I want to be a BCBA!
You just walked out of an IEP meeting and feel invigorated. You've been working as a teacher's assistant for a year while going to school for Special Education and you've been feeling a little burnt out. But then, today, something different happened during the IEP meeting. There was a woman there who's title was a "Behavior Analyst". She presented graphs and numbers and started to look at your student's behavior objectively. She started talking about functions of behavior and why he was jumping up and down for 50% of his day. She gave you data collection sheets and told you to collect baseline data. You felt empowered. Two weeks later, you met with this Behavior Analyst again (in the meantime, you found out that her official title was Board Certified Behavior Analyst or BCBA for short). She looked at your data, pointed out some patterns, and then made one recommendation. Just one! She didn't say "try this and then try that and then if that doesn't work do this". She gave you one intervention. You implemented it immediately. It worked. Who was this magical person and how do you become her?
Ok - maybe your intro to ABA hasn't been just like that, but somewhere along the line you discovered ABA and decided (or maybe you're still deciding?) you want to become a Board Certified Behavior Analyst.
It can be a little complicated to navigate the process of becoming a BCBA. With more and more universities and colleges offering ABA programs, it can be tricky to sift through them all to find one that works for you. It can be hard to locate a supervisor as well as find a work placement. Even if you've managed to check all of those boxes, ensuring that you're completing all of your requirements to sit for the exam can make even the calmest person a little anxious. Rather than sending you on some kind of "Becoming a BCBA Scavenger Hunt", below are some tips for getting started in the field, as well as a link to the only resource you should be using to find out requirements for the exam:
How to become a BCBA
Disclaimer: This is a summary of the author's own experience and is not a replacement for independent research. All readers interested in becoming a BCBA should go to bacb.com to find out the most up-to-date criteria for becoming a BCBA.
1. Talk to a BCBA or two...or five. Ask them how they ended up working in the field and what their day-to-day looks like. Find out what challenges they face in their job and what drives them to continue in the field.
2. Work in the field. Before you delve in to expensive grad school programs, and tether yourself to this field, make sure it's something that you truly want to do. Work in a clinic, in a home setting, in a school, in a hospital, a lab, and wherever else you can to determine whether or not this is the field for you. Work with different groups (kids, teens, adults, aggressive, non-vocal, organizations, animals) to discover where in this field you see yourself fitting. Make sure any work you're doing is supervised by a BCBA (not a behavior specialist or a behavior consultant). Do this for at least a year before committing to a school program.
3. Become an RBT. More and more insurance companies are requiring this certification, but even if it's not required, we recommend it. Becoming an RBT will give you exposure to the task list, to Pearson testing centers, and to behavior analytic terminology. It's also a good exercise in staying organized, managing your own hours and ensuring you receive proper supervision from a BCBA.
4. Decide which route you'd like to take. Over at bacb.com/bcba-requirements you'll find three options for obtaining BCBA certification. The remainder of this blog will focus on Option 1, however you should visit the site if you're interested in the other 2 options.
5. Apply to graduate school. There are other paths out there and becoming a BCaBA may be a future blog post, but right now, let's focus on the road to becoming a BCBA through an accredited graduate school. In order to do that, you'll need a master's degree with BACB Approved Coursework to go along with it. You'll have a couple of options with grad school:
Attend a program that offers a Master's degree in Applied Behavior Analysis.
Attend a program that offers a Master's degree in a related field (must be either education or psychology) with a specialization in ABA.
Attend a program that offers a Master's degree in a related field, such as psychology, without a specialization, and acquire your BACB Approved Coursework elsewhere.
Whichever option you choose, you'll want to look closely in to the classes you're required to take, the professors teaching these classes, and the requirements of the program. For example, some programs require a thesis, while others do not. These types of decisions are yours to make! Other factors to consider will be location, price, and when the classes are offered. We can't offer you much guidance there, but recommend that you compare multiple programs before making a decision.
One way to analyze the programs, is to look at the BCBA Exam pass rate across different graduate schools.
6. Create a BACB Gateway account and take your training module competency exam (online). This training module is designed to ensure you're knowledgeable of the supervision and hours requirments. You must complete and pass this module prior to beginning your experience hours with a BCBA.
7. Determine which type of experience hours you'll be accumulating. There are three ways to accumulate your experience hours: Supervised Independent Fieldwork, Practicum, and Intensive Practicum. You should talk to an advisor at your school to determine whether they offer Practicum or Intensive Practicum options. This blog is going to focus on the Supervised Independent Fieldwork option.
8. Find a BCBA supervisor. If you're already working in the field, your company may offer free BCBA supervision. Companies will structure this supervision differently - some require you to sign a contract, committing to stay with the company after becoming a BCBA. Others may require you to pay a small monthly fee for your supervision. Whatever your company has set up, don't be afraid to ask questions. If you're not comfortable signing a commitment contract, do not sign it! Many people jump right in to a contract without asking questions or shopping around, which is a big mistake. While it may seem simpler at the time, you want to make sure you're comfortable with the company, as well as the supervising BCBA. Find out what happens if your supervising BCBA leaves the company. Ask how often you'll be supervised on-site and how the company will ensure you have a diverse experience. Inquire about indirect service hours, and whether the company has a structure in place for you to engage in higher level activities while completing your coursework. Find a company and a supervisor that you'll feel comfortable with. They will play a large role in shaping the type of BCBA you become.
9. Immerse yourself in Applied Behavior Analysis. Attend conferences, workshops, and trainings. Join ABA Facebook groups and make friends in the ABA field. Start framing everyday situations in behavior analytic terms. Take initiative to learn as much as possible about the field. Once you become a BCBA, much of the support you have now will fade away, so take advantage of it while it's there!
10. Once you're ready, take the exam. Being ready does not mean simply checking off your to-do list. Just because you've completed your coursework and your experience hours, does not mean you're ready to sit for the exam. You should feel comfortable with all areas of the task list - comfortable enough to engage in conversations with experienced BCBAs about these task areas. You should feel comfortable assisting with assessments as well as intervention recommendations. Don't rush yourself. It's true that the exam is challenging and not everyone passes the first time, but don't rush to take it just to "see how you do".
11. Evolve. Adding those letters after your name is exciting and you've accomplished a lot getting to this point but remember that being a BCBA involves ongoing learning and experience. Becoming a BCBA is not the end game here - evolving as a BCBA is. You're going to encounter challenging situations - don't be embarrassed to ask for help or discuss these challenges with more experienced BCBAs. Continue to attend workshops, trainings, and conferences. Surround yourself with people that are smarter than you and more experienced in the field and soak up as much as you can. Subscribe to behavior analytic journals and join ABA organizations. Continue to discover your passion within the field of Behavior Analysis and work towards growing in to a well-rounded, humble, and intelligent BCBA.
If, after reviewing these steps, you want to start the process to becoming a BCBA, make www.bacb.com your next stop. The board is the end all be all to becoming a BCBA. Anything we, or your supervisor tells you about becoming a BCBA should be confirmed on the bacb.com website.