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Behavior Analyst (BCBA) Career Guide

What is a behavior analyst?

A board certified behavior analyst (BCBA) is the official name for the mental health professionals who study how human behaviors interact with the environment. Using expertise in behavioral science, they devise strategies to improve socially significant behaviors, particularly those associated with developmental disorders or cognitive impairments. The job is essential in enhancing the quality of life, helping individuals overcome challenges, and maximizing potential in various life domains, such as education, work, and social interactions.

Duties and responsibilities

Behavior analysts often work with individuals who have developmental disorders like autism. They design and implement intervention plans based on applied behavior analysis (ABA) principles to reduce harmful behaviors and promote positive ones. Their responsibilities include conducting assessments to identify problematic behaviors, analyzing data to understand the reasons for those behaviors, and developing individually tailored treatment plans. Regular communication with other healthcare professionals, educators, and family members is crucial to ensure consistency and effectiveness in implementing behavior intervention plans.

Work environment

Behavior analysts work in different settings, including schools, mental health clinics, hospitals, residential treatment centers, and sometimes clients’ homes. Some might work in research or academic environments, contributing to the field’s knowledge base. It involves working closely with a team of other professionals, including therapists, teachers, and social workers.

Typical work hours

Generally, analysts work full-time during regular business hours, but this varies depending on the needs of clients and the work setting. For example, school-based analysts typically follow the academic calendar and hours. Those in private practice and residential treatment facilities may have varied hours, including evenings and weekends.

How to become a behavior analyst

Becoming a behavior analyst requires a solid commitment to education and a dedication to helping others improve their quality of life. In this career guide section, we cover the steps you’ll need to follow:

Step 1: Earn a bachelor’s degree

The first step is earning a bachelor’s degree, typically in psychology or a related field. This foundation provides an understanding of human behavior and the principles of psychology.

Step 2: Pursue a master’s degree

To become a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA), you should get a master’s or doctoral degree in behavior analysis or a related field, such as psychology or education. This advanced study gives a deeper understanding of behavior analysis principles and techniques.

Step 3: Gain practical experience

Gain real-world experience through a practicum or supervised fieldwork, which is required for BCBA certification. This work is overseen by someone who is already a certified behavior analyst.

Step 4: Become certified by the BACB

To become certified by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB), you must pass an exam that includes applied behavior analysis principles and strategies, ethical considerations, and other necessary knowledge areas. Certification requires completing coursework, having the necessary experience, and passing the BCBA exam.

Step 5: Obtain state licensure

You may also need to get a state license depending on location. This process typically involves providing proof of education and BCBA certification, passing a background check, and taking a state exam.

Step 6: Secure employment as a behavior analyst

With certification and licensure, it is time to apply for jobs. Work is available in various settings, including schools, clinics, hospitals, or private practice.

Step 7: Pursue continuing education

To maintain BCBA certification, you must complete 32 continuing education units (CEUs) every two years and abide by the BACB’s ethics requirements. Staying current with new research and methodologies in behavior analysis is also crucial for providing the best care.

You can continue your education online by taking the following courses:

  • Communication in the Workplace teaches adapting to accommodate remote work environments and different generations, cultures, genders, orientations, and religions. 
  • Skillshare’s Body Language 101 provides tools for modifying nonverbal and empathetic social skills to better connect with people. 
  • Sharpen your emotional intelligence with Coursera’s Empathy for Self and Others course that teaches the fundamentals of emotions through hands-on scenarios. 
  • MasterClass’ The Power of Empathy discusses the evolution of empathy, reaching intellectual diversity, and using the power of empathy to extinguish limitations and transform how you view the world. 

How much do behavior analysts make?

The salary for behavior analysts can vary greatly depending on geographic location, years of experience, level of education, specialty, and size or type of employer. Those with a doctorate typically earn more than those with a master’s degree. Working with children with autism might be more highly compensated than working with adults with substance abuse issues. Private practices, school districts, and government agencies have varying pay scales. 

Highest paying industries

  • Education – $95,000
  • Healthcare – $90,000
  • Nonprofit – $85,000
  • Government – $80,000
  • Private practice – $75,000

Highest paying states

  • Oregon – $109,200
  • California – $107,690
  • Nevada – $103,390
  • New Jersey – $102,300
  • Connecticut – $101,200

Browse behavior analyst salary data by market

Types of behavior analysts

It’s important to explore the types of behavior analysts, learning more about them can shed light on their unique areas of focus. 

