Applied Behavior Analyst – Career, Salary & State Licensure

Applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy can dramatically improve the lives of people living with autism, obsessive-compulsive disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder.  This treatment, provided by applied behavior analysts, teaches independence, language skills, problem-solving, and social skills. 

The therapy’s focus is to pinpoint the actual problem behavior, what causes the problem behavior, and to apply consequences. Over time, patients learn to adjust the problem behavior to receive more desirable consequences. Applied behavior analysts attend years of schooling to learn the special techniques and skills that will motivate and enable patients to make the changes to better adapt to their environment. 

Most applied behavior analysts have earned at least a master’s degree in education, applied behavior analysis, or psychology. Licensing or certification is only required in 33 states; however, several states require certification to be able to bill insurance. The most common certification earned is the Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) certification from the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB). There is also a Board Certified Behavior Assistant Analyst (BCaBA) option.

Applied behavior analysts are employed at hospitals, clinics, government agencies, and nonprofits. They work in many settings, including clinics, patients’ homes, and schools. 

Continue reading to learn the steps toward becoming an applied behavior analyst and state-specific licensing and certification requirements.

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How to Become an Applied Behavior Analyst 

Because state licensing and certification requirements vary widely, there are numerous paths to becoming an applied behavior analyst. The most widely accepted and respected path is by obtaining certification through the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB). Here are the steps toward becoming a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA). 

Step 1: Graduate from High School or Complete a GED (Four Years)

Graduating from high school or obtaining a GED is the first step toward becoming an applied behavior analyst. Students wishing to pursue this career should focus on English, psychology, and social sciences classes. Volunteering in clinics that treat clients with ABA therapy can also help students gain valuable experience. 

Step 2: Obtain a Bachelor’s Degree (Four Years)

The next step in an applied behavior analyst career is earning a bachelor’s degree. Typical majors for this field include applied behavior analysis, psychology, and education. Students should ensure the program they attend is regionally accredited; that is often required to apply for a master’s program. Accreditation from the BACB or the Association for Behavior Analysis International (ABAI) is highly recommended (if applicable), ensuring the program meets the standards for a certification path. 

Students also should pursue internships, practicums, or supervised work experience to gain experience in ABA therapy and prepare them for further studies.    

Step 3:  Complete a Master’s or Doctorate Degree (Two to Six Years)

BCBA certification requires applicants to complete a master’s degree, at a minimum. The degree must be in either psychology, education, or behavior analysis. Since BACB certification requires applicants to meet specific coursework requirements, the program should be accredited by the ABAI or have a Verified Course Sequence (VCS). 

If the program lacks ABAI accreditation or is a VCS program, applicants may complete an application for coursework evaluation to determine if they are eligible for certification.   

Step 4:  Complete ABA Experience (One Year or Less)

For BACB certification, applicants must complete one of three experience requirements. They are:

  • A practicum that includes 1,000 hours of experience and a one-month supervision with at least four supervisor contacts 
  • An intensive practicum that includes 750 hours of experience and a one-month supervision with at least eight supervisor contacts
  • Supervised independent fieldwork that includes 1,500 hours of experience and a one-month supervision with at least two supervisor contacts

At least 20 hours (but no more than 130 hours) can be accrued each month. Either of the practicums may be completed as part of a graduate degree, but the independent fieldwork must be completed separately. 

Step 5: Pass Required Exams (Timelines Vary)

To earn a BCBA certification, candidates must pass the BCBA exam. To apply to take the exam, candidates will need to submit official graduate transcripts and an experience verification form. The cost for the exam is $245. 

If the graduate program wasn’t ABAI accredited or requires a VCS, an additional $100 fee is due for coursework evaluation. The test is 150 questions and takes four hours to complete. The two main content areas are basic behavior analytic skills and client-centered responsibilities.

Step 6: Apply for Certificate or Licensure (Timelines Vary)

Only 33 states require licensure or certification to practice as an applied behavior therapist. Not all states that require certification or licensing require applicants to have BACB certification, although BACB certification will generally meet state requirements. 

