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LBA vs BCBA: What’s the Difference?

An image of a behavior analyst and a child for our article answering the question, "What is the Difference Between a BCBA and an LBA?"

Board Certified Behavior Analysts vs. Licensed Behavior Analysts 

What is the difference between Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBA) and a Licensed Behavior Analysts (LBA)? This is a question that has What exactly is the difference between a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) and a Licensed Behavior Analyst (LBA)? This is a question that has gained more and more relevance during the last couple of decades. Understanding the differences between the two will help those who are looking to more clearly understand the ABA field of work.                    It is important to know that the basic difference between the two is in whether or not they are regulated by states. Many assume that the difference is related to their training, or what they do or don’t do, but that is actually not the case.  Both a BCBA and an LBA are applied behavior analysis professionals that have fulfilled a specific set of requirements. These requirements may have been put in place by the state in which they practice, and this is the case for a licensed behavior analyst. Or they may have been put in place by the Behavior Analysis Certification Board, as is the case for a BCBA. It can be difficult to navigate the difference between what exactly an LBA is and what BCBA stands for. Below, we attempt to clear up some of the BCBA LBA differences. We will also address LABA certification and the idea of an LBA degree. relevance during the last couple of decades. The basic difference is in whether they are regulated by states, not in what their training is or what they do. Both are applied behavior analysis professionals that have fulfilled a set of requirements. These requirements may have been put in place by the state in which they practice. This is the case for a licensed behavior analyst. Or they may have been put in place by the Behavior Analysis Certification Board. This is the case for a BCBA. It can be difficult to navigate the difference between what is an LBA and what BCBA stands for. Below, we attempt to clear up some of the BCBA LBA differences. We also address LABA certification and the idea of an LBA degree. 

LBA BCBA: What is Applied Behavior Analysis?

Applied behavior analysis is the study of behavior used to make changes for the better in people’s lives. It is often used for those who have received a diagnosis on the autism spectrum disorder (ASD). It has also, in more recent years, been shown to be effective in treating other issues. Some of these issues are:

  • attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • other behavioral issues

It is due to the recent interest in ABA as a treatment for these issues outside of those related to autism that people have been showing an increased interest in the defining characteristics of both LBAs and BCBAs.

BCBA LBA: When was Applied Behavior Analysis Developed?

Applied behavior analysis was developed in the 1960s and 70s by Ivaar Lovaas and Robert Koegel. Ivaar Lovaas conducted the majority of the research. He was a pioneer of the idea that children who were born with certain weaknesses were not simply “hopeless cases.” Rather, they could be worked with, and therefore their behavior could be improved. He conducted much of his research with young autistic children. These children had very severe behavioral issues, and in many cases their parents had more or less given up on any chance of their improvement. This was described in the 1965 article, “Screams, Slaps and Love.” At the time, there was no such thing as a reliable treatment for a diagnosis like autism. However, Lovaas took on the task of teaching four of these children. He methods included some tactics that would likely be considered less acceptable today. These methods, at the time, involved a great deal of negative stimulus. This could include speaking sternly, and in Lovaas’s case, it even meant shouting at or even slapping the child. This was done as a calculated show of authority. When the child improved and began to demonstrate acceptable behaviors, there would be rewards. These rewards could come in a few forms, and the rewards were most often either food rewards or verbal praise.

As a result of these unusual methods, the autistic children that Lovaas worked with began to show signs of significant progress. In fact, their parents had not thought that this much change would ever be possible. The 1965 article mentioned above sparked a great deal of controversy. This was because of the negative stimulus techniques used and understandably, many had a problem with these methods. However, the new way of changing children’s behavior was successful. It helped children in a way that no other technique had. Once Lovaas had developed this new method, his student, Robert Koegel, continued to research, write, and speak on the topic. He helped applied behavior analysis to become more well known. The term “applied behavior analysis,” according to this article from Discover Hope: Behavioral Solutions Inc., was first used in 1968 in the Journal of Applied Behavioral Analysis. This is still an important resource for applied behavior analysts today. 

How Does Applied Behavior Analysis Work?

