How to Become an ABA Therapist (Unlock Human Potential)

how to become an aba therapist

If you’ve ever felt inspired to make a difference in the lives of individuals with autism, or wondered what it takes to become an Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapist, you’re in the right place.

In this guide, we’ll delve into the EXACT steps you need to take to kickstart your career as an ABA therapist. We’ll discuss:

  • The skills you need.
  • The education that can fast-track your journey.
  • How to secure a position as an ABA therapist.

So, whether you’re new to the field of behavioral therapy or a seasoned professional looking to specialize, stay tuned.

We’re about to uncover the roadmap to becoming an ABA therapist.

Let’s embark on this journey!

Contents show

Steps to Become an ABA Therapist


Step 1: Understand the Role of an ABA Therapist

The first step towards becoming an ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) Therapist is to understand the role and responsibilities of the position.

An ABA Therapist is a specialized role that works with individuals to improve their skills in communication, social interactions, and other aspects of their lives through behavior analysis.

This is particularly common in working with people who have autism and other developmental disorders.

This role often involves observing and assessing a client’s behavioral tendencies and developing treatment plans to help improve their behavior and skills.

ABA therapists use positive reinforcement and other techniques to encourage positive behaviors and minimize negative ones.

In addition, ABA therapists may need to work closely with families and other healthcare professionals to provide comprehensive care to the individual.

This can involve teaching family members how to implement ABA techniques at home and coordinating with other therapists or medical professionals for a holistic approach to care.

Understanding the role also means realizing the emotional demands and rewards that come with it.

ABA therapists often work with individuals who have severe behavioral issues, which can be challenging.

However, the chance to significantly improve a client’s quality of life can be highly rewarding.

It is crucial to research and understand the role fully before committing to it, as this will provide a strong foundation for your future studies and career in the field.


Step 2: Obtain a Bachelor’s Degree

To become an Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapist, the first major step after high school is to obtain a bachelor’s degree.

Most aspiring ABA therapists opt for a degree in psychology, special education, social work, or a related field.

These programs provide a foundation in understanding human behavior and development, which is crucial for this role.

The curriculum for these degrees typically covers topics like psychological research methods, cognitive psychology, child development, and theories of personality.

Some programs may even offer courses specifically on ABA or related interventions.

During your undergraduate studies, it is also a good idea to gain practical experience.

This could be through internships or part-time jobs in related fields like counseling, social work, or special education.

Such experiences can provide you with a glimpse into the work of an ABA therapist, and can make you more attractive to employers and graduate programs later on.

After graduating with your bachelor’s degree, you’ll typically need to pursue further education and certification to become a fully-qualified ABA therapist.

However, the knowledge and skills you gain in your undergraduate program will be an important foundation for these next steps.


Step 3: Gain Experience in the Field

Before becoming a certified ABA Therapist, you should gain hands-on experience in the field.

This typically involves working under the supervision of a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) or a licensed psychologist with experience in behavior analysis.

The role could be as a Registered Behavior Technician (RBT) or a paraprofessional working with individuals with autism or other developmental disorders.

This experience will allow you to apply your theoretical knowledge to real-life situations, and help you better understand the unique challenges and rewards of working in this field.

During this time, you can observe and practice conducting behavioral assessments, developing and implementing treatment plans, monitoring progress, and adjusting strategies as needed.

In addition to gaining practical skills, this experience provides the opportunity to develop your interpersonal skills, as working effectively with clients and their families requires empathy, patience, and strong communication abilities.

Remember, most certification programs require a certain number of supervised hours in the field, so this step is not only beneficial but often necessary for becoming a certified ABA Therapist.


Step 4: Complete Required Coursework in ABA

After acquiring a bachelor’s degree, the next step towards becoming an ABA therapist is to complete specific coursework in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA).

This usually includes graduate-level instruction from an institution that’s been accredited by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB).

Courses often cover topics like the principles and procedures of behavior analysis, ethical and professional conduct, and techniques for changing behavior.

These courses are designed to provide a comprehensive understanding of the field of ABA, preparing students to apply these principles in real-world settings.

Completing this coursework is not only beneficial for gaining essential knowledge and skills, but it’s also a prerequisite for obtaining certification.

Some programs might require a practicum or internship experience where you work with clients under the supervision of a certified ABA professional.

This hands-on experience can help apply classroom learning to actual practice, providing valuable experience for your future career as an ABA therapist.

Remember to maintain a satisfactory academic performance since many certification bodies require a certain GPA for eligibility.

It is also beneficial to engage in research projects if available, as this can deepen your understanding of ABA and equip you with additional skills.


Step 5: Pursue a Master’s Degree in ABA

After completing your bachelor’s degree, the next step towards becoming an ABA Therapist is to earn a master’s degree in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), psychology, or education.

