What is a Licensed Behaviour Analyst?


A licensed behaviour analyst is a type of behavioural health professional in the United States.

They have at least a master’s degree, and sometimes a doctorate, in behaviour analysis or a related field.

Behaviour analysts apply radical behaviourism, or applied behaviour analysis, to people.

Defining the Scope of Practice

The Behaviour Analyst Certification Board (BACB) defines behaviour analysis as follows:

“The analysis. The experimental analysis of behavior (EAB) is the basic science of this field and has over many decades accumulated a substantial and well-respected research literature. This literature provides the scientific foundation for applied behavior analysis (ABA), which is both an applied science that develops methods of changing behavior and a profession that provides services to meet diverse behavioral needs. Briefly, professionals in applied behavior analysis engage in the specific and comprehensive use of principles of learning, including operant and respondent learning, in order to address behavioral needs of widely varying individuals in diverse settings. Examples of these applications include: building the skills and achievements of children in school settings; enhancing the development, abilities, and choices of children and adults with different kinds of disabilities; and augmenting the performance and satisfaction of employees in organizations and businesses.”

As the above suggests, behaviour analysis is based on the principles of operant and respondent conditioning. This places behaviour analysis as one of the dominant models of behaviour management, behavioural engineering and behaviour therapy. Behaviour analysis is an active, environmental based approach and some behaviour analytic procedures are considered highly restrictive (see least restrictive environment). For example, these service may make access to preferred items contingent on performance. This has led to abuses in the past, in particular where punishment programmes have been involved. In addition, failure to be an independent profession often leads behaviour analysts and other behaviour modifiers to have their ethical codes supplanted by those of other professions. For example, a behaviour analyst working in the hospital setting might design a token economy, a form of contingency management. He may desire to meet his ethical obligation to make the program habilitative and in the clients’ best long-term interest. The physicians and nurses in the hospital who supervise him may decide that the token economy should instead create order in the nursing routines so clients get their medication quickly and efficiently. Instead of the ethical code of the BACB and the Association for Behaviour Analysis International’s position that those receiving treatment have a right to effective treatment and a right to effective education. In addition, failure on the part of a behaviour analyst to adequately supervise his or her workers could lead to abuse. Finally, misrepresentations of the field and historical problems between academics has led to frequent calls to professionalise behaviour analysis.

In general, there is wide support within the profession for licensure.

Range of Populations Worked With

The professional practice of behaviour analysis ranges from treatment of individuals with autism and developmental disabilities to behavioural coaching and behavioural psychotherapy. In addition to treatment of mental health problems and corrections, the professional practice of behaviour analysis includes organisational behavioural management, behavioural safety and even maintaining the behavioural health of astronauts while within and beyond earth’s orbit.


The BACB offers a technical certificate in behaviour analysis. This certification is internationally recognised. This certification states the level of training and requires an exam to show a minimum level of competence to call oneself a board certified behaviour analyst (BCBA). Certification came about because of many ethical issues with behavioural interventions being delivered including the use of aversive and humiliating treatments in the name of behaviour modification. The American Psychological Association offers a diplomate (post Ph.D. and licensed certification) in behavioural psychology.

The Meaning of Certification

BACB is a private non-profit organisation without governmental powers to regulate behaviour analytic practice. While the BACB certification means that candidates have satisfied entry-level requirements in behaviour analytic training, certificants may require a government license for independent practice when treating behavioural health or medical problems. Licensed certificants must operate within the scope of their license and must practice within their areas of expertise. Where the government regulates behavior analytic services unlicensed certificants must be supervised by a licensed professional and operate within the scope of their supervisor’s license when treating disorders. Unlicensed certificants who provide behaviour analytic training for educational or optimal performance purposes do not require licensed supervision. Where the government does not regulate the treatment of medical or psychological disorders certificants should practice in accord with the laws of their state, province, or country. All certificants must practice within their personal areas of expertise.


Recently, a move has occurred to license behaviour analysts. Licensure’s purpose is to protect the public from employing unqualified practitioners.

The model licensing act states that a person is a behaviour analyst by training and experience. The person seeking licensure must have mastered behaviour analysis by achieving a master’s degree in behaviour analysis or related subject matter. Like all other master level licensed professions the model act sets the standard for a master’s degree. This requirement states that the person has achieved textbook knowledge of behaviour analysis which can be then tested through the exam offered by the BACB or the one offered by the World Centre for Behaviour Analysis. It also requires an internship in which a behaviour analysts works under another master or Ph.D. level behaviour analyst for a period of one year (750 hours) with at least two hours/week of supervision. Finally, those 750 hours are considered tutelage time. After that, the behaviour analyst must engage in supervised practice under a behaviour analyst for a period of another 2 years (2,000 hours).

Once this process is complete, the person applies to a state board who ensures that he or she has indeed met the above conditions. Once the person is licensed public protection is still monitored by the licensing board, which makes sure that the person receives sufficient ongoing education, and the licensing board investigates ethical complaints. A licensed behaviour analyst would have equal training, knowledge, skills and abilities in their discipline as would a mental health counsellor or marriage and family therapist in their discipline. In February 2008, Indiana, Arizona, Massachusetts, Vermont, Oklahoma and other states now have legislation pending to create licensure for behaviour analysts. Pennsylvania was the first state in 2008 to license “behaviour specialists” to cover behaviour analysts. Arizona, less than three weeks later, became the first state to license “behaviour analysts.” Other states such as New York, Nevada and Wisconsin also have passed behaviour analytic licensure.

Professional Organisations

The Association for Behaviour Analysis International has a special interest group for practitioner issues, which focuses on key issues related to licensing behaviour analysts. In addition, they have a practice board and a policy board to handle legislative issues ABA:I. Finally, the association has recently put out its own model licensing act for behaviour analysts.

Association for behaviour analysis international serves as the core intellectual home for behaviour analysts. The Association for Behaviour Analysis International sponsors 2 conferences per year – one in the US and one international.

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