Within the scientific area of psychology known as behavior analysis, you’ll find multiple job roles to consider. Two of these roles, Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) and Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst (BCaBA) sound very similar, yet the paths required to secure them and the job duties they fulfill are different in a number of ways.
What BCBAs and BCaBAs Have in Common
Both BCBAs and BCaBAs work in behavior analysis, a specialty of psychology that focuses on the science that drives behavior. Applied behavior analysis, or ABA, uses these scientific principles to intervene in problematic behavior patterns and ultimately change behavior. BCBAs and BCaBAs work in many of the same settings, including hospitals, schools, assisted living facilities and treatment centers, with similar populations that include children with autism and aging adults. Both credentials require successful completion of an exam.
Although there may be a therapeutic aspect to their work, BCBAs are often involved in more than providing individual therapy through an ABA approach, such as performing the assessments and analyses of behavior that are used to develop treatment plans.
The Education Required for Certification
Perhaps the single biggest factor that differentiates BCBAs from BCaBAs is level of education. While a master’s degree or doctorate is required to achieve full certification as a BCBA, it takes only a bachelor’s degree to meet the education requirements needed for a BCaBA. While this bachelor’s degree can be in any subject of study, aspiring BCaBAs will have to complete required behavior analysis coursework to be considered for certification.
The Behavior Analysis Certification Board (BACB), which awards these credentials, mandates studies in the same fields of study for both types of certification. However, the BCaBA coursework sequence requires less extensive studies in many areas of the field. Only the newest requirements’ categories of behavior-change procedures and behavior assessment do BCaBAs complete the same number of hours as their peers pursuing the BCBA credential. They complete just half as many hours of study in the philosophical underpinnings of behavior analysis and in personnel supervision and management, and just two-thirds of the hours needed in the compliance code and professionalism and in data measurement and experimental design.
Although earning a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) or Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) degree in behavior analysis to acquire the BCBA credential, there’s still value to pursuing this highly advanced education. Certified behavior analysts with a Ph.D. or Psy.D. under their belts can use the doctoral designation BCBA-D. Although this added designation doesn’t change the behavior analysts’ scope of clinical practice or professional privileges, it does offer other advantages. If you wish to work in academia or to direct – not just participate in – research in the field of behavior analysis, a doctoral degree could open doors that would be barred to you with only a master’s degree. A doctorate may also qualify you to work in leadership roles in clinical agencies. It’s no coincidence that these roles are often higher-paying than the average behavior analyst position.
BCBAs don’t just take a few more courses than BCaBAs. Their coursework must be taken at the graduate level, while BCaBAs don’t face that requirement.
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Differences in Job Responsibilities
One of the biggest differences between BCBAs and BCaBAs is that assistant behavior analysts generally are not authorized to work independently, according to Psychology Today. Instead, they must work under the supervision of a BCBA or BCBA-D, the BACB reported. This requirement limits the scope of their job responsibilities compared to what a BCBA is qualified to do, and to some degree, it can also limit employment prospects. Growth in job opportunities has historically been higher for BCBAs and BCBA-Ds than for BCaBAs.
Although they require the supervision of a BCBA, assistant behavior analysts are qualified to oversee Registered Behavior Technicians (RBTs), paraprofessionals who have less than a four-year degree.
The Benefits of a Graduate Degree
If you can achieve board certification with only a bachelor’s degree, you might wonder what makes going to graduate school worthwhile in this field. Advancing to the BCBA credential offers more in terms of job opportunities. It can also offer a considerably higher salary, with modal annual wages $30,000 higher for BCBAs compared to BCaBAs. The income difference isn’t necessarily a direct result of employers undervaluing BCaBAs, but, at times, a result of how a state’s health insurance regulations allow insurance companies to categorize BCaBAs. Given the brighter career prospects and earning potential, it’s no surprise that BCaBAs often use this credential as a stepping stone while they work toward full board certification as a behavior analyst.
Assistant behavior analysts who took graduate-level classes can apply the hours they used to satisfy their BCaBA coursework requirements toward the more extensive coursework requirements needed for the BCBA credential, the BACB reported.