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How Do I Get Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) Certification?

July 17, 2020

ABA Certification Blog Header of a Specials Teacher and Student in the LibraryIf you're thinking about a career as a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) or a Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst (BCaBA), you need to obtain applied behavior analysis (ABA) certification from the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB). Established in 1998, the BACB is a nonprofit, independent credentialing organization that has developed standards and regulations for education requirements, clinical hours, and other qualifications for working in the field of applied behavior analysis.

Their guidelines are detailed in the BACB Model Act, which outlines all qualifications for becoming a BCBA and also forms the basis for state licensing laws and requirements. Individuals interested in becoming a BCBA are encouraged to additionally inquire about state licensing requirements.  

The BACB further grants three types of ABA certifications:

  • BCBA is designed for a master’s or doctoral candidate. Professionals with this certification are able to work independently, open their own practice, and lead or manage a team of BCaBA and Registered Behavior Technician (RBT) professionals. In all settings, a BCBA professional conducts behavior assessments and develops individualized treatment plans.
  • BCaBA is an ABA certification designed for candidates who have earned a bachelor’s degree. Although BCaBA candidates cannot open their own practice, credentialed professionals have the knowledge, experience, and certification to assist a BCBA in implementing a treatment plan and can oversee the work of RBTs.
  • RBT is a type of ABA certification for candidates who have completed a high school diploma and are seeking a position as a supervised support worker in an educational or clinical setting.

As a science-based discipline, applied behavior analysis involves observing a patient in their environment to conduct an assessment, analyzing and evaluating the results, using the data to develop a treatment plan, and encouraging positive behaviors and actions through several reinforcement techniques. As a patient progresses, their plan, based on the BCBA’s observations, will be adjusted.

Many recognize ABA therapy as a treatment for individuals with autism. However, ABA methods are employed for treating mental health issues, for recovering from a traumatic brain injury, in organizational management, and in various counseling settings.

To obtain ABA certification as a BCBA or BCaBA, keep the following in mind:

BCBA Certification

On a general level, individuals considering BCBA certification are required to have a master’s degree, in behavior analysis or another field. They then need to complete the Verified Course Sequence (VCS) of related ABA coursework, and, through practicum and clinical hours, a certain amount of practical experience. 

For a more specific breakdown of the BACB’s requirements for BCBA certification:

Education

A candidate who has earned a master’s or doctoral degree, regardless of field, and completed the VCS and supervised experience can sit for the BCBA exam after January 1, 2022. The format—whether on-campus or online—is not taken into account. 

Individuals interested in taking the exam before this deadline must follow existing BACB requirements.

To earn BCBA certification, the Verified Course Sequence does not always have to be directly part of the candidate’s master’s or doctoral program. Rather, individuals can take it independently from their degree, provided a qualified ABA program oversees and manages the curriculum.

However a student proceeds through the VCS-approved course sequence, the BACB requires a minimum of 315 hours in relevant ABA subjects. Review the breakdown of course content and hours.

Experience

Training for medical and behavioral health careers nearly always requires a number of hours in a clinical setting under the guidance and supervision of a certified professional. Requirements for earning BCBA certification are no different. Working with an experienced BCBA, the candidate must complete a minimum amount of standard or concentrated fieldwork experience, during which they:

  • conduct or assist with behavioral assessments;
  • develop and oversee the implementation of a behavior-modifying or skills-based plan; and
  • monitor and observe the performance of their plan.

Outside of a behavior analysis master’s or doctoral program, independent field experience helps with fulfilling these hours and clinical requirements. In the present, the candidate must complete a minimum of 1,500 hours of fieldwork, 1,000 hours of practicum, or 750 hours of intensive practicum supervised by a qualified BCBA professional; after January 1, 2022, these requirements will change to 2,000 supervised hours or 1,500 concentrated hours.

BCBA Exam

All candidates must take and pass the BCBA exam before meeting all certification requirements. Lasting four hours long, the exam consists of 150 multiple-choice questions covering measuring behavior, designing experiments and observation, the elements and factors involved in behavior change, a client’s responsibilities, identifying and assessing maladaptive behaviors, interventional methods, implementing a behavior-modification plan, and managing and supervising ABA employees. Candidates must score at least a 400 (out of 500) to pass.

Other Pathways

The BACB considers additional scenarios when granting BCBA certification. Candidates may be able to become a BCBA professional if they have earned an accredited graduate degree, have secured a full-time teaching position in behavior analysis, and received a passing score on the BCBA exam. As another possibility, candidates who earned a doctoral degree 10 or more years ago, have at least a decade of practical experience, and can pass the BCBA exam are eligible for ABA certification.

BCaBA Certification

Individuals considering a career as a BCaBA professional must have completed an undergraduate degree, a VCS-approved course sequence, and a certain amount of practicum experience. However, compared to the BCBA requirements:

  • no major or field is specified for the undergraduate degree;
  • all field experience must be completed under the supervision of a qualified BCBA;
  • BCaBA candidates must currently complete 670 hours of practicum experience, 500 hours of intensive practicum experience, or 1,000 hours of independent fieldwork (1,300 hours of fieldwork or 1,000 hours of intensive fieldwork after January 1,2022); and
  • candidates must pass the BCaBA exam.

Recertification

All BCBA and BCaBA professionals must apply for recertification every two years. Between earning ABA certification and applying at the two-year deadline, candidates must satisfy all continuing education (CE) requirements:

  • BCBA professionals must complete 32 hours of CE requirements, and BCaBA candidates must complete 20 hours.
  • All CE hours must build upon the initial ABA certification, ensuring the candidate’s skills and professional knowledge remain up to date.
  • The BACB requires that four CE units be completed in ethics; if the candidate supervises employees, he or she must also complete three CE units in supervision.
  • All candidates must complete their CE requirements by a specified deadline; hours and units cannot be made up beyond this point.
  • To satisfy CE requirements, candidates may take VCS-verified ABA courses, teach an ABA course, publish an article on behavior analysis in a peer-reviewed journal, or review or compose a decision letter for an article on behavior analysis.
  • All candidates must submit their recertification application before their current ABA certification expires.

Complete a VCS-Approved ABA Course Sequence at Marian University

Have you earned a bachelor’s degree and are thinking about earning ABA certification? Complete the VCS series of courses the BACB requires at Marian University. To learn about our fully online ABA program, contact Lisa Drumb, Ph.D., BCBA by email or by phone at (317) 955-6223, or request additional information today.

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