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What Does a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) Do?

Image of behavior analyst and child for our FAQ What Does a Behavior Analyst Do?What does a behavior analyst do? 

Board Certified Behavior Analysts are now being used to help remedy many social and behavioral problems. However, many are still uncertain: what is a BCBA? What does a behavior analyst do? There are a few different types of behavior analysis therapists, but only individuals who have earned a graduate degree in behavior analysis, completed many hours of supervised practical work, and passed the BCBA certification exam can claim the title of Board Certified Behavior Analyst. Just as they have their specific work and education requirements, BCBAs also have specific job duties.

What does a board certified behavior analyst do?


The BCBA spends an extensive amount of time working with each patient, but they’re not the only professionals who work with the patients or clients. The BCBA may not always implement teaching strategies, but he or she is usually the one that comes up with those strategies, and it is part of their job to verify that the strategies are being put into practice correctly. Registered behavior technicians and assistant behavior analysts also work with clients and help with their treatment, for those wondering what do BCBAs do versus what does a behavioral analyst do. More information on the question of “What is a board certified behavior analyst?” can be found below. The BCBA oversees all treatment and supervises everyone that is working with the patient to ensure the patient is receiving the appropriate care and treatment. The BCBA is always aware of what’s going on with the patient and the other analysts and assistants. That is why someone who wants to fill this role must be comfortable in a leadership position. 

What does a behavioral analyst do?


A large part of the child or other patient’s treatment is constant communication, whether it’s communicating with parents on a one-to-one basis, communicating with other members of the behavior analysis team, speaking with the school, or interacting with other medical professionals. The BCBA may even come to the patient’s home or assist them on a clinic visit to monitor the patient when he or she is in another setting. There is also steady communication regarding the patient’s progress or special needs. Even when the BCBA is not with the patient, he or she can be in steady contact with other professionals that may be currently working with the patient. It is important, as stated above, that the BCBA is aware of what is going in with each patient in order to best serve their needs. 

What do behavioral analysts do?

Individual Treatment

Every child is different, and the BCBA treats each child or client as a separate individual. A treatment that might work well for one client may be wrong for another, because each patient learns in a different way. They each have their own issues that need addressing and treating. After much research and working individually with the patient and the patient’s family, the BCBA develops an individual treatment based on the client’s specific problems and learning ability. The behavior analyst spends a great deal of time working with the patient and observing them to see what is the most effective treatment for that specific patient, based on reaction and behavior. A registered behavior technician or board certified assistant behavior analyst might assist the BCBA in a number of ways, such as by keeping records of which treatments have been the most effective. 

What do behavioral analysts do?

Training Programs

Although BCBAs spend a lot of time with children, working with the parents to help them understand the training and how it fits into the child’s individual needs is another of the many important things a BCBA does. They spend time with the parents, showing them the child’s strengths and weaknesses and how the parents can work with the child when the child is at home or away from the treatment center. The BCBAs offer parent training programs so the parents are well aware of the child’s treatment and needs when at home.

What is the level of education for a BCBA compared to other levels of ABA licensure?

There are several different levels of licensure and education for behavior analysts; these can be confusing due to the abbreviations used for each one, if one is researching what is a BCBA. Below, we detail the abbreviations for different levels of behavior analysts and what they stand for, as well as education requirements for each one, for anyone who is wondering what is a BCBA. This information was found on the BACB (Behavior Analyst Certification Board) website. 

RBT (Registered Behavior Technician)

This is the fastest route to becoming a behavior analyst. It requires only a 40-hour training program. To qualify for registration as a behavior technician, one must hold a high-school diploma or its equivalent, be at least 18 years old, pass a background check, and complete an initial competency assessment, as well as completing the 40-hour training program. After this, one must take and pass the RBT examination. Even once someone is working as an RBT, they must maintain their status by renewing every year, recieving supervision, and adhering to the BACB’s ethics guidelines. RBT duties are carried out under the supervision of a behavior analyst who has completed more education, such as a BCBA or a BCaBA. 

BCaBA (Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst)

This is another way that people can become behavior analysts. It requires that one complete a bachelor’s degree with behavior analysis coursework, as well as supervised experience. Once an individual has completed the BCaBA exam and is officially a board certifed assistant behavior analyst, they must meet education requirements, continue to be supervised, adhere to ethics requirements, and re-certify every two years. 

BCBA (Board Certified Behavior Analyst)  

This level of behavior analyst education is the one that this article deals with primarily, as it is attempting to answer the question, “What is a BCBA?” or “What do BCBAs do?” This is a master’s-level certification. Once an individual has completed the BCBA examination, the maintenence requirements are the same as for a BCaBA, with the exeption of being supervised. They must meet continuing education requirements, adhere to the BACB’s ethics requirements, and continue to re-certify every two years. Typically, the BCBA will be in a supervisory position. The BCBA’s duties are covered in more detail above. 

