Behavior Analyst: What Is a Behavior Analyst?

coworkers at desk looking at computer together

Are you interested in a career that’s related to therapy, psychology, and unlocking a deeper understanding of what drives human behavior? Do you have a passion for helping people achieve a greater sense of fulfillment and success in their social, emotional, and everyday lives?

If so, perhaps you’ve wondered whether becoming a behavior analyst could be the right career for you. In this guide, we’ll break down what applied behavior analysis (ABA) involves, what Board-Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs) do, and why board certification is so important in the first place. Read on to learn about careers in and related to behavior analysis, from social worker to market researcher and beyond.

What is a Behavior Analyst?

Originating during the 1960s and evolving over time, applied behavior analysis or ABA is a form of behavioral therapy widely recognized today for its potential efficacy in helping patients modify or eliminate behaviors that are harmful, destructive, self-endangering, or otherwise detrimental to the patient’s social, physical, and/or emotional wellbeing. This may involve guiding the patient through a series of “discrete trials,” which act like building blocks that make up a desired behavior, and/or working in a “natural environment” like the patient’s own school or home.

While most often associated with children who have been diagnosed with autism disorders, ABA has useful applications for all types of age groups and patient populations — including some that might surprise you, such as improving workplace safety or reducing the frequency of pedestrian accidents. As a behavior analyst, you’ll have opportunities to work in a wide range of industries and workplace settings depending on your interests and professional objectives. So what is it you’ll be doing on a day-to-day basis in this role?

What Do Applied Behavior Analysts Do?

As a Board-Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA), you’ll assess your patients’ needs and design personalized, continuously evolving plans to help them reach appropriate goals and targets. Here are just a few examples of the tasks and duties you might assume in your role as an applied behavior analyst:

  • Assessing your clients’ needs, challenges, preferences, and skills
  • Educating and communicating with patients’ families effectively
  • Identifying factors that trigger or increase challenging behaviors
  • Tracking and monitoring how your clients are progressing toward their goals
student studying to be an behavior analyst

How to Become a Behavior Analyst

Board-Certified Behavior Analyst, or BCBA, is not an entry-level job. On the contrary, this career demands extremely high standards of competency, meaning you will need to take numerous professional and academic steps on your path toward becoming a certified behavior analyst. For instance, you will need to meet minimum degree requirements in addition to passing specific professional exams designed to test your proficiency. The basic steps to becoming a BCBA are broken down in further detail in the following section.

How to Become a Board-Certified Behavior Analyst

Behavior analysts are certified by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB). Remember not to confuse this acronym with BCBA, which stands for Board-Certified Behavior Analyst.

The BACB provides BCBA certification — provided, of course, the applicant meets the BACB’s rigorous standards and criteria. Certification is important because without certification:

  • You will not be able to supervise Board-Certified Assistant Behavior Analysts (BCaBAs) and/or Registered Behavior Technicians (RBTs).
  • You will not qualify for as many employment opportunities, and your earning potential may be diminished.

If you wish to become board-certified as a behavior analyst, you must meet minimum education requirements, meet fieldwork (work experience) requirements, pass specific exams, satisfy state-specific licensing or certification requirements, and — last but not least — remember to keep abreast of the rigorous continuing education requirements that apply to BCBAs. Here are the steps you will generally need to complete on your path to becoming a BCBA.

  • Step 2. Accumulating enough supervised clinical work or fieldwork experience to meet the criteria set forth by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board. You may need anywhere from 1,500 to 2,000 hours, depending on whether your supervised fieldwork is concentrated.
  • Step 3. Successfully passing the Behavior Analyst Certification Board examination.
  • Step 4. Completing any outstanding additional professional or academic requirements that might be imposed by your state — for example, California’s requirements to complete 135 hours of relevant coursework, earn a bachelor’s degree or higher, and achieve a passing score on the Assistant Behavior Analyst Certification Examination, which qualifies you for Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst (BCaBA) certification.

In addition to completing these steps, it’s also critical to continually ensure you are satisfying all requirements for continuing education, which are referred to as Continuing Education Units (CEUs) in California.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Behavior Analyst?

The answer to this question depends, in part, on you. For example, the time it takes you to acquire your degree and certification can be impacted by variables like whether you take time off between courses and whether you pursue your degree on a full-time or part-time basis. With that in mind, it typically requires several years to become a BCBA and satisfy the various criteria established by the BACB.

typing on a keyboard

Applied Behavior Analyst Careers

The skills and qualifications that are required for a career in ABA — for example, having the ability to communicate with diverse and multicultural patients and families, or holding a master’s degree in areas such as ABA, social work, or psychology — can translate successfully into a wide variety of career paths beyond becoming a BCBA.

