How to become an ABA therapist

May 02, 2023 · 4 min read · By ASU Online
If you’re passionate about making a difference in other people’s lives, a career as an applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapist may be the perfect fit for you. This field offers an opportunity to make a significant impact by employing an evidence-based approach to helping others live happier, healthier lives.

Applied behavior analysis is a systematic and scientific process. It involves learning ethical and empathetic strategies for how to assess and change behavior in children, adults, families and communities. The process includes learning how to assess behavior, identify troublesome patterns, develop personalized therapy plans and use data to track progress.


What is an ABA therapist?

ABA therapists teach people new skills and improve human behavior. ABA therapists are versatile and may help a range of clients, such as children with autism, adults struggling with eating disorders or people who’ve experienced traumatic brain injuries. They can be found working in schools, businesses, hospitals, residential care settings and mental health facilities. Some of the techniques that an ABA therapist employs to help clients enact change include:

  • Functional behavior assessment: A process used to understand why a person engages in challenging behaviors. It involves collecting data, analyzing patterns and identifying the function of the behavior to develop effective treatment and intervention strategies.
  • Discrete trial training: There may be some desirable behaviors that are best taught by breaking them down into smaller, more manageable steps.
  • Positive reinforcement: This may involve a rewards system to help a client develop a positive association with a specific action or behavior that you teach.
  • Repetition and modeling: Therapists may model a behavior or action and allow a client to repeat the behavior allowing them to become more comfortable with the action.


Why become an ABA therapist?

People become ABA therapists for a variety of reasons. In addition to it being a rewarding career, it’s also flexible. While some ABA therapists spend their time in an office setting, they also have the flexibility to work less traditional schedules. Additionally, ABA therapists have the opportunity to focus on different specializations depending on their interests.

The best ABA therapists are those who:

  • Enjoy working with children.
  • Have empathy, compassion and patience.
  • Are good listeners with strong problem-solving skills.


How to become an ABA therapist

To become an ABA therapist, you must meet degree requirements, gain the necessary fieldwork experience, take a certification exam and likely obtain a license in your state.

Working as an ABA therapist often requires holding a master’s degree. The Association for Behavior Analysis International verifies the coursework of college-level behavior analysis programs that meet professional ABA requirements.

The next step involves completing supervised fieldwork. There is a list of approved ways to complete fieldwork hours, including:

  • Conducting behavior assessments.
  • Coordinating with other team members to develop care plans.
  • Crafting behavior plans.
  • Meeting with clients.
  • Researching ABA literature.

Once you’ve completed the educational and fieldwork requirements, you’ll be eligible to take the Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) exam. The certification process is administered by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB).


Earn your ABA graduate degree or certificate with Arizona State University

If you’re ready to start working toward helping others, ASU Online offers two options to help you complete your ABA therapist education requirements:

  • Masters of Arts in special education with a concentration in applied behavior analysis: This graduate program includes coursework that meets the Association for Behavior Analysis International’s (ABAI) verified course sequence requirements to qualify to sit for the BCBA exam. You’ll need to complete additional requirements before taking the exam. ASU Online also offers an optional practicum if you’re looking to complete BCBA-supervised field experience.
  • Applied behavior analysis graduate certificate: This certificate prepares you for the BCBA exam. The courses included in this certificate meet the coursework requirements for the exam and cover many of the topics you’ll be tested on. However, you’ll still have to meet additional requirements before taking the exam.

Earn your master's degree while working full time

With the right strategy and support, you can strike a balance between your educational goals and busy life. Learn more about the time management and strategic planning it takes for working professionals to earn their online master's degree.


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