Skills, Abilities, and Personality Traits of a Good Behavior Therapist

Behavioral therapy, or behavior therapy, is a branch of therapy that focuses on teaching individuals to modify harmful, antisocial, or maladaptive behaviors and replace them with positive behaviors, with the ultimate goal of helping the patient navigate life with a greater degree of success and independence. For example, a behavior therapist might work with a child, teenager, or adult to help them overcome fears, develop everyday life skills, or manage emotions like anger and stress. 

There are several types of behavior therapy, with some of the more common and widely-studied varieties including Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), and even exposure therapy, which is chiefly focused on treating phobias. ABA, which you can read more about here, is notable among behavior therapies for its widespread success in helping children with autism when best practices are implemented — for instance, the current recommendation of 20 to 40 hours per week of therapy. 

Regardless of which type of behavioral therapy you are most interested in studying or practicing, you will need to possess certain skills, traits, and qualifications in order to treat your patients effectively. This is especially critical if you intend to work with children or patients who may have challenges verbally communicating their needs to you — for instance, if you plan on becoming an ABA therapist for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). 

Whether your mission is to open your own practice, work with an underserved community, specialize in treating a certain type of disorder, or achieve another professional goal, cultivating certain traits will make it easier for you to succeed. Read on to learn about the training, abilities, and skills needed for a behavior therapist in today’s competitive industry. 

What Makes a Good ABA Therapist?

To be effective as an ABA therapist or other type of behavioral analyst, you’ll need to master a professional balancing act. On one hand, it’s crucial for you to be empathetic and supportive of your patients; but on the other, you’ll also need a keen analytical mind with a measured and scientific approach to problem-solving. 

In addition to possessing the right blend of emotional warmth and analytical skills, you’ll also need to acquire the appropriate work experience and training. For instance, to become a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA), you must pass an exam administered by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB — not to be confused with BCBA). Becoming a BCBA will qualify you not only to provide ABA services, but also to act in a supervisory capacity for Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analysts (BCaBAs) and Registered Behavior Technicians (RBTs), along with “other professionals who implement behavior-analytic interventions,” as noted by the BACB. 

You can learn more about this topic here, or by visiting the BACB website. Otherwise, keep reading to see five examples of behavior analyst skills and abilities you should focus on developing to help grow your career. 

5 Examples of Traits, Abilities, and Skills Needed to Be a Behavior Analyst

  • Active Listening — A therapist must possess exceptional listening skills in order to “read between the lines” and identify the patterns, triggers, and motivations that drive an individual’s behavior. Here are a few strategies to help you improve your active listening skills:
    • Avoid interrupting, jumping to conclusions, or making value judgments 
    • Face the speaker 
    • Follow up with questions once the speaker is finished 
    • Make eye contact 
    • Pay attention to body language and non-verbal cues 
  • Critical Thinking — Each patient has a unique personality, history, and set of strengths and challenges. An ABA therapist must use critical thinking skills to design (and continuously modify) an appropriate course of treatment for the evolving needs of each patient.  
  • Creativity — Having the ability to think creatively or “outside the box” makes it easier to conceptualize novel or innovative ideas, such as methods for communicating with patients. 
  • Curiosity — “Curiosity” may seem like an unusual or even insignificant feature to highlight, yet is vital in the field of ABA research and therapy. BCBAs must be passionately driven to continue investigating, researching, and exploring, making natural curiosity a simple — yet essential — component of a successful career. If you’re the type of person who’s fascinated by the “hows” and “whys” behind everyday occurrences, and enjoy exploring the details that others might miss or overlook, a career in ABA therapy may be a good option for you. 
  • Empathy — The American Psychological Association defines having empathy as “understanding a person from his or her frame of reference rather than one’s own, or vicariously experiencing that person’s feelings, perceptions, and thoughts.” In other words, you need the ability to “put yourself in someone else’s shoes,” while still maintaining an appropriate professional distance to provide ethical treatment. Empathy is a cornerstone of the therapist-patient relationship, making this trait — perhaps above all others on this list — absolutely essential in the field of behavior analysis. 

Earn Your MS in Applied Behavior Analysis from an Accredited Degree Program at National University

Think you’re ready to begin exploring a career in applied behavior analysis or other branches of behavioral therapy? Acquire the skills, the training, and the work experience you need through the MS in ABA program at National University. Our fast-paced, fully accredited master’s ABA program is available 100% online, offering flexibility and convenience ideal for your busy schedule while preparing you to sit for the BACB exam. And with financial aid available for qualifying students, plus unique benefits for servicemembers and Veterans, earning your degree in applied behavioral analysis has never been a more reachable target. 

Challenge yourself to discover what you can accomplish in 30 days. Start your application today, or contact our admissions office to learn more about the MS in Applied Behavior Analysis at NU. 

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