As of July 2021, more than 156,000 behavior analysis professionals have chosen to become certified practitioners and paraprofessionals, according to data from the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB®), the national administrative body overseeing ABA certifications.
Board certified behavior analysts (BCBAs®), board certified assistant behavior analysts (BCaBAs®), and registered behavior technicians (RBTs®) provide specialized, high-quality care to all kinds of clients on a daily basis.
Almost three-fourths of certified behavior analysts work with clients experiencing autism spectrum disorder (ASD), according to BACB certificant data. However, board certified behavior analysts can help clients in a variety of professional emphasis areas, such as health and fitness, brain injury rehabilitation, and education.
Founded in 1998, the BACB establishes professional standards of practice and operates corresponding behavior analyst certification programs.
The Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) Handbook (PDF, 1.4 MB) indicates that certification is for ABA-based professionals seeking:
- Increased consumer protection due to certification and maintenance requirements.
- Confirmation they meet critical skills requirements in providing behavior-analytic services.
- Verification for employers that they possess certain knowledge and skills.
Types of Behavior Analyst Certification
Individuals interested in learning about ABA certifications or looking to become a certified behavior analyst have different BACB credentialing options, depending on their education level and experience.
For example, an RBT needs a high school diploma, while a Board Certified Behavior Analyst – Doctoral (BCBA-D) must receive a doctoral degree.
Continue reading to learn more about the four BACB certifications:
- Registered Behavior Technician Certification (RBT)
- Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst (BCaBA)
- Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA)
- Board Certified Behavior Analyst – Doctoral (BCBA-D)
Registered Behavior Technician Certification (RBT Certification)
What does an RBT do? A registered behavior technician is a certified paraprofessional; they support behavior analysis services under the supervision of a coordinator. This could include assisting clients with treatment, prepping materials, and recording client behavior data in daily sessions.
The RBT certification is designed for individuals who are likely already employed by the organization they will continue to work for, according to the BACB.
According to the Registered Behavior Technician (RBT) Handbook (PDF, 3.8 MB), to meet RBT certification requirements, individuals must first:
- Be 18 years of age or older.
- Have a high school diploma.
- Pass a background check.
- Complete 40 hours of training.
- Complete an initial competency exam.
Once candidates have fulfilled these requirements, they can apply for and take the RBT exam to receive their RBT certification.
Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst (BCaBA Certification)
A board certified assistant behavior analyst is a professional who provides behavior analytic services under the supervision of a BCBA. BCaBAs are also qualified to oversee RBTs.
According to the Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst (BCaBA) Handbook (PDF, 4.3 MB), to qualify for BCaBA certification via the course work pathway, individuals must:
- Obtain a bachelor’s degree from a qualifying institution.
- Complete 180 hours of relevant coursework with a grade of “C” or better.
Specific content requirements can be found in the Eligibility Requirements section of the BCaBA Handbook (PDF, 4.3 MB).
- Complete up to 1,000 hours of supervised applied behavior analytic experience.
Once individuals complete these educational requirements, they may apply to take the BCaBA examination.
Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA Certification)
A board certified behavior analyst is an independent practitioner who provides behavior-analytic services to clients. A BCBA often supervises individuals providing applied behavior intervention, such as RBTs and BCaBAs, according to the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES).
The IBCCES also differentiates a BCBA from other ABA-credential programs like a certified autism specialist (CAS) or autism certificate (AC), in that a board certified behavior analyst is not autism specific.
Unlike the RBT and BCaBA programs, a master’s degree in ABA, psychology, education, or a related field is required to obtain BCBA certification. According to the BCBA Handbook (PDF, 1.4 MB), board certified behavior analyst certification eligibility requires that individuals must have the following qualifications to sit for the exam:
- Obtain a graduate degree in behavior analysis, education, or psychology.
- Choose one of three options: Complete appropriate relevant coursework, faculty research, or postdoctoral experience.
- Complete up to 1,500 hours of supervised behavior analysis experience.
Once individuals complete these requirements, they may apply to take the BCBA examination.
Board Certified Behavior Analyst – Doctoral (BCBA-D Certification)
A board certified behavior analyst with a doctoral degree can receive an additional designation to their certification: BCBA-D. The doctoral designation is not a separate certification; BCBA-Ds are not granted additional privileges beyond that of a BCBA.
According to Board Certified Behavior Analyst-Doctoral (BCBA-D) requirements (PDF, 5 MB), individuals must:
Hold an active BCBA certification.
Obtain a doctoral degree from an Associate for Behavior Analysis International (ABAI)-accredited program.