Applied behavior analysis, as we know it today, is the result of many years of research. Applied behavior analysts study not only the way that people behave, but also why they behave the way that they do. Much of the applied behavior analysis that is done today relies on the ABC model of understanding behavior. ABC stands for antedecent-behavior-consequence. The antecedent is what comes directly before a behavior. The behavior, as you might imagine, is the behavior itself. The consequence, then, is what happens directly after the behavior. This particular part is the most pivotal section for the behavior analyst to understand. This is what determines whether the patient repeats the behavior or not. If the consequence is changed, the behavior will, in most cases, also change.

An example of an antecedent, a behavior, and a consequence is this. There is a child who has a habit of throwing temper tantrums. She does this whenever she wants a snack, and her parents always give in and give her a snack. The antecedent, in this case, is the child’s desire for a snack. The behavior is throwing a temper tantrum. The consequence has always been that her parents give her the snack. This makes her far more likely to repeat the behavior in the future. In this example, the behavior analyst would simply need to change the consequence by not giving the child the snack. This would make the child much less likely to repeat the behavior in the future, since it was not effective in getting her what she wanted. This is how the antecedent-behavior-consequence method of understanding behavior can be applied in the real world.

Why Would Regulations be Necessary to Govern Behavior Analysts?

BCBA meaning

Once applied behavior analysis became a field in its own right, the question became whether or not it should be regulated. Positive reinforcement largely replaced negative stimulus. The greatest concern was that some would not know of the new positive reinforcement techniques. This had the potential to muddle the results of this revolution in treatment. It might also be difficult to discern who was using newer techniques and who wasn’t. There were many well-trained behavior analysts, but there were also those who were quite ill-prepared for the job.  Additionally, there continued to be plenty of concern about older negative stimulus techniques. More and more people believed that they were, in fact, harmful to the children they were used on.  It became clear that it was necessary to ensure that people only used positive reinforcement techniques.

BCBA Meaning vs. LBA Meaning: Regulating Behavior Analysts

Child psychologists and behavior analysts lobbied for regulations on the treatment of children with behavioral issues. There were many who felt that it was the job of the federal government to resolve this. This would provide a unified set of regulations for the entire nation. For example, someone who is licensed in one state could easily practice in another state. Federal regulation would also ensure that the same standards would be set in every state. There was a problem with this, though.

 The 10th amendment, which was ratified December 15, 1791, reads as follows:

 “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

This could be read to mean that the regulation of behavior analysts is delegated to the states or to the people. For a time, there was uncertainty as to how to proceed. Should states regulate behavior analysts? Or should they leave it up to patients or parents to choose certified behavior analysts? The BACB, or Behavior Analyst Certification Board, was established in 1998. It had already been viewed as a guiding standard. It helped those who were selecting which behavior analyst they wanted to use. However, many believed there should be more government regulation for behavior analysts. As the federal government was not going to regulate behavior analysts, the states began to do so. 

In 2009, Nevada and Oklahoma began to regulate behavior analysis. They were followed by Arizona, Missouri, Kentucky, and Wisconsin in 2010. Since then, 37 states in total have decided to require licensure. Some of these include:

  • Kansas in 2014
  • Michigan in 2016
  • Texas in 2017
  • Indiana and North Carolina in 2021

The Behavior Analysis Certification Board website lists all states that require licensure. It also provides links to websites with more information on regulations and licensure.

LBA meaning: What is an LBA?

LBAs are Licensed Behavior Analysts. In other words, an LBA is a behavior analyst that lives in a state that regulates behavior analysts, so anyone in that state who wants to be a behavior analyst must become licensed in order to practice. It is not a degree, so there is no LBA degree. Technically, it is not a certification either, so there is not really an LBA certification or a LABA certification (Licensed Applied Behavior Analyst), although you may find that it can occasionally be referred to this way.

According to the New York State Association for Behavior Analysis, there have been issues with the way that some states have handled this. Up until recently, New York had been especially restrictive for behavior analysts. The LBA certification is overseen by the New York State (NYS) Office of Professions. (Technically it is an LBA licensure.) To become a NY licensed behavior analyst, the state requires an abundance of specific coursework. It also requires an internship of no less than 1500 hours with supervisory oversight. The applicant must pass both the NYLBA exam and the autism exam to enter private practice. Even then, the LBA had only been eligible to work with children with behavior issues in New York. They could also only work with children whose problems are related to autism. See this article from the New York State Association for Behavior Analysis for more information. It has become more and more clear that there are people with many other conditions that would benefit from the care of an applied behavior analyst. However, until recently in New York, behavior analysts had not been able to work with clients who had any problems other than autism. This was an unfortunate situation, because ABA is known to also benefit those suffering from:

  • ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder)
  • learning disabilities or difficulties
  • down syndrome
  • substance abuse
  • behavioral challenges

Fortunately, there has recently been a legislature passed that has reversed this outdated policy in the state of New York. It may allow behavior analysts to work with individuals that have behavior issues that do not stem from autism. In recent years, New York has had a disproportionately low number of behavior analysts. This was partly due to the complicated restrictions that had been in place for such a long time. However, with the recent changes, it is possible that more people will plan to practice behavior analysis in New York. As the restrictions become easier to navigate, it will be easier for them to practice there.

BCBA Definition: What is a BCBA?

The Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) is a non-profit organization, created in 1998. Some states do not regulate behavior analysis. In that case, the BACB serves as a way for parents to be more confident in choosing a behavior analyst. They can verify that a behavior analyst is a legitimate professional. Someone who understands the latest techniques in behavior analysis can be certified. This person is then known as a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA). To become a BCBA, an applicant must:

  • hold a master’s degree
  • complete the appropriate courses in behavior analysis
  • complete supervised internship hours
  • pass the BACB exam

Once the exam has been passed, the behavior analyst will have board certification by:

  • adhering to the BACB’s ethics requirements
  • re-certifying every two years.

LBA BCBA: Licensure vs. Certification

There are pros and cons to regulation by the government as well as to allowing another organization, such as the BACB, to certify professional behavior analysts.

There are some reasons that a state might want to implement LBA certification.  One of these reasons is that the state would get to have more say in what requirements go into being a behavior analyst. Of course, as in the above-mentioned example, this can be a troublesome issue as well, since the state may regulate too much or too little. For those who prefer that there be no practice of behavior analysis at all without a license, this might appear to be the better option. A state that regulates behavior analysis says that behavior analysts are not allowed to practice applied behavior analysis at all without a license.

There are also advantages to having a certifying body such as the BACB regulate the certification process.  One advantage is that while state governments have much to concern themselves with, the BACB has only one thing that it does: certifying behavior analysts. This may cause the quality of certification to go up. A disadvantage, however, is that the BACB does not have an easy way to enforce its certification. That is to say, in a state not regulated by legislature on behavior analysis, someone can practice behavior analysis without being certified at all, and the BACB does not stop them from doing this. The BACB leaves the choice up to individuals to seek out a BCBA.   A BCBA is a board certified behavior analyst. 

When comparing licensed behavior analyst vs BCBA, it can be helpful to look at the most basic differences. In essence, when a state regulates behavior analysis, they are saying that no behavior analysis can take place except under their specific rules. They prevent unqualified individuals from presenting themselves as behavior analysts. In contrast, when an organization such as the BACB certifies a set of individuals, they are making it easier to tell which individuals are qualified, rather than forbidding all other individuals to practice.

Regardless of whether regulation by the state or certification by another organization is preferable, the current system is a mix of both, and it presents its own set of challenges. For example, in states that regulate behavior analysis, it can be difficult to navigate the ins and outs of regulations. In some cases, such as in Texas, the requirement for licensure is simply to be a BCBA and to apply for licensure. This is the situation in quite a few states. However, in other states, such as New York, being a BCBA is not enough, and would-be behavior analysts must go through a different process to become licensed. 

A limited permit BCBA certification is a type of certification that allows individuals who have completed a graduate program in behavior analysis to begin working as a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) while they are still completing their supervised experience requirement.

Typically, an individual who has completed a graduate program in behavior analysis must complete a certain number of supervised hours (typically 1,500 hours) in order to become eligible to sit for the BCBA certification exam. However, some states may offer a limited permit option, which allows individuals to begin working as a BCBA under supervision while they are still completing their supervised hours.

It’s important to note that the requirements for a limited permit BCBA certification can vary state by state. It’s important to check with the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) and your state’s licensing board for specific requirements. Additionally, individuals who hold a limited permit BCBA certification must continue to work towards completing their supervised hours in order to become fully certified.

ABADP Staff 

Updated: March 2024

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This concludes our article on BCBA LBA differences and the licensed behavior analyst vs BCBA.