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Behavior Analyst Career Guide

What is a behavior analyst?

A behavior analyst works with patients of all ages, who exhibit social, mental, or behavioral issues, to help them improve their behavior and better interact with those around them. They may treat patients who are aggressive or who injure themselves, or they may treat autistic children. They use applied behavior analysis to identify behavioral problems by observing how the patient interacts with various environments and creating a plan to help them foster appropriate behaviors. They often encourage good behavior by using a reward system. 

Behavior analysts develop strategies that are specific to each patient. They typically work with other medical professionals and family members to develop treatment plans, and they may modify treatment as needed during the treatment process. They may also work with teachers or other stakeholders. They monitor and evaluate progress and provide counsel to patients and family members during treatment. 

Behavior analysts might work in schools, hospitals, treatment centers, or community agencies, where they encounter a variety of social, behavioral, and mental issues from patients of many different ages who come from many different backgrounds. Typically, these professionals will work with a specific age group and may treat only certain behavioral issues, such as autism. 

Some behavior analysts work in criminal justice where they assist law enforcement agents in unraveling the root causes of crimes. They analyze and interpret the behavior of criminals to help law enforcement better understand these individuals. 

An experienced behavior analyst may supervise a team of analysts and oversee the interactions between them and their patients to ensure that appropriate techniques and strategies are being carried out and that goals are being met. They may also train staff on treatment plans.

Qualifications and eligibility

To become an entry-level behavior analyst, you will need to complete a bachelor’s degree, typically in psychology, health science, or a related field. You are then eligible to earn the Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst (BCaBA) credential from the Behavior Analyst Certification Board. This will allow you to work under the supervision of a board-certified behavior analyst. 

To work as a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA), you must complete a master’s degree in applied behavior analysis and earn your certification from the Behavior Analyst Certification Board. Typically, you will need to complete an internship or formal training as well. The board also offers a Board Certified Behavior Analyst-Doctoral (BCBA-D) certification for those who have completed a doctorate in applied behavioral analysis. 

You may also need a state license to practice behavior analysis. Check with the state board where you live for specific requirements.

A behavior analyst should be emotionally and mentally mature to treat all manner of individuals with a wide range of mental disorders. They need strong interpersonal skills to develop good relationships with patients and families. Listening skills are essential to understanding the individuals they counsel and pinpointing the underlying cause of their problems. They also must have excellent communication skills to talk to patients in a calm, reassuring manner and to communicate with family members in clear, simple terms. 

Every patient is different and has a unique set of social and environmental influences that affect their behavior. A behavior analyst should be understanding and flexible in handling each patient and developing the right course of action for them.

Work environment

Behavior analysts work in various settings, although they typically work in an office where they see counsel and treat patients. They may have their own practice where patients come to them, typically parents with children who have behavioral problems. They may work at schools where they work with special needs children, such as those with autism.

Some work for companies where they are tasked with evaluating employees to find ways to motivate them. This might entail workplace modifications or procedural changes. They monitor employees and follow up with management on progress. Still, other behavior analysts work for government agencies, including the FBI, providing psychological analysis on criminals or terrorists who commit violent acts.

They develop profiles and help agents apprehend criminals. These professionals also work in hospitals or other health facilities where they deal with patients and families of children dealing with ADD/ADHD, and other disorders affecting the behavior and conduct of the patients. 

The work can be stressful, especially when working with violent patients or those with severe mental, social, or behavioral issues.

Typical work hours

Most behavior analysts work a typical 40-hour week during normal business hours. They may work nights and weekends to accommodate school or work schedules. Some individuals may be on call in case of emergencies.  

Types of behavior analysts

There are many different types of behavior analysis specialties that you can choose from. Some of the common types include:

Clinical behavioral analyst

A clinical behavioral analyst works directly with patients to help with behavioral, social, and developmental challenges. They typically treat disorders such as OCD, ADHD, and other issues.  

