As you begin exploring career opportunities in behavior analysis, you are likely to encounter enough acronyms and abbreviations to make your head spin. Aside from a widely-used acronym that represents the field of applied behavior analysis itself, each separate credential – offered at the high school diploma, undergraduate and graduate level – has its own abbreviation. Making things even more confusing, the different concepts, approaches, behavior assessment tools and types of disorders treated in behavior-analytic clinical practice also go by acronyms. Until you become familiar with the most common abbreviations in the field, it can be difficult for prospective students to really understand what they want – such as differentiating between the BCBA, BCBA-D and BCaBA credentials – and to choose the right educational programs to achieve their career goals.

ABA = Applied Behavior Analysis

First of all, the acronym ABA stands for applied behavior analysis. Behavior analysis views behavior as a phenomenon that is influenced by factors in an individual’s environment and can be explained and altered through scientific principles. In applied behavior analysis, those perspectives and procedures are applied to the clinical practice of modifying maladaptive behavior, often focusing on behaviors that result from or pose risk factors for developing developmental, mental or physical health disorders. The ultimate goal of applying the principles of behavior analysis is improving lives, which may include helping patients gain new skills in communication, social function and coping as well as decreasing harmful behaviors that can lead to the injury of self or others.

Psychology Today recognizes ABA as a form of therapy, while other sources acknowledge it as a distinct discipline of study, research and practice. 

What Do the Different Acronyms Used in the Field of Behavior Analysis Mean?

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BCBA = Board Certified Behavior Analyst

The practitioners who work in this field are called Board Certified Behavior Analysts, or BCBAs. Only a highly educated professional with a master’s degree or doctoral degree that includes hundreds of hours of coursework in specialized behavior analysis content areas can qualify for the BCBA credential. BCBAs are the ones who do the actual behavior analysis work, which can include administering behavior assessments through a variety of methods and analyzing that data to come up with a treatment or intervention plan. BCBAs are the only professionals in the field who are authorized to work independently. They often supervise support personnel, including assistant behavior analysts and behavior technicians.

Those behavior analysts who choose to pursue a doctoral degree like a Ph.D. or Psy.D. can use the doctoral designation BCBA-D. The title doesn’t add any further responsibilities or privileges, but it can raise earning potential by $20,000 per year, PayScale reported.

BCaBA = Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst

The lowercase “a” in BCaBA denotes a different role in the field: Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst. BCaBAs don’t practice independently, but they do perform behavioral assessments and contribute to developing intervention plans for behavior change. They must, however, conduct this work under the supervision of a BCBA. You can become a credentialed assistant behavior analyst with only a bachelor’s degree, but you must complete specialized coursework in content areas such as behavior assessment, behavior change and the concepts and principles of behavior analysis to be eligible for certification.

Some undergraduate programs in behavior analysis meet the Behavior Analyst Certification Board’s requirements. Students can also complete additional coursework, such as an undergraduate or graduate certificate program, to meet these standards.

RBT = Registered Behavior Technician

RBTs, or Registered Behavior Technician, work with BCBAs and BCaBAs, but the tasks they perform typically involve a lot more direct service responsibilities to clients. BCBAs and BCaBAs meet with clients and caregivers to conduct initial behavior assessments and to reassess throughout treatment so that they can adjust the intervention plan as needed. RBTs are often the ones to execute those plans through one-on-one and group intervention sessions. You don’t need any formal studies beyond a high school diploma to acquire this credential, but you will have to undergo a 40-hour training program.

Registered Behavior Technicians must pass a competency assessment in which a BCBA observes their skills in real-world applications as well as a computer-based multiple-choice exam.

Acronyms Used in Research and Clinical Practice

Working in the field of behavior analysis requires you to be familiar with even more acronyms. Some, like FBA (Functional Behavior Assessment) and BIP (Behavior Intervention Plans), refer to the tools and methods used in the process of recording data about behavior and creating treatment plans. Others, like ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) and ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), represent the different conditions clients in need of treatment may have.

Still other acronyms allude to a government department or entity, a law or set of regulations or a specific approach to interventions.

Additional Resources

What Does a Behavior Analyst Do?

What Does an Assistant Behavior Analyst Do?

How Do You Become a Registered Behavior Technician?