Many degrees allow for the practice of ABA therapy, though required behavior-analytic coursework must be completed before certification at any level is possible. Typically, degrees in behavior analysis, psychology, and education align best with future ABA certification.
ABA Therapy Qualifications
All applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapists have undergone specific training to qualify to work in the field of behavior analysis. The skills and responsibilities of ABA therapists vary, depending on the type of therapist.
These are the three main types of ABA therapists:
- Registered behavior technician (RBT)
- Board certified assistant behavior analyst (BCaBA)
- Board certified behavior analyst (BCBA)
An additional designation exists, board certified behavior analyst-doctoral (BCBA-D), for BCBAs who obtain a doctorate degree. The rights and responsibilities of a BCBA-D, however, are the same as a BCBA. Below, we outline what is required and how long it takes to achieve each professional designation.
Registered Behavior Technician
RBTs provide supervised behavior analysis and therapy. They work closely with an RBT supervisor or RBT requirements coordinator in all of their work with clients. An RBT has earned at least a high school diploma and passed the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) RBT exam.
Additional requirements to become an RBT include:
- Be at least 18 years old.
- Pass a background check.
- Complete a 40-hour training course.
- Complete an initial competency assessment.
- Pass the RBT exam.
After earning a high school degree and meeting the above requirements, it is possible to start working as an RBT almost immediately. The average RBT salary in the U.S. is about $34,000 per year or $16.50 per hour.
Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst
The BCaBA certification is for ABA therapists who have completed a bachelor’s degree. It takes longer to become BCaBA-certified than to become an RBT, as you must complete a four-year college degree before applying to become a BCaBA. It is a good certification to attain, especially for individuals who see themselves becoming a BCBA in the future.
BCaBA requirements include:
- Earn a bachelor’s degree.
- Complete BACB-certified behavior analytic coursework as part of your undergraduate degree.
- Gain BCBA-supervised experience.
- Pass the BCaBA exam.
Supervised field experience is an essential part of becoming a BCaBA. Before applying to take the BCaBA exam, you must complete 1,000 hours of supervised independent field work, 670 hours of practicum, or 500 hours of intensive practicum.
As soon as you pass the BCaBA exam, you are certified to work as a BCaBA. In order to maintain the certification, you must meet continuing education requirements, get ongoing supervision from a BCBA supervisor, follow the BACB code of ethics, and renew your certification every two years.
Although the requirements to become a BCaBA are more time-consuming than to become an RBT, the pay is typically higher. The average BCaBA salary in the U.S. is about $48,400 per year.
Board Certified Behavior Analyst
BCBAs are graduate-level therapists who are fully certified to provide ABA therapy independently. BCBAs have completed a bachelor’s degree followed by at least a master’s degree in behavior analysis, education, or psychology. Behavior-analytic coursework must be covered in these courses or taken additionally.
Practical fieldwork experience is also required to become certified. You must complete either 1,500 hours of supervised independent fieldwork, 1,000 hours of practicum, or 750 hours of intensive programs. For students pursuing a doctoral degree in behavior analysis, 500 hours of supervised independent fieldwork must be completed.
After completing the degree, behavior-analytic coursework, and supervised experience requirements, you can apply to take the BCBA exam. As soon as you pass the exam, you are certified to work as an independent ABA therapist. Ongoing supervision is not required for BCBAs or BCBA-Ds.
While it takes four years to complete a bachelor’s degree, plus an additional two to seven years to complete the master’s or doctoral-level coursework to become a BCBA, BCBAs have the highest level of privilege and independence. BCBAs can work in private practice or in a larger organization. They can also supervise RBTs and BCaBAs.
As it takes the greatest amount of time to become a BCBA, the pay is also the best for this type of ABA therapist. The average BCBA salary is about $62,400 per year, with the top salaries getting close to $80,000 per year.
The Best Majors for Working in ABA
If you want to become certified to work in the field of ABA, it is important to choose undergraduate and graduate majors that include relevant coursework. BACB accepts degrees in the fields of behavior analysis, psychology, education, or a related field. No matter which major you select, it must include behavior-analytic coursework.
Coursework can be verified in the following two ways:
- Verified coursework: Completing a degree at a qualifying institution with a Verified Course Sequence means the courses have already been prescreened to meet BACB course requirements for each certification.
- Nonverified coursework: Behavior-analytic coursework that is not part of a Verified Course Sequence may still be valid toward a BACB credential. To be counted, a Nonverified Course Content Attestation must be submitted with your certification application.
If you already completed an undergraduate degree but it did not include behavior-analytic coursework, you can complete just the required behavior-analytic coursework in addition to your degree at a qualifying institution.
Required coursework hours vary by certification. BCBAs need 270 hours of behavior-analytic coursework, while BCaBAs need 180 hours.
For individuals interested in pursuing a career in the field of ABA, there are many ways to become certified. Depending on whether you have a high school diploma, bachelor’s degree, or graduate degree, there is a certification available to get you working in the field as quickly as possible.
Average Board Certified Behavior Analyst Salary. (January 2021). Payscale.
Average Registered Behavior Technician Hourly Pay. (January 2012). Payscale.
BCaBA: Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst Handbook. (November 2020). Behavior Analyst Certification Board.
BCBA: Board Certified Behavior Analyst Handbook. (November 2020). Behavior Analyst Certification Board.
Registered Behavior Technician. Behavior Analyst Certification Board.
Salary for Certification: BACB Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst (BCaBA). (January 2021). Payscale.