Board Certified Behavior Analyst

BCBAs have advanced certification from the Behavior Analyst Certification Board. They assess and analyze an individual’s behavior and develop interventions to improve or change problematic behavior.

Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst (BCaBA)

A BCaBA is an assistant to a BCBA and works under their supervision. They assist in collecting data, implementing behavior intervention plans, and training others to implement them.

Autism behavior analyst

Autism behavior analysts work with individuals in the autism spectrum to improve social, communication, and learning skills through positive reinforcement. 

Clinical behavior analyst

These behavior analysts work in clinical settings and provide services to clients with various conditions, such as developmental disabilities, mental health issues, or substance abuse problems.

Organizational behavior analyst

Behavior analysis principles can also be applied within businesses or organizations. Organizational behavior analysts use these principles to improve employee performance, enhance workplace safety, and increase productivity.

Forensic behavior analyst

The legal system and behavior analysis often cross over. Forensic behavior analysts assess the behavior of individuals involved in legal cases, including working with perpetrators of crimes or consulting on cases involving behavioral evidence.

Educational behavior analyst

These behavior analysts work within educational settings to improve student behavior and enhance learning outcomes. They often collaborate with teachers and school administrators to implement intervention plans.

Behavior analyst consultant

A consultant’s work is contracted and varies widely based on their clients’ needs. They provide expertise to individuals, families, schools, organizations, or communities that require behavior analysis services. 

Top skills for behavior analysts

Proficiency in behavioral assessment requires skill in conducting functional behavior assessments and analyzing various factors contributing to an individual’s behavior. The identification of underlying behavioral causes forms the foundation for intervention strategies.

Based on assessments, behavior analysts must devise effective strategies that promote positive change or learning outcomes. This includes creating specific, measurable goals and utilizing research-backed techniques to achieve those goals.

Complex situations require innovative and individualized solutions. Thinking critically and creatively helps solve problems, address unique behavioral challenges, and adjust strategies if needed.

Strong communication skills ensure analysts effectively interact with individuals, families, educators, and other professionals throughout treatment. Clear and compassionate communication enhances the ability to advocate for clients and ensure treatment goals are aligned.

Behavior analyst career path

Becoming a behavior analyst begins with obtaining a bachelor’s degree in psychology, education, or a related field. Following undergraduate studies, many pursue a master’s degree in psychology, education, or applied behavior analysis. During this time, students may begin accruing supervised fieldwork experience, which is required for certification.

After gaining a master’s degree, prospective analysts must pass the BCBA examination. Upon successful completion, individuals become certified behavior analysts, often starting their careers in entry-level roles in various settings such as schools, healthcare facilities, or private practice.

As a certified behavior analyst, continuous professional development and experience in different environments are crucial for career progression. Practitioners might start with direct client intervention and gradually move toward supervisory roles, overseeing programs and training other behavior technicians.

After several years of practice and establishing a reputation for success, they can progress to senior roles, such as senior behavior analyst, clinical director, or director of behavioral services. These positions often involve supervising a team of behavior analysts, making programmatic decisions, and ensuring the quality of services.

For those who wish to impact the field more broadly, further education, such as a Ph.D. in psychology or behavior analysis, can lead to academic positions, research jobs, or high-level consulting. These roles can influence policy, develop new strategies in behavior analysis, and contribute to advancing the field.

The job demand for behavior analysts has been increasing, driven by rising diagnosis rates of autism and other developmental disorders and the growing recognition of ABA techniques. With the expansion of telehealth and remote service delivery options, those adept at these technologies can reach a broader range of clients.

Employment projections for behavior analysts

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) classifies behavior analysts under the broader category of “Psychologists.” The BLS projects that employment for psychologists will grow by 6% through 2031, about as fast as the average for all occupations. However, the demand for ABA services, often used for individuals with autism, is growing faster than average.

This data suggests that the need for these professionals could be even higher. Job prospects should be particularly good for those who specialize in working with older adults or in underserved areas. Proficiency in telehealth technologies also provides more job opportunities.

Behavior analyst career tips

Stay informed about new research

Behavior analysis continually evolves, with new research and theories regularly published. Stay informed about the latest studies, findings, and theoretical developments to ensure your skills remain current and effective.

Develop strong observational skills

You must carefully observe your clients’ behavior to identify patterns, triggers, and potential intervention strategies. This process requires a high degree of attentiveness and solid observational skills.