The focus of the master’s degree will be on behavioral disorders, assessment and intervention strategies, research methods, and ethical considerations.

In this program, you will learn about different techniques and strategies to help children and adults with behavioral issues, including those diagnosed with autism.

You will also learn about data analysis, behavior management, and how to develop individualized treatment plans.

During your master’s program, you will likely need to complete a supervised practicum or internship.

This hands-on experience will give you the opportunity to apply the principles of ABA in a real-world setting, under the supervision of a licensed professional.

At the end of your master’s program, you will also need to pass a comprehensive exam that covers all the material you have learned.

This will help prepare you for the next step, which is becoming a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA).

Choosing to specialize in a specific area of ABA, such as autism therapy or special education, can also make you more competitive in the job market.


Step 6: Complete Supervised Fieldwork

After completing your academic coursework, the next step to becoming an ABA therapist is to complete a certain number of hours of supervised fieldwork.

This is often required by certifying bodies, such as the Behavior Analyst Certification Board, to ensure you have practical experience in applying ABA principles and techniques in real-world settings.

The exact number of hours required will depend on the specific guidelines of your certification body, but it usually ranges between 1,000 and 1,500 hours.

The fieldwork should be completed under the supervision of a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) or a similarly qualified professional.

During this period, you will apply your theoretical knowledge to real-world situations, working directly with individuals who could benefit from ABA therapy.

This could be children with autism, adults with developmental disabilities, or others in need of behavior modification.

You’ll learn to design and implement behavior intervention plans, collect and analyze data, and make adjustments based on your observations.

Remember, the purpose of this stage is to provide you with the hands-on experience and skills necessary to effectively use ABA principles in a professional setting.

It’s an invaluable opportunity to learn from experienced practitioners, and to cement your knowledge and skills in ABA therapy.


Step 7: Become Board Certified as a Behavior Analyst (BCBA)

As an ABA therapist, having a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) certification can increase your credibility and open up more career opportunities.

This certification is given by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) and is recognized internationally.

To obtain the BCBA certification, you must first meet the BACB’s eligibility requirements, which include having a master’s degree or higher in behavior analysis, education, or psychology from an accredited university.

Once the educational requirements are met, you need to complete a period of supervised practical experience.

This could be through your university, or an independent fieldwork in a setting such as a mental health clinic, school, or home-based program.

After the completion of the supervised experience, you can then apply to sit for the BCBA examination.

This exam is designed to test your understanding and application of the principles of behavior analysis.

Once you pass the BCBA examination, you are officially a Board Certified Behavior Analyst.

It’s important to note that maintaining this certification requires ongoing continuing education and adherence to the BACB’s ethical standards.

Becoming a BCBA not only provides recognition of your knowledge and skills but also enhances your professional standing in the field of applied behavior analysis.

This can lead to a wider range of job opportunities and higher salary potential.


Step 8: Obtain State Licensure if Required

Depending on the location of your practice as an ABA Therapist, you may need to acquire state licensure.

Each state has its own licensing requirements for ABA therapists, but most require a combination of education, experience, and passing a state examination.

Start by researching the specific requirements for ABA therapists in your state.

This information can be usually found on your state’s Board of Behavioral Sciences or equivalent agency’s website.

Typically, you need to provide proof of your education, supervised experience, and certification.

Some states may require you to pass a licensing exam.

This exam usually covers the principles and practices of applied behavior analysis and may also include questions about ethical and professional conduct.

Remember that maintaining licensure often involves continuing education requirements.

This ensures you stay up-to-date with the latest advancements and techniques in the field of applied behavior analysis.

It’s important to be aware of these ongoing requirements to maintain your eligibility to practice.

Finally, be prepared to pay licensing fees.

These vary from state to state, but it’s an essential investment to start practicing legally as an ABA therapist.

It is crucial to complete this step if your state requires it, as practicing without a license could lead to legal repercussions and limit your employment opportunities.


Step 9: Look for Employment Opportunities

As an ABA Therapist, the job market is quite vast and can range from private clinics, public and private schools, home-based therapy programs, community centers, or hospitals.

Many ABA Therapists begin their careers in an entry-level position under the supervision of a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) to gain experience.

You may want to start by looking for employment in environments where you already completed internships or practicums, as these organizations are already familiar with your work.

You can also make use of job search websites, networking events, and professional organizations related to ABA therapy to learn about job openings.

Remember to thoroughly research potential employers to understand their work culture, therapy methodologies, the type of clients they serve, and the support they provide for ongoing education and career advancement.

The ideal job would not only align with your career goals but also your personal beliefs about ABA therapy.

Before attending job interviews, prepare by reviewing common questions asked, understanding the organization’s therapy approach, and demonstrating how your skills, knowledge, and experiences make you an ideal candidate.

After interviews, follow up with a thank you note expressing your continued interest in the role.