From counseling high school students and treating patients with addiction disorders, to teaching special education classes or conducting and analyzing market research, there are surprisingly diverse professional opportunities for individuals with academic backgrounds in ABA. Several examples are featured below, including:

  • Addiction Treatment Counselor
  • Forensic Profiler
  • Market Research Analyst
  • Organizational Behavior Manager
  • School Counselor/School Psychologist
  • Social Worker
  • Special Education Teacher

Read on to learn about each of these career paths, and whether one might be right for you.

Addiction Treatment Counselor

The U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) provides statistics about earnings and job outlook that can help you gauge your earning potential and employment opportunities within a given field. While BLS data is sometimes incomplete or unavailable, it still serves as a useful resource for students who are evaluating possible career paths.

The BLS reports that substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors earn a median salary of approximately $48,500. This field is expected to experience “much faster than average” job growth from 2020 to 2030: 23%, compared to the national average of just 8%. As an addiction treatment counselor, you’ll work in or with outpatient substance abuse centers, hospitals, residential mental health facilities, and other employers performing tasks like evaluating behavior, developing treatment plans, and referring clients to additional services and resources.

School Psychologist or Counselor

As a school counselor or psychologist, you’ll be working face-to-face with students to help them manage their mental health and achieve better outcomes — not only academically, but also socially. You may also advise students on potential career paths and professional opportunities, all while collaborating closely with parents, teachers, and families to help support the goals and needs of your students. The BLS reports that school psychologists and counselors earn a median salary of over $60,500 and are expected to see “faster than average” job growth from 2020 to 2030 (11% vs. 8%).

Social Worker

Social workers play an essential role in improving the lives of people from all types of diverse backgrounds by helping their clients to “prevent and cope with problems in their everyday lives,” according to the BLS. For example, social workers may refer their clients to resources (such as healthcare resources), assist with crisis or emergency situations (such as domestic abuse), and “provide psychotherapy services.” The BLS also reports that social workers — for whom the minimum education required is typically either an accredited bachelor’s or master’s degree — earn a median salary of $50,390 with “faster than average” employment growth projected from 2020 to 2030 (12% vs. 8%).

Forensic Profiler

Forensic profiling is also referred to as criminal profiling. As a forensic profiler, you’ll be examining criminal evidence, reading and analyzing investigative reports, studying psychological behavior, and creating reports and criminal profiles. The BLS does not provide data specific to forensic profilers, but reports that detectives and criminal investigators earn a median salary of over $90,000.

Organizational Behavior Management

The BLS does not provide salary data for organizational behavior managers. However, BLS data does indicate that training and development managers — whose role is to “oversee training programs, staff, and budgets” — earn a median salary of over $120,000 per year, with “faster than average” job growth expected through 2030 (11% vs. 8%).

Market Research Analyst

As a market research analyst, you’ll track and forecast marketing trends; gather, analyze, and present consumer data; and strategize ways to improve marketing campaigns. The BLS reports that market research analysts earn a median salary of approximately $64,000, exceeding “the median annual wage for all workers,” which the BLS reported as $45,760 as of May 2021. Additionally, this field is expected to experience job growth at a rate of 22% from 2020 to 2030, which the BLS describes as “much faster than [the] average” rate of 8%.

Special Education Teacher

According to data from the BLS, special education teachers earn a median salary of just under $62,000 as of 2021. This field is expected to experience 8% job growth from 2020 to 2030, which is on par with the national average. As a special education teacher, you’ll handle duties like “assess[ing] students’ skills and determin[ing] their educational needs”; “plan[ning] activities that are specific to each student’s abilities”; and creating, implementing, and updating Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) that are customized to each student’s needs, according to the BLS.

teacher working with a student

Behavior Analyst Salary

Unfortunately, the BLS does not provide salary-related data specific to behavior analysts. However, by comparing several other sources of information about employee compensation, it is possible to gain an approximate idea of the earning potential for a certified behavior analyst based on national averages. Here are a few of the figures which have been reported as national averages for a Board-Certified Behavior Analyst’s salary in the United States:

Make an Impact in Your Community

Get started on your journey to make a positive impact on the lives of people in your community. Learn more about National University’s Master of Science in Applied Behavioral Analysis Degree.

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