To work in behavior analysis and acquire board certification, you need to meet educational requirements, experience requirements and exam performance benchmarks. The most successful professionals in this field have something more: qualities that the Behavior Analyst Certification Board won’t evaluate you on but are nonetheless important in clinical practice. Among these qualities are the scientific mindset needed to meticulously collect and analyze data, the people skills that help you build relationships and the rapport that helps clients progress and the compassion and empathy to treat clients and families with appropriate care rather than judgment. Your education and training in behavior analysis should offer you the opportunity to develop these traits that you naturally possess as well as learning the principles and practices used in the field.
A Strong Scientific Mindset
Although there are some differences between behavior analysis and fields like chemistry and biology, this discipline is nonetheless a science. Behavior analysis uses scientific principles to understand and explain how factors in a person’s environment affect behavior. Although your coursework in behavior analysis will cover the concepts and principles involved in the discipline, it helps to have strong skills in logic, reasoning, analysis and scientific thinking. These skills will serve you well not only in the portions of your college curriculum that focus on the philosophical underpinnings of behavior analysis practice but also as you apply what you have learned to assessing real clients’ behavior patterns and treatment outcomes.
Although much of the work done in behavior analysis has a strong clinical component, experimental research remains an important aspect of the field. Typical coursework also covers the quantitative research methods used in conducting and interpreting the results of experiments.
Interpersonal and Communication Skills
Behavior analysts usually aren’t the ones who provide direct service to clients. Rather, they figure out what interventions are most suitable for an individual client’s needs and develop the plan that therapists and behavioral technicians implement. However, they still interact with clients and their families and caregivers when they assess behavior – both before they write the initial treatment plan and as they review clients’ progress and adjust the intervention plan throughout treatment. They also work closely with other professionals they supervise, including assistant behavior analysts, behavior technicians, front-line therapists and others. The ability to communicate effectively with all of these people a behavior analyst comes into contact with is crucial for making sure that clients get the interventions that are right for them and research is performed in accordance with scientific standards and methods.
Communication skills used in the field of behavior analysis include skills in writing, speaking and listening. A behavior analyst must be open to feedback from the front-line professionals working with a client and be willing to alter intervention plans as needed to achieve the best outcomes for clients.
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Compassion in Clinicians
In many cases, behavior analysts are brought in to address behaviors and behavior patterns that are problematic – so it’s no surprise that they may cause the clients themselves or their caregivers distress. Whether the client is an older adult battling dementia, a young nonverbal child with a developmental disability, a person with a history of substance abuse or a child who exhibits severe and harmful behavior, the situation can be emotionally difficult for a family. Having a strong sense of compassion can help you connect with the client and caregivers, helping clients feel more at ease with the intervention plan and lead to more productive data-gathering behavior assessment interviews.
The end goals of applied behavior analysis focus on improving clients’ lives through helping them acquire wanted skills, like communication and social skills, and decrease maladaptive or harmful behaviors. Even in experimental behavior analysis, research findings improve clinical practices.
The Skills You Learn in a Behavior Analysis Program
Soft skills like critical thinking, communication and interpersonal relationship-building skills are valuable in the field of behavioral analysis, but don’t make the mistake of thinking that your curriculum will revolve primarily around practicing those skills. In fact, the Behavior Analyst Certification Board identifies six content areas of study, including behavior assessment, data measurement and interpretation, behavior change procedures and the concepts that make up the foundations of behavior intervention.
The professional examinations needed to earn board certification comprise questions that test candidates’ knowledge of each content area, with elements of behavior change and interventions accounting for the largest shares of test questions.