If you’re interested in a career in behavior analysis, the area of psychology that focuses on the scientific principles underlying human behavior choices, you have a lot of work ahead of you. For this career path, you will need a college education, real-world training and professional certification. However, the rewards for all of this preparation are considerable. The profession offers intriguing options in research as well as fulfilling roles in service and in interventions that improve the lives of individuals.
The Education Needed for Career in Behavior Analysis
There are career options in the field of behavior analysis at any educational level, from bachelor’s and even associate’s degrees (or less) to doctorates. However, only a master’s degree or doctoral degree qualifies you for board certification as a behavior analyst. With only an undergraduate degree, you would instead be classified as an assistant behavior analyst. Candidates with less than a bachelor’s degree would be limited to behavior technician roles.
Acquiring certification from the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) requires more than just a graduate degree in any branch of psychology. Although the board allows for multiple pathways to certification, knowledge of the psychology subfield of behavior analysis through an accredited degree program, specific required graduate coursework or research is required for eligibility.
Coursework at the master’s or doctoral level must include at least 315 hours of study in prescribed subject areas. This includes 45 hours of study in BACB compliance code and the disciplinary systems in place as well as professionalism in the field. Students spend 90 hours learning the philosophical underpinnings of behavior analysis, including the concepts and principles that form the foundation of behavior analysis as a field of research and intervention. Another 45 hours are devoted to studying research through the lenses of data measurement and display, data interpretation and experimental design. Learning to assess behaviors accounts for 45 hours of study, while cultivating knowledge of behavior-change procedures and interventions takes 60 hours. A 30-hour focus on personnel supervision and management equips certified behavior analysts with leadership skills and rounds out the curriculum.
In the field of behavior analysis, the professional acronyms that follow your name showcase your level of education. Generally, Board Certified Behavior Analysts with a master’s degree go by the acronym BCBA, while those with a doctorate are called BCBA-Ds.
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Gaining Real-World Experience as a Behavior Analyst
In a field like behavior analysis, you can only learn so much in the classroom – even as a graduate student. Fieldwork is crucial for developing the skills you need to succeed in this career. Under its newest guidelines, the BACB requires candidates for certification to attain a minimum of 2,000 hours of supervised fieldwork or 1,500 hours of concentrated supervised fieldwork.
Meeting this requirement is no small feat. Completing your fieldwork requirements to obtain board certification takes at least 15 months, and potentially as long as five years. During their fieldwork experience, aspiring behavior analysts complete work in a number of relevant job roles, including observation and data collection and analysis, assessment of behavior for the purposes of planning interventions, designing and training staff on using behavior-analytic treatment programs and working directly with clients.
At least 60 percent of a certification candidate’s fieldwork time must be spent on what the BACB identifies as “unrestricted activities” – in other words, activities that would fall under the responsibilities of a real behavior analyst, rather than busywork.
Certifications and Licensure for Behavior Analysts
More than 30 states in the U.S. either have a licensure process for behavior analysts currently in place or have some form of licensure regulation legislation pending. In certain states, a psychologist’s license, rather than a separate license in behavior analysis, is required. Among the states that do require a license to practice as a behavior analysis, some award licensure exclusively to professionals who have attained board certification, while others accept different qualifications toward licensures. Although behavior analysis as both a mode of therapeutic intervention and as a field of study has been around for decades, licensure laws have not. In fact, most laws regarding the licensing of behavior analysts were passed between 2010 and 2015.
Besides completing an approved program of study, behavior analysts can become eligible for board certification through experience in faculty teaching and research in the field or by completing a postdoctoral experience.