These are the main behavior analyst levels. There are others, such as the BCBA-D designation; however, these are the most common. All of these levels of behavior analysts work together. While this article deals primarily with the duties of a BCBA, there is a great deal of overlap. All levels of behavior analysis share the same goals and often the same methods. Most of the time, those with more education in the area of behavior analysis will be supervising those who have less. RBTs and BCaBAs often keep records, as well as implementing the behavior analysis strategies that are devised by the BCBA or the BCBA-D. 

What does a BCBA do? What methods are used in ABA?

Regiscollege.edu lists several methods used for ABA. The website describes the basic model that is used for behavior analysis. It is known as the ABC, or andecedent-behavior-consequence, model. Determining these three factors can help to change behavior. For example, there might be a child that throws a temper tantrum every time he wants a snack, and his parents are accustomed to giving it to him because he will then stop throwing a tantrum. However, this makes him more likely to repeat the negative behavior. The antecedent is what comes directly before the behavior. In this case, the antecendent is the child feeling hungry. The behavior is the temper tantrum. The consequence, up until now, has been that the child gets the snack. The behavior therapist must change the consequence in order for the behavior to change. In this example, the behavior analyst does not give the child a snack as soon as he starts to throw a tantrum. This makes the child less likely to throw a tantrum in the future. 


Before ABA therapy During ABA therapy
Antecedent Child feels hungry. Child feels hungry.
Behavior  Child throws a temper tantrum. Child throws a temper tantrum.
Consequence Child is given a snack. Child is not given a snack.
Result: Child is more likely to repeat negative behavior. Child is less likely to repeat negative behavior.

This is the general method of ABA. However, there are also more specific methods used in ABA. Some of these are more structured and provide a distraction-free environment, while others are more play-based, but may be overwhelming for those who need to focus on only one thing at a time. 

What Do Behavior Analysts Do?

Discrete Trial Training

Are you wondering, “What does a BCBA do to improve behavior?” The method detailed below is one of the oldest methods of ABA. It involves using a highly structured environment to teach one element of a task at a time. This is especially helpful for those with autism or related disorders, so that they can learn without being distracted or overwhelmed. This method breaks a concept down into very simple steps that are taught one at a time. The therapist guides the patient through each step. This is repeated until the patient can do it on their own. This takes place for each step until the patient has learned the task. 

What Do Behavior Analysts Do?


This method involves demontstrating what the patient is expected to do. For example, a patient who is learning social skills may need to learn how to shake hands with someone. The behavior analyst will often demonstrate what shaking hands looks like, whether this is in person with someone else, on a video, or through a picture. This is usually used for teaching social skills. 

What Do Behavior Analysts Do?

Picture Exchange Communication Systems

This is used to teach children vocabulary and communication skills. The child gives the therapist a picture of what she wants; in exchange, the therapist gives her what she wants. For example, the child may want a stuffed animal that is kept high on a shelf. She shows the therapist a picture of a stuffed bear. The therapist reaches up to the shelf and hands her the bear. This helps children who have verbal difficulty begin to communicate more effectively. 

What Do Behavior Analysts Do?

Positive Reinforcement and Negative Reinforcement

It is important, when attempting to change behaviors, that the child understands which behiavors are acceptable and which are not. This is where positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement come into play. Positive reinforcement, which may come in the form of snacks, toys, or encouraging words, is used when a desired behavior is achieved. This helps the child to understand that this behavior is acceptable. If a child behaves in a way that is not acceptable, the therapist may respond by ignoring the child, verbally discouraging the behavior, or removing privileges. There is, as may be expected, a debate on the merits of positive reinforcement versus negative reinforcement. When ABA was first being developed, both were used almost equally; however, more recently, positive reinforcement is used very frequently and negative reinforcement is used much less. 

Related Resource: 10 Best ABA Master’s Degree Programs

What is the job outlook for behavior analysts?

It is difficult to pin down the exact job outlook for behavior analysts, as they are not listed as such on the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics website. However, it is possible to approximate using the BLS data on similar occupations, once one understands what is a BCBA. Behavior analysts may be included in the category of substance abuse, behavioral disorder, or mental health counselors. A second option is that they are placed in the category of psychologists. Both of these are in demand. Substance abuse, behavior disorder, or mental health counselors should see a job growth of 23 percent, while psychologists should see a growth of eight percent between 202o and 2030, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What does a board certified behavior analyst do? Who can they help?

What is a board certified behavior analyst supposed to help with, anyway? Behavior analysis tends to be thought of in connection with helping those on the autism spectrum. However, ABA can be used for a wide range of behavior or communication issues besides autism. Some examples of those that can benefit from ABA are individuals with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder), OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), and ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder). However, even those who do not suffer from any of these disorders may be helped by ABA. A behavior analyst can help someone to evaluate the root causes of their behaviors in order to help them lead a more healthy and productive life. Because of the many things a board certified behavior analyst can do, they should experience even better career opportunities. There are a great many career options for those who want to fit into the traditional ABA mold, and there are even more for those willing to think outside the box. 


November 2021


This concludes our article answering the question “What is a BCBA?”