If an applicant holds a doctoral degree from a non-accredited program, they must also conduct a behavior-analytic dissertation and complete one of the following: relevant doctoral coursework, a formal mentorship with a BCBA-credentialed professional, or authorship of two peer-reviewed journal articles that are behavior analytic in nature.
Individuals who meet eligibility requirements and wish to receive a BCBA-D designation must complete an application with the BACB.
BCaBA vs BCBA
BCaBAs and BCBAs are both credentialed professionals involved in the client care team. A BCBA must have at least a graduate degree, while a BCaBA can become credentialed with an undergraduate degree and fewer hours of supervised experience.
In the workplace, a BCBA will oversee a BCaBA. A BCBA will be the practitioner responsible for creating a client’s care plan and making changes to it. A BCaBA is important in helping BCBAs manage growing caseloads and will spend their time interacting with clients, collecting data, and implementing procedures.
How to Become BCBA Certified
Candidates interested in BCBA certification must first meet the eligibility requirements described below. Then, they must officially apply through the BACB, submit all relevant documentation, and pay an application fee. If approved, individuals will then take the BCBA certification examination with Pearson VUE.
After passing the exam, BCBAs must meet maintenance requirements to keep an active credential. This includes earning continuing education credits, meeting all ethics standards, and recertifying every two years.
There are three pathways to become a BCBA:
- Behavior-analytic course work
In this pathway, a master’s in ABA from a qualifying institution is required. Alternative graduate programs include education or psychology. Degrees from programs in which the individual completed a Verified Course Sequence also qualify.
Eligible individuals will have credit hours in subjects like experimental design, behavior-change systems, and fundamental elements of behavior change. Review the BACB Coursework Requirements (PDF, 5 MB) for a complete list of credit hours required.
Individuals must also complete field experience—either 1,500 hours of supervised independent fieldwork; 1,000 hours of practicum; or a 750-hour intensive practicum.
Disclaimer: The BCBA requirements will change as of 1/1/22. The new requirements expect 2,000 hours of supervised fieldwork or 1,500 hours of concentrated fieldwork. To read more about upcoming changes to BACB requirements, visit the BACB website.
- Faculty teaching and research
To meet the requirements for this pathway, individuals must have three years of full-time teaching experience at an accredited university, primarily in behavior-analytic content, in addition to a graduate degree.
They must also have published a behavior-analytic journal article that includes an experimental evaluation.
Individuals on this path must meet the same supervised experience requirements as those on the behavior-analytic course work outlined path above.
- Postdoctoral experience
To meet the board certified behavior analyst requirements for this pathway, individuals must have a doctoral degree in behavior analysis, psychology, or education from a qualifying institution. They must also have at least 10 years of post-degree experience practicing behavior analysis full time.
For their practical experience requirements, individuals on this path must complete 500 hours of supervised independent fieldwork.
How Long Does It Take to Become a BCBA?
For those pursuing BCBA certification who already have a qualified bachelor’s degree, they may need to spend a couple years satisfying the remaining higher education requirements. For example, Pepperdine University’s online Master of Science in Applied Behavior Analysis program can be completed in 15 to 21 months.
However, for those who studied a degree outside the eligibility requirements or did not complete the coursework requirements, the path to certification could mean they need to return to school and complete an undergraduate program.
Additionally, the time it takes to complete fieldwork requirements is dependent on each candidate’s ability to devote time to supervised experience. Those who have additional obligations could need more time to reach the hour minimum.
How Hard Is It to Pass the BCBA Exam?
In 2020, 66 percent of first-time candidates passed the BCBA exam, according to the BACB Annual Data Report. The exam contains 160 multiple-choice questions, and candidates have four hours to complete it. There are two main content areas that will be tested: basic behavior-analytic skills and client-centered responsibilities.
Some resources to study for the BCBA exam include:
BCBA Career Outlook
Demand for credentialed behavior analysts is growing, according to a BACB and Burning Glass report from 2019 (PDF, 361 KB)1. Their data indicates that fewer than 800 job postings in 2010 either required or preferred BCBA/BCBA-D certification. In 2018, there were more than 16,000 job postings of this type.
The BCBA job outlook is largest in California, where there were more than 6,000 job postings for certified behavior analysts in the year preceding March 2019, according to the Burning Glass report. Other markets that exhibited strong demand for BCBAs were Massachusetts, Texas, Illinois, and Arizona.
Last updated July 2021
1 Behavior Analyst Certification Board. (2019). US employment demand for behavior analysts: 2010-2018. Littleton, CO: Author.