The field of applied behavior analysis (ABA) involves the collaboration and cooperation of many different job roles. Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs and, for those with a doctoral degree, BCBA-Ds) are the leaders in the field, the ones who develop intervention plans based on individualized behavior assessments. However, they rely on Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analysts (BCaBAs) and Registered Behavior Technicians (RBTs) to make a difference in clients’ behavior patterns and their lives. The role of ABA therapist fits somewhere in this field of clinical practice, but exactly what this worker does, what level of education is needed and what level of credential or seniority accompanies this position can vary.
Direct Service Work in ABA Therapy
Although their work is to change clients’ behaviors, a lot of what behavior analysts do doesn’t involve direct service. BCBAs are usually the ones assessing behavior and directing clinical treatment through developing and adjusting intervention plans, not the ones who work one-on-one with clients in intensive therapy sessions. For ABA therapists and other roles in the field, this direct service work comprises most of their workday.
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In terms of job duties, ABA therapists have more in common with behavior technicians than the behavior analysts, despite similar job titles. They don’t choose intervention plans themselves, but their notes on clients’ responses and progress, along with the behavior analyst’s own findings that result from behavior assessments, help influence that adjustments made to these plans.
Some employers use the terms “ABA therapist” and “behavior analyst” interchangeably. While one employer may mean a direct service role, another may actually be seeking a Board Certified Behavior Analyst with an advanced degree.
Education Needed for ABA Therapist Roles
Because there is often overlap in the field of behavior analysis, it is difficult to pinpoint one educational path that is the right choice for preparing for this occupation. For ABA therapist roles that are akin to technician jobs, you may need no further formal education beyond your high school diploma. Other ABA therapist positions require an education somewhere between technician and assistant-level roles. You may need an associate’s degree or the equivalent number of college credits, but a bachelor’s degree may be preferred. Among employers who view ABA therapists as equivalent to Board Certified Behavior Analysts, job listings may require a master’s degree or even a Ph.D.
What employers across different states and industries can agree on is that some form of knowledge and experience in providing therapy using the applied behavior analysis approach is necessary. Whether you develop this knowledge through short-term on-the-job training or through a specialized program of graduate-level coursework, you should expect to meet certain basic competency requirements that apply to clinical practice.
The more senior level your role and the more advanced your education in ABA therapy, the greater the demands for professional competencies. At the most basic levels, ABA therapists must learn how to achieve behavior reduction and skill acquisition in clients.
Wages for ABA Therapists and Related Roles
As you might expect, your role in the clinical practice of behavior analysis and your level of education, experience and certification can all impact your salary potential as an ABA therapist. While ABA therapists with a bachelor’s degree report an average salary of $47,281, those with a master’s degree report a $55,402 average wage. Experience also matters, whether gained through fieldwork during your education or in real-world clinical settings under appropriate supervision. However, you might be surprised to find that holding a master’s degree affects your salary potential as much as having five years of work experience. Since most master’s degree programs take well under five years to complete, the payoff of pursuing a graduate degree is often worthwhile.
How does this somewhat nebulous career path of ABA therapist compare to credentialed roles in terms of earning potential? The average wages listed above fit squarely inside the salary ranges for assistant behavior analysts and credentialed behavior analysts. PayScale reports an average salary of $43,364 for Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analysts and $59,248 for Board Certified Behavior Analysts.
At either end of the salary spectrum are behavior analysis workers with more or less education. RBTs see an average salary of just $33,507, while BCBAs with a doctorate make an average wage of $83,000, according to PayScale.