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What ABA Certification is best for Applied Behavioral Analysis?

What is ABA?An image of a therapist and autistic child for our article on what certifications are necessary for ABA

ABA stands for applied behavior analysis. Applied behavior analysis uses knowledge of behavior and motivation. It helps people change behaviors that are not desirable. Applied behavior analysis is known for being helpful for children with autism. It is also useful for other disorders, such as:

  • obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD
  • post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD
  • attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD
  • other behavioral issues

It can even be useful for someone who simply wants to change their habits. This is why behavior analysts sometimes work as life coaches. 

Applied behavior analysts often use antecedent-behavior-consequence. This is a model of behavioral change. The antecedent is what comes before a behavior. The behavior then takes place. What takes place after the behavior is the consequence. The consequence determines whether the child repeats the behavior. Here’s an example. One problematic behavior that could benefit from applied behavior analysis is tantrums. A child might throw a tantrum whenever she wants a snack. In this example, whenever the child throws a tantrum, the parents of the child end up giving the child what she wants. The antecedent is wanting the snack. The behavior is the tantrum. The consequence is that the child gets the snack. This consequence makes the child much more likely to repeat the behavior in the future. A behavior analyst could work with the child. The behavior analyst would analyze the behavior, antecedent, and consequence. This would help them determine what should be changed so they can change the behavior. The behavior analyst changes the consequence, or what happens after the behavior. Now, the antecedent is wanting the snack. The behavior is throwing a tantrum. The result, however, is now that the child does not get the snack. The behavior has been unsuccessful. The child is now much less likely to repeat the behavior in the future. 

Applied behavior analysis was first developed in the 1970s by psychologists Ivaar Lovaas and Robert Koegel. This is described in an article from xcitesteps.com. At first, they used a subset of applied behavior analysis known as discrete trial training, or DTT. Discrete trial training involves breaking a task into very small steps. The behavior analyst teaches one step at a time. This avoids overwhelming the child who is learning. In Lovaas’ time, negative reinforcement and positive reinforcement were used almost equally. Now, there are several different methods used in applied behavior analysis. Some of these focus on creating a distraction-free environment. Others are more play-based. Also, the focus has shifted. A mix of positive and negative reinforcement used to be the norm. Now behavior analysts use almost entirely positive reinforcement. 

See Also: Important Duties of a Registered Behavioral Technician or Autism Behavior Technician

Certifications for ABAAn image of a woman studying at a computer for our article describing what certifications are needed for ABA

Individuals interested in pursuing an applied behavior analysis career often ask this question. What kind of certifications does an applied behavior analyst need? An applied behavior analyst is a psychological professional. They are similar to a certified behavior specialist. They evaluate individuals with behavioral issues. They look at the impact that the environment has on behavior. They use plans to help improve behaviors. Some states regulate behavior analysts and require BCBA licensure. Technically speaking, licensure is regulated by individual states. Certification is regulated by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board, or BACB. However, in most cases, states rely on certification by the BACB in order to grant BCBA licensure. It is usually equally relevant to research BCBA licensure and BCBA certification. Are you looking for ABA therapy certification? The BACB Behavior Analyst Certification Board offers four certification options. These are worth looking into for certification in applied behavior analysis. Some of these relate to BCBA certification. Some of them have to do with ABA assistant certification. These ABA therapy certification options are:

  • Registered Behavior Technician

  • Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst

  • Board Certified Behavior Analyst

  • Board Certified Behavior Analyst Doctoral

Registered Behavior Technician (RBT)

The Registered Behavior Technician is also called RBT. This is a paraprofessional in the field. They engage in the direct application of behavior analytic services. This is an ABA assistant certification. They do not design the plans. They only carry out directions under the supervision of those with higher certifications. There are requirements for the behavior assistant certification besides completion of a certificate program. This is just one type of ABA therapy certification. ABA training certification is important even for the most basic level of behavior specialist certification. According to the BACB Behavior Analyst Certification Board, applicants must: 

  • be at least 18 years old
  • have at least a high-school diploma or equivalent
  • complete at least 40 hours of training in the certificate program
  • pass a criminal background check
  • pass the RBT Competency Assessment
  • pass the RBT examination
  • complete instruction and evaluation in ethics and professional conduct

Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst (BCaBA)

The BCaBA is an undergraduate-level certification. For the applied behavior analysis therapy certification, students must: 

  • complete a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution of higher learning
  • show proof of related coursework and verified course sequence
  • show a clear timeframe of supervised practical experience
  • receive a satisfactory score on the BCaBA examination

Individuals with the BCaBA certification must work under the supervision of BCBAs. To maintain the applied behavior analysis certification, individuals must:

  • complete continuing education
  • participate in confirmed ongoing supervision
  • abide by the ethics requirements

Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA)

The certified behavior analyst BCBA is a graduate-level behavior therapist certification. It is a high-level ABA therapy certification. It allows certified behavior analyst BCBA professionals to work as independent practitioners in the field. They conduct behavior assessments, develop behavior intervention plans, monitor progress and provide training to caregivers and other professionals.

