How to Become an ABA Therapist

Reviewed by:
Hannah Andreasen
M.Ed BCBA

October 18, 2022

ABA therapists are professionals with years of training in applied behavior therapy. Applied behavior therapy (ABA) is a growing field with increasing demand. You may be interested in becoming an ABA therapist if you are looking for a rewarding career that allows you to help children using your creativity. 

ABA therapists must receive a certification from the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) by completing educational and practical requirements and then passing the BACB examination. After passing this test, they become a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) or BCAB-D with a doctoral degree. 

What Does an ABA Therapist Do?

ABA therapists have a strong focus on working with individuals with autism. However, the principles of ABA can also be applied to individuals with other developmental disorders or traumatic brain injuries. 

The goal of an ABA therapist is to assess behavior to develop an individualized plan to increase helpful behaviors and decrease behaviors that could be harmful. All ABA programs must be supervised by a BCBA-certified ABA therapist. 

Other duties an ABA therapist might perform include:

  • Supervising other behavior professionals or paraprofessionals 
  • Meeting with families
  • Training parents 
  • Tracking an individual’s progress
  • Designing and conducting studies for new behavior techniques 

The various locations of ABA therapy jobs include: 

  • Private practice 
  • Schools
  • Therapy centers
  • Hospitals
  • Nursing homes 
  • Community centers
  • Government agencies 

How Do You Become an ABA Therapist?

It usually takes about six to eight years to become a BCBA-certified ABA therapist. 

Step 1: Earn an Undergraduate Degree

The first step is to earn an undergraduate degree. Although there are no requirements regarding the area of study, earning a degree in psychology or education is preferred. 

For most people, this will take four years. 

Step 2: Earn a Graduate Degree

The next step is to earn an advanced degree—a Master’s, doctorate, or Ph.D.—in applied behavior analysis or a similar field. 

For most people, this will take about two years. 

Step 3: Complete Supervised Fieldwork

The next step is to complete the required hours of supervised fieldwork in applied behavior analysis. This is where you put your knowledge to use in the real world. 

You will need to find a supervisor that meets the following qualifications:

  • Active BCBA without current disciplinary sanctions who has been certified for at least one year and meets ongoing supervision requirements
  • Active BCBA without current disciplinary sanctions who has been certified for less than one year and is receiving consultation every month from a qualified consulting supervisor
  • Licensed or registered psychologist certified by the American Board of Professional Psychology in Behavioral and Cognitive Psychology who was tested in applied behavior analysis
  • Authorized Verified Course Sequence instructor

Once you have selected your supervisor, you will sign a written contract to align the fieldwork activities and purpose of the supervision. 

There are two types of supervised fieldwork—supervised fieldwork and concentrated supervised fieldwork. Trainees who choose to complete concentrated supervised fieldwork will require more supervision but can complete fewer hours (1,500 hours of concentrated supervised fieldwork vs. 2,000 hours of supervised fieldwork). 

The time it takes to complete the required hours of supervised fieldwork is at least one year but cannot extend longer than five years. 

Step 4: Take the BCBA Exam

Once you have met all the requirements above, you can submit your application to sit for the BCBA exam. The BACB will review your application and issue you approval to take the exam or guidance for the next steps if your application is not approved. 

The exam has a total of 175 questions and covers the foundations and applications of applied behavior analysis. 

Step 5: Obtain State Licensure

Some states require ABA therapists to obtain a state license to practice behavior analysis. Check with your state to see if you need a license before you begin practicing. 

Step 6: Maintain Your Certification

To maintain your BCBA certification, you must complete 32 hours of continuing education requirements every two years.

Other Professions That Practice ABA

Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analysts (BCaBA) can provide ABA services under the supervision of a BCBA. A BCaBA certification requires an undergraduate degree and an exam. BCaBAs can also supervise Registered Behavior Technicians (RBTs).

RBTs are paraprofessionals that assist BCBAs and BCaBAs in delivering ABA services. RBTs must be at least 18 years old, receive 40 hours of training, and pass an exam. 

Five Characteristics of Successful ABA Therapists

Successful ABA therapists usually have several traits in common. 

Excellent Communication

ABA therapists must be able to communicate with a wide range of people, from toddlers to adults. They often have to present complex ideas in a way anyone can understand, including young children. Written communication is also important to keep track of a patient’s progress and for presenting research. 

Empathy

Empathy allows for personalized, supportive care so patients can have the best outcomes. 

Strong Interpersonal Skills

By definition, ABA therapists work with others. ABA therapists should be able to foster trusting and respectful relationships with their colleagues, patients, and their patient's families.  

Strong Critical Thinking Skills 

ABA therapists should be able to observe and interpret data quickly and effectively when they are treating patients. They also need to analyze information from multiple sources to provide appropriate treatment recommendations. 

Creativity

Many problems that arise in ABA therapy require creative solutions since no two patients are the same. Therapists may need to get creative in how they interact with, play with, and communicate with patients and families. 

Conclusion

ABA therapists are highly trained professionals who spend six to eight years studying applied behavior analysis. Successful ABA therapists are creative and have strong communication, interpersonal, and critical thinking skills. 

If you are a BCBA looking to help provide high-quality children’s autism care, contact us to learn how you can join the team.

‍Songbird Therapy is a technology-enabled provider setting a higher standard for children’s autism care. With a deeply passionate team and innovative technology, we’re building a world where every child can access world-class care at home, uniquely tailored to them.

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