Social worker

A behavior analyst social worker typically works with patients who are dealing with abuse, trauma, addiction, or other similar issues. 

School psychologist or counselor

A school behavior analyst works with students who are exhibiting academic, emotional, and social issues. They typically work with parents and teachers to develop healthy behavioral strategies for the student. They also help students and teachers in the event of a traumatic or highly emotional event at school or in the community. 

Forensic behavior analyst

A forensic behavior analyst studies forensic evidence for law enforcement or government agencies to piece together the motivations and identities of criminal perpetrators. They identify patterns in serial crimes and help determine the motivation behind them. They also help to rehabilitate criminal offenders by helping them unlearn criminal behaviors.  

Market research analyst

Behavior analysts in market research help businesses better understand consumer behavior to meet customer demand and improve sales. They typically analyze purchasing habits and develop sales forecasts based on demographics. 

Autism spectrum disorder behavior analyst

Many behavior analysts work with patients all along the autism spectrum to help them develop social skills and better integrate with society. They develop individualized treatment plans and work closely with parents and family members in monitoring and evaluating progress. 

Organizational behavior management

Organizational behavior management analysts typically work for companies to observe and evaluate employees to create plans to encourage teamwork, improve performance, enhance productivity, and improve efficiency within the organization. 

Alzheimer’s disease and dementia care

Behavior analysts working with Alzheimer’s and dementia patients help to lessen depression, anxiety, agitation, and verbal outbursts. They also help shape adaptive behaviors. 

Alcohol and drug abuse treatment

Behavior analysts help determine and address the social and environmental sources of dependency on drugs and alcohol in patients, and treat associated mental health issues and risk-taking behaviors. They implement behavior modifications to help stop the cycle of alcohol and drug abuse. 

Wellness and fitness coach

Behavior analysts who work as wellness and fitness coaches develop behaviors in clients to reinforce fitness goals and discourage unhealthy or unproductive habits. They identify the factors preventing clients from reaching their goals and work with them to overcome them. 

Speech-language pathology

Behavior analysts working as speech-language pathologists develop treatment plans to assist patients in developing good speaking skills and overcoming the source of the difficulty. 

Income potential

The earning potential for a behavior analyst can vary greatly depending on geographic location, education, experience, and acquired skills.  

  • According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors was $48,520 in May 2021. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $30,870, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $77,980. The highest-paying industries for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors in May 2021 were:
    • Government – $60,450
    • Hospitals; state, local, and private – $49,630
    • Individual and family services – $47,940
    • Outpatient mental health and substance abuse centers – $47,550
    • Residential mental health and substance abuse facilities – $42,900
  • The average behavior analyst salary in the United States is $67,002 as of September 2022, with a low of $59,098 and a high of $72,204.   
  • The 5 states with the highest annual pay for behavior analysts are listed as:
    • Massachusetts – $106,435
    • Nevada – $105,928
    • Alaska – $102,502
    • Washington – $98,889
    • New York – $96,077 
  • The bottom 3 states are:
    • Florida – $72,520
    • Georgia – $67,614
    • Louisiana – $66,824
  • The best-paying cities for behavior analysts are:
    • San Jose, CA – $113,700
    • Chicago, IL – $106,021
    • Denver, CO – $104,265
    • Atlanta, GA – $102,721
    • Houston, TX – $99,847 

Position trends

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the overall employment of substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors is expected to grow 22% from 2021 to 2031, much faster than the average for all occupations. An average of 43,600 openings for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors are projected each year over the decade. 

The employment growth projections are largely due to the need for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors to treat those with addiction and mental health issues. The expected growth is also due to states seeking treatment and counseling services for individuals with addictions and mental health issues rather than jail time. An increase in the need for counselors to work with military veterans is also a factor in the growth projections. 

Career path

Behavior analysts have a number of career paths available to them. They can work for schools, hospitals, healthcare facilities, private companies, or in residential treatment settings. Some common career paths include:

Behavior analyst consultant

Consultants can work in many different areas from autism to mental health disorders for schools, clinical settings, or in private practice. 