These professionals have passed the BCBA exam and attained certification in behavior analysis. This allows them to supervise:

  • Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analysts
  • Registered Behavior Technicians
  • other applied behavior analysis certified individuals

The applied behavior analysis certification requirements include:

  • a graduate degree in the field from an accredited institution of higher learning
  • completion of a verified course sequence
  • advanced training in behavior analysis
  • supervised practical experience or a full-time faculty position in the field of behavior analysis
  • a satisfactory score on the BCBA exam

The requirements are taken from the BACB Behavior Analyst Certification Board. They must pass the BCBA exam. Still, even once someone has a behavior specialist certificate, they have to maintain it. To maintain the certified behavior analyst BCBA certification, individuals must:

  • complete continuing education
  • abide by the ethics requirements
  • finish extra training and continuing education requirements

Board Certified Behavior Analyst Doctoral (BCBA-D)An image of a man taking a test for our article on what certifications are needed for ABA

The BCBA-D a is doctoral-level certification in behavior analysis. It is for those who have passed the BCBA exam. It provides the same level of certification as the BCBA, according to the BACB Behavior Analyst Certification Board. Individuals who gain the BCBA-D credential work in the same capacity as those with the BCBA certification. They supervise the work of:

  • Registered Behavior Technicians
  • Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analysts
  • other professionals who use behavior analysis modifications

The doctoral designation requires individuals to have a qualifying doctoral degree. They also need an active BCBA certification. To maintain the certification, individuals must:

  • re-certify
  • complete continuing education
  • abide by the ethics requirements
  • complete supplementary training and continuing education requirements

What traits make a good behavioral analyst?

BCBA licensure, behavioral analyst certification, the BCBA exam, and behavioral certification are all important. It’s important to consider, though, that there are more specific traits that are important for people in the applied behavior analysis field. We have listed a few of them below. Keep in mind that this is not a complete list. Still, it may be helpful as you consider whether this is the right field for you. 


It is important for ABAs to be patient. Behavior analysts often work with young children who have behavioral or communication challenges. This means that they may have to deal with unpleasant situations. This is especially the case when they first start behavior analysis with the child. Some children may even attempt to harm the behavior analyst. This depends on what behavior challenges they have. It also depends on what age they are. The therapist must remain in control of themselves and the situation. They must not take any of these challenges personally. Also, progress may be slow. A child may do something well one time and appear to have entirely forgotten how to do it the next time. It is important that the behavior therapist be patient with the child and the challenges that may arise in their progress.

Curiosity An image of a behavioral therapist taking notes for our article on what certifications are needed to be a behavior analyst

Due to the nature of applied behavior analysis, professionals in this field must continue learning. This helps them keep up with the latest techniques and information in applied behavior analysis. This means that people who want to be applied behavior analysts must have a certain amount of natural curiosity. They must also have a sense of fun and be able to play with their young patients. This will lead to a greater understanding of what makes them act the way that they do. Because of this understanding, the behavior analyst will be able to help them change their behavior to be better for themselves and others. 

Big-Picture Thinking

Big-picture thinking is another trait to consider when pursuing ABA therapy certification. Progress can be slow in ABA. As mentioned above, a child may learn a skill very well during one session, but have forgotten how to do it the next. A child may make progress up to a certain point and then seem to entirely stop making progress. It is important that the therapist be able to see the big picture and understand how each tiny bit of progress adds up to behavior change as a whole. This is why behavior analysts often keep detailed records of progress and plans. Also, big-picture thinking is important for planning ahead. Each skill that the child acquires builds on a previous skill that has been taught, so it is important to plan. The behavior analyst must determine not only what the child needs to learn, but how and when the child needs to learn it.


Behavioral certification is important. But so is caring about the people that you are going to end up working with. At its core, ABA is about helping people. It is about understanding what makes people do the things that they do. It is about helping them to change behavior that is not helpful to them or the people around them. This means that behavior analysts must have a great deal of compassion for the people they are helping. Their patients will have different forms of issues or challenges. This may be with behavior or communication or something else. The behavior analyst must be ready to help with those challenges. They must put the patient first. A compassionate behavior analyst will be ready to meet the patient where they are. They must not judge them unfairly for the behavior problems they experience. 

People Skills

This field involves a great deal of interaction with people. This happens on several levels. One level is the interaction between ABA staff. There is often one or more members of the supervising staff, such as a BCBA or BCBA-D, helped by an RBT and/or a BCaBA. These people must work together as a team. Those who are supervising must be confident and able to make plans and decisions well. Those under supervision must accept the decisions of those who are supervising them.

There is nother level on which ABA professionals interact with other people. This is with their patients. They must be compassionate and patient with these individuals. The patients’ social skills may be very poor to begin with. 

There is a third group of people that behavior therapists must interact with. This is the parents of the children they are working with. Parents may worry about their children. The behavior therapist may need to reassure them. Also, parents play an enormous role in maintaining the new skills their child is learning. Think back to the example described at the beginning of this article. The behavior analyst responded differently than the parents did to an undesirable behavior. The parents now must respond in this new way as well. The behavior analyst must communicate the importance of this to parents. They must also answer the parents’ questions. 

In Conclusion: ABA Certification An image of a little boy in ABA therapy for our article on ABA certification

Do you want to make a difference in the lives of others? Do you have compassion for those with behavior issues? Working in the applied behavior analysis field is ideal for those who want to make a difference. It’s important to know what kind of certifications are necessary for an applied behavior analyst. That is the first step to entering this rewarding and challenging field.

See the related resources list below for options for applied behavior analysis programs.


February 2023

Related Resources:

This concludes our article on behavioral analyst certification.