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Topic of the Day

"How do I Hire 
a Qualified Behavior Analyst?"

There has been a significant increase in the demand for behavioral services over the past few years.  A variety of factors have led to this  increase in the demand for Behavior Analysis services.  Several of these factors are: the Federal mandate to schools that they conduct Functional Behavioral Assessments under certain circumstances, the findings by the National Academy of Science in their seminal work on the subject Educating Children with Autism that behavior analytic treatments are empirically supported, and sadly an increase in the number of people needing such services.  As with anything else, when there is an increase in demand for something that is in short supply there is an influx of those claiming to offer the services who are less than qualified or well-trained to provide such services.  The situation with Behavior Analysis is no different than many other areas - and often worse because the consumer does not usually have the skills to distinguish the well-trained professional from one that is merely seizing on an opportunity to expand their practice.  In addition to people merely claiming to have skills that they lack, there are a variety of new programs at colleges, universities, and technical training sites that offer courses in behavior analysis but do not provide the full training necessary to independently practice.  So, how do you as a consumer know whether you are considering hiring a qualified behavior analyst?

There are several guides that you can use to decide if the person you are considering hiring is qualified to be independently offering behavior analysis services to you.  First, you should know what a Behavior Analyst does and how that is different from more traditional psychological, psychiatric, and medical services.  In many states there are limitations on who can do certain things like diagnose, conduct traditional psychological assessments and evaluations, and provide independent treatment.  Most behavior analytic services are offered as educational services and thereby are not directly covered by many states licensure laws.  In most states, if you are interested in traditional assessment/evaluation services, diagnoses of a person, or traditional medical or psychological treatments you will need to see either a licensed psychologist or a physician.  The vast majority of those claiming to be behavior analysts are neither authorized under law nor trained to perform such tasks independently.

Most states do not have a formal process to evaluate, approve, or screen those claiming to be behavior analysts.  The Behavior Analyst Certification Board is an independent  non-profit that certifies those with Masters or Doctoral degrees as minimally qualified to provide independent behavior analytic services to consumers.  Those who have a masters and received board certification place the letters "BCBA" after their name and those whose doctorate included additional training in behavior analysis at the doctoral level are eligible to put "BCBA-D" after their name.  Anyone can check to see if someone who claims board certification status is in fact board certified by going to the BACB website.  In addition to certifying those as minimally qualified to provide independent ABA services, the board also certifies Assistant Behavior Analysts at the bachelors degree level (they place BCABA after their name) and the board requires that they receive ongoing supervision from a full board certified behavior analyst.  It is therefore the board's position that Assistant Board Certified Behavior Analysts are not qualified to independently practice behavior analysis under any circumstances without supervision.  One significant caveat to this issue is that many of the leading researchers, professors, and practitioners of behavior analysis are not board certified at this time because the process is new; Dr. R. Montgomery went back and received board certification as a behavior analyst several years ago despite having taught ABA in universities and practiced as a behavior analyst for decades.  This means that it is possible to hire a professional qualified in behavior analysis who is not board certified.  In the absence of board certification in behavior analysis what should you look for in the training and experience of someone you are considering hiring to ensure that they are qualified to provide you with sound behavioral services?

I recommend that you ask for a complete curriculum vitae (c.v.) from the professional.  All professionals should both have a c.v. and readily make it available to you.  Ours are available on this website and via download in pdf format.  A c.v. is different from a resume in that the c.v. focuses on training and experience that qualifies the professional to practice in their area.  Once you have the c.v. there are many things to look for in evaluating the professionals credentials.  Three sources of information for what the minimum qualifications are for provision of independent behavior analytic services to consumers are the BACB websites Consumers section, a guide to behavioral consultation from the American Association on Mental Retardation, and the Autism Special Interest Group of the Association for Behavior Analysis - International's Guidelines for Consumers of Applied Behavior Analysis Services to Individuals with Autism.  These sources require or recommend that anyone seeking to independently provide ABA services have at least a Masters degree with the majority of their coursework in behavior analysis and learning theory.  This means that a few courses within the program for some other degree is generally not sufficient to meet the minimum training requirement.  In addition to specific coursework in learning theory, principles of behavior change, behavioral assessment, single-subject research design, and ethics those seeking to independently practice behavior analysis should have at a minimum a year of applied training under the supervision of someone who has already met the standards laid out in these documents.  Supervised experience means that the person meets with someone who is significantly more qualified then they are on a formal and regular basis (typically several hours a week) to review the professional and technical issues surrounding the provision of ABA services.  Such supervision time is not time where the two individuals are providing direct services but time set aside to go over data, review plans, review research materials and publications, and to discuss the improvement of the supervisee's skills in applying what they thought they learned in their classes.  What this means is that simply having worked as say a teacher or an employee implementing ABA programs is not "supervised experience" under these guidelines.  This requirement recognizes that there is a distinct difference between sitting in a class, or being a practicum student observing others, and actually being the one called upon to provide ABA services independently.  This means that formal supervision is a prerequisite to being minimally competent to work independently as a professional.  This is the same reason that physicians go on residency in a hospital setting for 3-5 years after they finish their coursework at medical school.  Similarly, clinical psychologists are required to have several years of practicum work while in school, then do a year of full-time residency in a treatment setting like a hospital after they finish their courses, and in most states also have at least one post-doctoral year before they can be licensed to independently practice.  The requirement for behavior analysts is not as stringent as either of these training regimens at only a year or so, but does ensure that the person has actually done some work in the field under direct supervision prior to offering their services independently.  

Finally, it is my opinion that if someone claims to be an Applied Behavior Analyst they ought to belong to the premier organization of behavior analysts - the Association for Behavior Analysis.  While no one requires such membership for credentialing purposes it is my belief that it is not possible to remain current in ABA without reading the professional literature in journals like the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, the Journal of Verbal Behavior, and other specifically behavior analytic journals.  It is also my belief that if one wants to practice as a behavior analyst being a member of the only international behavior analyst organization is essential in order to have adequate access to ongoing training, discussions, and general information about ones profession.  I am VERY skeptical of anyone claiming to be an independent Applied Behavior Analyst, behavioral consultant, Functional Behavior Assessment specialist, etc. who is not a member of ABA or at least one of its state affiliates.  I've seen plenty of folks who I do not believe are qualified to independently practice as behavior analysts and to date not one of them was a member of ABA.  This does not mean that simply being a member of ABA makes one qualified, but the absence of this professional affiliation should raise questions in the consumers mind about the seriousness of the "professional" about the field of behavior analysis.

Dr. Montgomery is both a licensed psychologist and a Board Certified Behavior Analyst - Doctoral.  He is  available to consult to you as a  reviewer of professional credentials and qualifications in the field of behavior analysis, ABA, Functional Behavioral Assessment/Analysis, and clinical and professional psychology generally.

tips.gif (506 bytes)  Today's Resource Tip:

The Association for Behavior Analysis International  is the premier professional organization for those adhering to the functional approach to behavior change.  ABA also has a number of affiliated state chapters.  ABA's annual meeting is always full of material on the range of behavioral strategies for effecting efficient change.  Advanced technical information on Functional Behavioral Assessments is always featured at the annual meeting.  The annual convention is held in late May. Questions can be sent to Dr. Montgomery at envelope-tiny.gif (1664 bytes).


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