Clinical director

A clinical director manages a team of clinicians and behavior analysts in a variety of settings. They supervise programs and treatment plans and provide training to staff. 

Special education teachers

Special education teachers work with students who have a range of different disabilities. They create lessons to help students overcome or better function with disabilities. They typically work with a small number of students and provide individualized attention to each one. 

Wellness and lifestyle coach

A wellness coach helps clients identify their unique skills and uses those to help them achieve their goals, and overcome obstacles in the way, which might be mental, social, or behavioral. 

Nonprofit opportunities

These behavior analysts help others with a variety of issues, including diet/weight issues, smoking, and other problems. 

School psychologist

School psychologists work with students who may be struggling with a wide range of mental, social, and emotional disorders that may be affecting their schoolwork and their home life. They work closely with parents and teachers in providing strategies to overcome these issues. They also provide grief counseling or emergency counseling in the event of a sudden major or tragic event in the lives of students. 

Steps to becoming a behavior analyst

1. Get a bachelor’s degree

The first step to becoming a behavior analyst is to earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology education, applied behavior analysis, or a related field.  You’ll need to graduate from an accredited institution before enrolling in a graduate program.

2. Get your undergraduate certification

Once you complete your undergraduate degree, you should take the Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst (BCaBA) exam. As a board-certified assistant behavior analyst, you can work under the supervision of a board-certified behavior analyst.

3. Get a master’s degree

To become Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA), you will need to complete at least a master’s degree in applied behavior analysis. Look for programs that have been accredited by the Association of Behavior Analysts International (ABAI). The BCBA exam covers philosophical underpinnings, concepts and principles, ethics, behavior assessment, and more. 

4. Complete required fieldwork

As a part of your graduate coursework, you must complete supervised fieldwork in applied behavior analysis. You can either complete 2,000 supervised fieldwork hours or 1,500 concentrated supervised fieldwork hours to meet your requirement. You must complete a minimum of 20 but no more than 130 hours of fieldwork per month. As part of your fieldwork, you must conduct patient assessments as well as design, implement, and monitor patient behavior reduction programs. 

5. Pass the BCBA exam

After earning your graduate degree, you are eligible to sit for the BCBA exam, which tests basic behavior analytic skills, experimental design, and behavior-change procedures. The test consists of 160 questions and candidates have 4 hours to complete it. You will need to meet continuing education requirements to maintain your certification.

6. Get your state license

Some states require that you obtain a license before you can practice behavior analysis in the state. Check with the state board where you live for licensing requirements. To maintain your license, you will also need to meet continuing education requirements. 

7. Consider a doctorate

Although not required, earning a doctorate in applied behavior analysis can help you advance your career and move into managerial and supervisory positions.   

8. Join professional associations

Joining an organization can open up a wealth of resources and networking opportunities for you. Here are some of the top organizations:

Tips for becoming a behavior analyst

If you are planning to become a behavior analyst, there are a few things that can help you on your journey. Here are some tips:

  • Think about what you want to do as a behavior analyst. Many people associate these professionals with assisting children with autism, but there are many other opportunities in schools, private practice, and hospitals, to work with people of all ages and deal with all types of mental, social, and behavioral disorders and developmental disabilities. 
  • Be prepared for the commitment. A bachelor’s degree typically takes 4 years to complete and to earn your master’s will take another 1 ½ to 2 years.   
  • Have a passion for helping those with behavioral and developmental problems. It takes compassion and a strong desire to help others better live with and overcome these types of disabilities and help improve their lives.
  • Develop your communication and interpersonal skills. You will be working with patients who may not be responsive or may be angry or stressed. You will need to be able to develop trust with them and talk to them calmly regardless of the situation.   
  • Prepare ahead of time for the certification exams. Take practice exams and online study courses that will help you pass the exams.   

Behavior analyst FAQs