What is a BCBA?

Reviewed by:
Hannah Andreasen
M.Ed BCBA

December 29, 2022

What is a BCBA?

A Board-Certified Behavioral Analyst (BCBA) is a graduate-level professional with a certification in applied behavior analysis (ABA)—a field of study that focuses on addressing behavior modification. ABA is a commonly used approach to treat children with autism spectrum disorder, but its application expands to many other areas such as growth and development, education, and human resources.

The specific tasks and responsibilities of a BCBA involve:

  • Observing a client’s behavior in different environments
  • Gathering data related to the display, frequency, and duration of concerning behaviors
  • Meeting with clients, parents, teachers, and caregivers to assess behavioral concerns 
  • Analyzing research-based information to decide upon appropriate interventions
  • Utilizing resources or technology that track changes and progress
  • Adjusting interventions as deemed necessary

This comprehensive process helps BCBAs establish rapport with clients, make informed decisions about beneficial interventions, and properly utilize techniques that support desired outcomes.

There are also several BCBA subspecialties that include:

  • Behavioral pediatrics
  • Behavioral gerontology
  • Clinical behavior analysis
  • Behavioral sport psychology
  • Behavior analysis in education
  • Organizational behavior management
  • Behavior analysis in health and fitness
  • Behavior analysis in brain injury rehabilitation
  • Behavior analysis in environmental sustainability
  • Behavioral treatment of substance abuse disorders
  • Prevention and behavioral intervention of child maltreatment 

The wide array of subspecialties allows BCBAs to tailor dedicated services to different populations in a variety of settings (e.g., homes, schools, healthcare facilities, nursing homes).

BCBA Qualifications and Training

There are four pathways to qualify for BCBA certification.

Pathway 1:

Association for Behavior Analysis International (ABAI)-Accredited or ABAI-Recognized Program

The first pathway involves obtaining a degree from an ABAI-accredited or ABAI-recognized master's or doctoral program. Supervised fieldwork of 1,500 to 2,000 hours also needs to be completed, followed by a passing score on the BCBA certification examination.

Pathway 2:

Behavior-Analytic Coursework

The second pathway entails obtaining an acceptable graduate degree in psychology, behavioral analysis, or education from a qualifying institution. Additional graduate coursework in behavioral analysis may be required for this pathway. Supervised fieldwork (1,500 to 2,000 hours) must also be completed before passing the certification examination.

Pathway 3:

Faculty Teaching and Research

The third pathway also entails earning an acceptable graduate degree from a qualifying institution, along with holding a full-time faculty position for at least three years. Teaching courses in behavioral analysis is a requirement, and the faculty position must incorporate research as well as at least one published journal article. Supervised fieldwork (1,500 to 2,000 hours) is also required for this pathway. The final certification step is passing the examination.

Pathway 4:

Postdoctoral Experience

The fourth pathway involves having an acceptable doctoral degree (e.g., psychology, education) from a qualifying institution that was conferred at least 10 years prior and completing at least 10 years of postdoctoral practical experience. An additional requirement is 500 hours of supervised fieldwork, followed by the certification examination.

It is important to note that any degree acquired from outside of the United States (US), Canada, United Kingdom, or Australia is subject to a degree equivalency evaluation to demonstrate equivalency to a US master’s degree or higher.

Supervised Fieldwork and Training 

There are two main types of fieldwork: supervised and concentrated supervised fieldwork. Group supervision may also be permitted under certain circumstances. The main purpose of supervision is to reinforce and maintain professional, ethical, and behavior-analytic practices.

Responsibilities of the supervisor include:

  • Conducting behavioral skills training
  • Modeling ethical, technical, and professional behavior
  • Establishing and communicating expectations to the trainee
  • Observing the trainee’s performance with clients and providing feedback
  • Guiding problem-solving, decision-making, and behavioral case conceptualization
  • Evaluating and overseeing trainee’s progress with behavior-analytic delivery
  • Monitoring and evaluation the impact of supervision throughout fieldwork

Before the supervisory and training relationship begins, both the trainee and supervisor should agree upon the BCBA requirements and clarify expectations.

How BCBA Supports the Therapy Team

The therapeutic journey typically involves ABA treatment for children with autism. A BCBA functions as a supervisor or case manager for each child’s therapy. The first assessment following the diagnosis of a neurodevelopmental disorder such as autism spectrum disorder is usually conducted by a BCBA, who develops a treatment plan. The Behavior Analyst Certification Board also recommends that a BCBA provide case management for a minimum of 10 percent of a child’s total therapy hours. 

In addition to offering case supervision, a BCBA often provides parent education and liaises with behavior therapists (BTs), physicians, Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analysts (BCaBAs), and Registered Behavior Technicians (RBTs). Furthermore, a BCBA usually works closely with a clinical director who engages in ongoing training, oversight, and support for the entire therapy team (e.g., RBTs, BTs, BCaBAs).

Difference Between BCBA and RBT

Individuals who are interested in pursuing a career as a BCBA or RBT must be at least 18 years of age and have a high school diploma or GED. A background check that indicates the absence of a criminal history must also be cleared.

The main differences between a BCBA and RBT pertain to the educational requirements, tasks, and responsibilities. An RBT receives specialized certification from the Behavior Analyst Certification Board after completing 40 hours of supervised training and passing a final examination. A bachelor’s or graduate-level degree is not required for RBT certification. Furthermore, RBTs offer direct therapy after a BCBA develops and initially implements the therapeutic plan.

An individual who is seeking BCBA certification is required to have a graduate-level degree (e.g., master’s or doctorate) and complete extensive coursework and training. Following the completion of the certification process, a BCBA specializes in creating personalized care plans for clients with autism to address maladaptive behaviors and enhance daily functioning. Although BCBAs and RBTs have distinct roles, they work together to ensure each client receives optimal services.

Conclusions

BCBAs are integral members of the therapeutic team that provides intervention services for children with autism spectrum disorder. Navigating the various forms of intervention, necessary evaluations, and appointments with different professionals who offer services can become overwhelming for parents or caregivers. A BCBA makes this process run smoothly by providing ongoing assessment, guidance, and oversight.

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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