What is BCBA™ anyway?
often those of us within a field make unintentional assumptions about what
people know about the field. In the
area of Behavior Analysis this is also true.
Recently, I was discussing the issue of the BCBA™ credential with
several very knowledgeable parents and advocates.
It became very clear during the conversation that they all were under the
misimpression that the BCBA™ credential is an Autism credential – which it
is not. This realization is what has
prompted my writing this article.
is the BCBA™ credential? BCBA
stands for “Board Certified Behavior Analyst” and is a credential that began
as a state certification in
in the 1990s and went
national, and subsequently international, in 2000.
It is an attempt to provide some minimum standard for what constitutes
being qualified to practice behavior analysis.
There are currently, as of my chats with the Executive Director and
President of the Behavior Analysis Certification Board™ (BACB™) this
weekend, approximately 4500 people certified by the board.
There are people who hold the BCBA™ credential working in over a dozen
countries around the world and there are approved university courses springing
up in places like
The BCBA™ credential is fast becoming recognized – TriCare, the
United State Military’s health insurance, and United Behavioral Healthcare pay for ABA services for children
with Autism if they are delivered by a practitioner certified by the BACB™ and
several states in the US have enacted reimbursement policies that reimburse at a
higher rate for BCBA™ delivered services than they do for those of licensed
doctoral-level psychologists (e.g., Alabama).
So, the issue of exactly what is the BCBA™ credential anyway is
becoming more and more important a question.
This article is my attempt to answer that question.
is important to address the issue of the BCBA™ credential and Autism because
Autism and Autism Spectrum Disorders are so high profile and
is the best research supported
treatment available for Autism. The
question that I was asked recently was “Does simply having BCBA™ mean that
the person is an expert on Autism?” The
straightforward and unequivocal answer is - No.
A person can have never met a person with Autism, let alone received
coursework, supervision, or training in serving people with ASDs, and still hold
the BCBA™ credential. Behavior
Analysis is an approach to human behavior that is not defined by a single
diagnostic issue like Autism. There
are behavior analysts, who are really behavior analysts doing terrific work, who
work in prevention of violence at the Centers for Disease Control, there are
others that consult to Fortune 500 companies on employee motivation and
productivity, and still others that train Human Service Animals.
None of those BCBAs necessarily have any knowledge, training, or skill in
working with people with Autism and yet they may well hold the BCBA™
credential based on their training and supervision in those other very important
the BCBA™ credential does not immediately make one an expert on Autism, what
does? Because of this concern the
Autism Group at the Association for Behavior Analysis International have put
out, starting in 1998 and updated periodically, a “Consumer
Guidelines for Identifying, Selecting, and Evaluating Behavior Analysts Working
with Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders”.
In part the guidelines state:
The Autism Special Interest Group (SIG) of the Association
for Behavior Analysis asserts that all children and adults with autism and
related disorders have the right to effective education and treatment based on
the best available scientific evidence. Research has clearly documented the
effectiveness of applied behavior analysis (
) methods in the education and
treatment of people with autism (e.g., Matson et al., 1996; Smith, 1996; New
York Department of Health, 1999; U.S. Surgeon General, 1999).
Planning, directing, and monitoring effective
programs for individuals with
autism requires specific competencies. Individuals with autism, their families,
and other consumers have the right to know whether persons who claim to be
qualified to direct
programs actually have the necessary competencies.
All consumers also have the right to hold those individuals accountable for
providing quality services (e.g., to ask them to show how they use objective
data to plan, implement, and evaluate the effectiveness of the interventions
they use). Because of the diversity of needs of individuals in the autism
spectrum and the array of specific competencies amongst the pool of potential
service providers, consumers also need to focus on the match between their needs
and the specific competencies of a particular provider.
the BCBA™ credential then anyway if it is not essentially an Autism
credential? To qualify to sit for
the BCBA™ examination a person must have a Masters degree in a human service
field like Behavior Analysis, psychology, special education, etc.
They must also have specific coursework, essentially 6 courses, at the
graduate level in Behavior Analysis. In
addition they must have supervised experience under someone who holds the BCBA™
or who is approved by the board in the application of behavior analysis over a
brief period, as little as 9 months time. Finally,
they must have their application approved by review of the board and take and
pass the standardized examination. What
this means is that the person has established a minimum set of both academic and
applied skills as attested to by their training, supervision, and passage of the
I don't presume to represent the board or speak for them in any way so
for more information on this topic, and to get the most current and accurate answer possible,
visit the Board's website.
question that consumers have asked frequently is “Does it make any difference
if the behavior analyst we want to hire has a PhD or other doctorate or a
Masters degree?” The BCBA™
credential requires graduate coursework that is essentially the equivalent of 6
courses and a Masters degree (not necessarily in
So, the easy answer is that from the standpoint of implementation and
consultation the PhD or doctorate is not required nor does having one make the
BCBA™ more qualified. Like
everything else there are minimums necessary to become qualified and there are
those with greater skills. One of
the best BCBAs I have ever had the pleasure of working with “only has a
masters” – I say only because that is how it has been referred to by several
people but that is an unnecessary implicit slight on those talented people with
masters degrees. Other BCBAs I have known with doctorates had their doctorate in an area completely unrelated to behavior analysis.
you have a PhD and are a BCBA™?”
Yes, I do have both but then my PhD is in Clinical Psychology and the
doctorate is required for licensure as a psychologist in
and most other states in the
My doctoral work was both clinical and behavioral because of who my mentors were and their behavioral orientation.
Having all the training to be both a licensed psychologist and a BCBA™
gives me an interesting perspective on what it takes to obtain each and what
each brings to my skill sets in helping others.
There is no requirement that a BCBA have any meaningful training on
biological factors in behavior, there is such a requirement for licensed
psychologists. There is no
requirement that the BCBA have any training on diagnosis, nor does the
credential give its holder any legal status in making diagnoses, but the license
in psychology requires such training and being licensed does authorize the
psychologist to in fact diagnose within the mental health range of diagnoses.
On the other hand, being a licensed psychologist does not mean that the
person has ever had any coursework or supervision in
or Behavior Analysis at all.
Very few licensed psychologists are in fact qualified by training or
experience to develop, supervise, or implement an
So, each credential has different skills and training associated with it and
there is a strange lack of overlap between the two.
does having a doctorate (a PhD, PsyD, of EdD) mean when someone is BCBA™?
Other than potentially qualifying them for licensure in another field
like psychology or a teaching position at a university – very little.
In this case the BACB™ board has determined that the practitioner
degree is the Masters degree. There
is no requirement for a doctorate to practice
and most applied coursework
occurs at the masters-level within
Doctoral-level coursework is often management, research, teaching, and
specialty coursework that may relate to
but may not depending on the
university and major professor that the person worked with during their career
as a student. There are, of course,
incentives to holding a doctorate, for example public schools routinely pay
staff based on degree – whether or not holding that degree actually is
relevant to the work that they are doing in many cases.
you are interested in finding out if someone is an expert on Autism, you will
need to look beyond merely finding out if they hold the BCBA credential.
Guidelines for Identifying, Selecting, and Evaluating Behavior Analysts Working
with Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders” developed by the Autism
Group of the Association for Behavior Analysis International lays out in some
detail those skills and experiences that they recommend consumers ask any
potential Autism expert about to determine if they are indeed knowledgeable and
trained in effective treatments of language and social deficits found in ASDs
using applied behavior analysis techniques.