Several states do not have licensure or certification requirements, but insurance laws mandate that only board-certified ABA therapists can bill insurance. Even in states that don’t require certification, many employers require (or prefer) BACB certification. 

Step 7: Maintain Certification and License (Timelines Vary)

Licensed and certified applied behavior analysts must maintain their certification or license. Continuing education requirements can vary by state. To maintain BACB certification, behavior analysts must:

  • Submit a renewal application
  • Pay a $215 renewal fee
  • Complete 32 hours of continuing education, four of which must be in ethics 

Licensing & Certification Requirements By State for Applied Behavior Analysts (ABAs)

State Licensing Authority Eligibility & Details Renewal Requirements
Alabama Alabama Behavior Analyst Licensure Board (ABALB)

ABA therapists in Alabama must obtain either a Licensed Behavior Analyst or Licensed Assistant Behavior Analyst license.

The requirements to earn a Licensed Assistant Behavior Analyst license include:

  • Submitting a completed and notarized application
  • Completing proof of supervision form
  • Paying $25 application fee, $43.50 background check fee, and $100 licensure fee
  • Completing a background check
  • Holding BCaBA (Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst) certification
  • Submit an ABALB Proof of Supervision form signed
  • by an AL License Behavior Analyst)

Candidates for a Licensed Behavior Analyst license must:

  • Submit a completed and notarized application
  • Pay $25 application fee, $43.50 background check fee, and $150 licensure fee
  • Complete a background check
  • Hold BCBA certification

Renewals for ABA therapists in Alabama are required every two years. Licenses expire during the second year on December 31st.

To renew, therapists must:

  • Submit a completed application
  • Provide proof of current BACB certification
  • Pay $150 renewal fee for Licensed Behavior Analysts and $100 fee for Assistants

What Do Applied Behavior Analysts Do?

Applied behavior analysts work in hospitals, clinics, government agencies, schools, and even at insurance companies. While responsibilities can vary based on job descriptions, education, and place of employment, typical duties include:

  • Meeting one-on-one with patients and their families
  • Determining what problem behaviors are and what causes them
  • Writing treatment plans that include setting goals 
  • Providing ABA therapy 
  • Educating families on how to apply techniques outside of treatments
  • Evaluating patients’ progress 
  • Maintaining client records
  • Assisting with scheduling and insurance billing

How Much Do Applied Behavior Analysts Make?

Behavior analyst salaries vary based on place of employment, years of experience, and degrees held. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics does not track the salaries of these mental health professionals. That said, here are the salary percentiles of ABAs nationally, according to Payscale.com (2023):

  • 10th percentile: $49,000
  • 50th percentile (median): $68,813
  • 90th percentile: $87,000

Applied Behavior Analyst Professional Associations & Resources

There are numerous associations and resources for applied behavior analysts, including:

  • Association for Behavior Analysis International (ABAI) 
  • Association of Professional Behavior Analysts (APBA)
  • Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB)
  • Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies
  • The Council of Autism Service Providers (CASP)
  • Association for Science in Autism Treatment (ASAT)
  • The Qualified Applied Behavior Analysis Credentialing Board (QABA)
  • Behavioral Health Center of Excellence (BHCOE)
Kimmy Gustafson

Kimmy Gustafson

Writer

At CounselingSchools.com, Kimmy Gustafson’s expertly crafted articles delve into the world of counseling and mental health, providing valuable insights and guidance to readers since 2020. In addition to feature pieces and interviews, she keeps the state licensing tables current. Kimmy has been a freelance writer for more than a decade, writing hundreds of articles on a wide variety of topics such as startups, nonprofits, healthcare, kiteboarding, the outdoors, and higher education. She is passionate about seeing the world and has traveled to over 27 countries. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Oregon. When not working, she can be found outdoors, parenting, kiteboarding, or cooking.