traditional academic coursework is essential to training, hands-on experience is also important. This kind of experience in a supervised setting helps therapists build confidence in their ability to manage complex issues competently. It also gives therapists the opportunity to work with clients in different environments.

The role of an ABA therapist is multi-dimensional and students gain experience using various skills to solve clinical issues.

Some of these skills include conducting assessments prior to behavioral intervention and creating and implementing programs to help clients acquire new skills while reducing negative behaviors.

Student therapists also gain experience implementing and overseeing these behavioral modification programs. They learn how to establish rapport with clients and their families, as well as how to assess whether their program is effective and make modifications as necessary.

All states vary in their requirements to work as an ABA therapist. This is why therapists should receive their BCBA certification. Not only are the requirements for BCBA certification universal, but this certification demonstrates you have the necessary experience to enter this field.

Maintaining BCBA Certification

Once you have taken and passed the BCBA certification exam, you'll receive your certification. This certification allows you to work directly with clients in various settings, including healthcare facilities, schools, and clinics. You'll also be able to provide services and supervise other therapists providing behavior analysis.

Like many certifications, maintaining BCBA certification requires you to meet specific criteria.

A BCBA certification expires after two years, so you'll have to reapply for certification frequently to keep your credentials.

Therapists must receive at least 32 continuing education units from acceptable sources. Four of these hours must cover ethics. It's important to remember to apply for recertification on time. Once a certification expires, you must reapply for certification under the current requirements.

Opportunities for ABA Therapists

ABA therapists find employment in different parts of a community. Some work within a clinical setting alongside other specialty therapists. Others work at residential treatment facilities providing care for clients with profound disabilities.

School districts also employ ABA therapists. These therapists work with students needing services and interventions to help them succeed in the classroom.

Some ABA therapists become clinical directors.

Clinical directors supervise a team of other clinicians and work on creating and implementing behavioral intervention programs for clients with mental health disorders or developmental disabilities.

Another career track for those with experience as an ABA therapist is to become a social worker. Social workers work with people dealing with challenging circumstances like chronic illness or special needs.

ABA therapists who choose social work have the opportunity to change many people's lives within their communities.

The duties of an ABA therapist differ depending on the setting. However, the goal is always to improve the quality of life of their clients while helping them develop the skills they need.

Tips for Success in ABA Therapy

ABA therapists must possess essential skills to become proficient in their profession. If you are considering entering this field, there are a few skills you must master to become a therapist.

Communication skills are pivotal to becoming a good ABA therapist. Not only is communication vital during sessions with clients, but it is essential when working with parents or caregivers.

ABA therapists must remain adaptable to changing situations.

This adaptability allows therapists to personalize their services and treatment plans to meet individual client needs and unique circumstances.

Those interested in becoming therapists likely already have great empathy toward others. Empathy is essential for therapists because it helps them better understand what a client may be feeling. By demonstrating compassion towards clients, therapists can create authentic rapport. This encourages clients to feel more comfortable about trusting their therapist and allows them to become more open and receptive to the process.