Cultivate empathy and patience

Working with individuals who have behavior challenges can be demanding. Patience and empathy are crucial for building rapport with clients and maintaining a supportive environment.

Commit to ethical practice

Follow the professional and ethical guidelines established by the BACB to ensure your practice is responsible and respectful of clients. 

Engage in continuous learning

The field of behavior analysis requires a commitment to lifelong learning. Initiatives could include:

  • Regularly reading new research in relevant academic journals
  • Attending industry conferences or seminars
  • Taking additional coursework or pursuing advanced degrees

Effective communication

Clearly communicating with clients, their families, and other professionals aids in the effective execution of intervention plans and enhances your relationship with all parties. 

Build a professional network

Networking can give you additional resources, insights, and opportunities to further your career. Consider connecting with the following organizations:

  • Behavior Analyst Certification Board
  • Association for Behavior Analysis International (ABAI)
  • American Psychological Association (APA)
  • Local and regional behavior analysis groups

Get experience in different settings

Exposure to different settings like schools, homes, and community centers can broaden your perspective and skills. This experience can be valuable in understanding the full context of a client’s behavior and designing effective interventions.

Stay organized

Keep meticulous records of observations, interventions, and outcomes to track progress and meet any documentation requirements.

Pursue supervision opportunities

Take advantage of roles that supervise aspiring behavior analysts or registered behavior technicians (RBTs) to enhance leadership skills and contribute to the development of the field. These experiences also add value to professional portfolios.

Where the behavior analyst jobs are

Top companies

  • Centria Healthcare
  • Autism Home Support Services
  • Behavioral Innovations
  • Trumpet Behavioral Health
  • Applied Behavior Analysis

Top states

  • California
  • Massachusetts
  • New York
  • Florida
  • Texas

Top job sites

  • zengig
  • Indeed
  • Glassdoor
  • LinkedIn
  • American Psychological Association


What qualifications are needed to become a behavior analyst?

You typically need a master’s degree in psychology, education, or a related field. Supervised practical experience, often provided through an educational program, is also required. Afterward, you must pass the BCBA examination to earn certification.

What kind of training does a behavior analyst typically undergo?

Analysts undertake training during master’s degree programs and learn about behavior analysis concepts, behavior change systems, and client-centered responsibilities. They also participate in a supervised practicum where they apply behavior analysis principles under a BCBA’s guidance. This experience provides invaluable, hands-on learning opportunities.

What are the essential skills of a behavior analyst?

Essential skills include excellent communication and interpersonal skills for building client relationships and collaborating with other professionals. Analytical skills help to assess behaviors and develop appropriate interventions. Patience and compassion are paramount when working with individuals who have behavioral challenges.

What does a typical day look like for a behavior analyst?

A typical day can vary but may include observing clients, collecting data on behaviors, assessing behavioral needs, and designing and implementing behavior intervention plans. They also regularly meet with other professionals and family members to discuss progress or any necessary adjustments to the treatment plan.

What are the primary responsibilities of a behavior analyst?

Their main responsibilities include conducting behavior assessments, developing and implementing behavior intervention plans, and monitoring and adjusting those plans as needed. They often collaborate with other professionals and a client’s family to ensure the best outcomes. The role typically includes ongoing professional development.

What industries employ behavior analysts?

They work in various industries, including healthcare, education, social services, and counseling. Typical employers include schools, mental health clinics, hospitals, and private practices. Some work in research or academia.

What is the role of a behavior analyst in a therapeutic setting?

In a therapeutic setting, they assess a client’s behavior and identify problematic behaviors. These professionals design and implement a behavior intervention plan to reduce problem behavior and increase more appropriate behavior. Behavior and progress are monitored throughout the intervention, and adjustments are made as needed. 

How does a behavior analyst collaborate with other professionals?

These analysts often work as part of a larger team that may include therapists, social workers, educators, and medical professionals. They collaborate with these professionals to share insights from their assessments, align intervention strategies, and ensure a comprehensive support plan is in place.

What challenges do behavior analysts often encounter?

Some challenges include working with clients who have severe behavioral issues, navigating complex family or institutional dynamics, and dealing with the emotional weight of this line of work. Staying current with research and advancements is essential but challenging, given the rapidly evolving field.

How does a behavior analyst stay updated with new methods and theories in their field?

Continuous learning and professional development help to stay current with new methods and theories. Initiatives include attending conferences, participating in workshops, enrolling in advanced courses, or reading relevant academic journals. Professional associations like the Association for Behavior Analysis International provide resources and updates for the field.