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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 gained 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 diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). It has also, in more recent years, been shown to be effective in treating other issues. Some of these are:

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

Due to the recent interest in ABA as a treatment for these issues, people have been wondering about BCBA meaning, as well as about LBA meaning

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 research. He was a pioneer of the idea that children who were born with certain weaknesses were not “hopeless cases.” Rather, they could be worked with and their behavior could be improved. He conducted research with young autistic children. These children had very severe behavioral issues. Their parents had given up on improving them. This was described in the 1965 article, “Screams, Slaps and Love.” At the time, there was no such thing as a reliable treatment for problems like autism. However, Lovaas took on the task of teaching four of these children. He employed methods that might be considered less acceptable today. The method, at the time, involved a great deal of negative stimulus. This could include speaking sternly. In Lovaas’s case, in could mean shouting at or even slapping the child. This was a calculated show of authority. When the child improved and began to demonstrate acceptable behaviors, there would be rewards. These would come both in the form of food and verbal praise.

These very distinct and opposite reactions made progress. The autistic children Lovaas worked with began to show signs of progress. Their parents had not thought 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. 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 is the result of years of research. Applied behavior analysts study the way that people behave and 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, of course, is the behavior itself. The consequence is what happens directly after the behavior. This 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 it should be regulated. Positive reinforcement largely replaced negative stimulus. The greatest concern was that some would not know of the new techniques. This would muddy the results of this revolution in treatment. It might also be difficult to tell the difference. There were well-trained behavior analysts. There were also those who were ill-prepared for the job or who pretended to be well-meaning and were not. Also, there was some concern about older negative stimulus techniques. Some believed they were, in fact, harmful to the children they were used on. Many wanted to make sure 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 behavior issues. Some would have wanted the federal government to resolve this. This would provide a unified set of regulations for the entire nation. Someone who is licensed in one state could practice in another state, for example. It 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 was already 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 following by Arizona, Missouri, Kentucky, and Wisconsin in 2010. Since then, 33 states in total have decided to require licensure. 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, it 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 those will occasionally be referred to as well.

According to the New York State Association for Behavior Analysis, there have been issues with the way that some states have handled this. New York has 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 is only eligible to work with children with behavior issues in New York. They can also only with children whose problems are related to autism. See this article from the New York State Association for Behavior Analysis for more information. There are many other problems that benefit from the care of an applied behavior analyst. But in New York, behavior analysts may not work with people who have problems other than autism. ABA benefits those suffering from:

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

However, behavior analysts are not currently permitted to offer that care in the state of New York. According to the New York State Association for Behavior Analysis, there is legislation being promoted that may solve this issue. It may allow behavior analysts to work with individuals that have behavior issues that do not stem from autism. New York currently has a disproportionately low number of behavior analysts. This is because of the complicated restrictions. However, it is possible that more people will plan to practice behavior analysis in New York. If 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 and to allowing another organization, such as the BACB, to certify professional behavior analysts.

Some of the reasons a state might want to implement LBA certification, are that the state gets more say in what requirements go into being a behavior analyst. Of course, as in the above-mentioned example, this can be an 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.

One advantage to having a certifying body such as the BACB 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 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 meaning a board certified behavior analyst; this is what BCBA stands for.

When comparing licensed behavior analyst vs BCBA, it can be helpful to take it down to the basic differences. In essence, when states regulate behavior analysis, they are saying that no behavior analysis can take place exept under their specific rules. They prevent unqualified individuals from presenting themselves as behavior analysts. In contrast, when organizations such as the BACB certify 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, individuals who have 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 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: February 2023

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