Finally, be patient with the job search process.

While it can be time-consuming and sometimes challenging, finding the right job is a critical step in your career as an ABA Therapist.


Step 10: Continue Professional Development

As an ABA Therapist, it is crucial to keep up with the latest research and methods in the field of Applied Behavior Analysis.

This can be achieved by attending conferences, workshops, and seminars related to ABA.

Regularly reading scholarly articles and journals can also keep you updated on the latest findings in the field.

Continuing Education Units (CEUs) are often required for maintaining your certification.

These can be obtained through post-graduate courses, webinars, or professional development workshops.

Joining professional organizations such as the Association for Behavior Analysis International (ABAI) or your local ABA organization can provide opportunities for networking, professional growth, and access to resources.

Consider seeking supervision or mentorship from experienced ABA Therapists.

They can provide you with valuable insights and guidance on best practices in the field.

Lastly, always be open to learning and improving your skills.

The field of ABA is constantly evolving, and staying current will help you provide the best possible care to your clients.


ABA Therapist Roles and Responsibilities

ABA Therapists, or Applied Behavior Analysis Therapists, use principles of learning and behavior to help clients, often those with autism or other developmental disorders, to improve their social, communication, and life skills.

They have the following roles and responsibilities:


Behavioral Assessment and Planning

  • Conduct functional behavioral assessments to identify problem behaviors and their triggers.
  • Design and implement intervention plans that are individualized to each client’s needs.
  • Monitor the effectiveness of intervention plans and adjust as needed.


Therapy Implementation

  • Implement direct one-on-one therapy based on principles of applied behavior analysis.
  • Teach clients adaptive skills, like communication, self-care, social, and academic skills.
  • Use play and daily routines to provide therapeutic intervention.


Behavior Management

  • Manage inappropriate behaviors that may interfere with the client’s learning.
  • Teach and reinforce appropriate replacement behaviors.
  • Use strategies to decrease problem behaviors and increase socially acceptable behaviors.


Data Collection and Analysis

  • Collect and analyze data on client progress and response to interventions.
  • Use data to make decisions about treatment effectiveness.
  • Maintain accurate and up-to-date records of client progress.



  • Work closely with other members of the therapeutic team, including psychologists, occupational therapists, and speech therapists.
  • Participate in team meetings to discuss client progress and treatment plans.


Family Support and Training

  • Provide guidance and support to family members and other caregivers.
  • Train family members and caregivers in strategies and techniques to support the client’s progress at home.


Professional Development

  • Stay updated on research and developments in the field of applied behavior analysis.
  • Participate in ongoing training and professional development opportunities.


Regulatory Compliance

  • Follow ethical guidelines and regulations in the practice of applied behavior analysis.
  • Maintain confidentiality of client information as required by law and ethical standards.


What Does an ABA Therapist Do?

An Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) Therapist specializes in providing therapy for individuals with behavioral issues and development disorders, particularly autism.

They work in various settings such as clinics, schools, hospitals, and sometimes in a client’s home.

They employ principles and techniques based on the science of learning and behavior to help their clients improve social, communication, and learning skills.

This often involves breaking down complex tasks into smaller, manageable parts and reinforcing positive behavior.

ABA Therapists work closely with other professionals, families, and the clients themselves to develop and implement a treatment plan tailored to the individual’s unique needs and goals.

They continuously monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of the treatment, making necessary adjustments to ensure the best possible outcomes.

They also provide education and support to families to help them better understand and manage their loved ones’ behavior.

This can involve teaching parents and caregivers strategies to use at home, promoting consistency and generalization of skills across different environments.

As mandated reporters, ABA therapists are also responsible for identifying and reporting any signs of abuse or neglect to the appropriate authorities.

Many ABA Therapists work with children, but they can also work with adults who have developmental disorders.

Regardless of the client’s age, the ultimate goal of an ABA Therapist is to help individuals lead more independent and satisfying lives.


Essential ABA Therapist Skills

  • Communication: ABA Therapists interact with children, parents, and other professionals. Clear and empathetic communication skills are vital to convey treatment plans, progress, and strategies effectively.
  • Behavior Analysis: The ability to understand, predict, and alter human behavior is fundamental. Therapists should be skilled in implementing and evaluating behavior intervention plans.
  • Knowledge of Autism Spectrum Disorders: Understanding the characteristics and needs of individuals with autism spectrum disorders is key. This includes knowledge of developmental milestones, behavioral challenges, and strategies to support social and communicative development.
  • Patience: Working with individuals with autism can often be challenging and requires a great deal of patience. Therapists must remain composed and patient, even in stressful situations.
  • Data Collection and Analysis: Therapists need to collect and analyze data to assess the effectiveness of treatment strategies. This includes designing data collection procedures, analyzing behavioral data, and adjusting treatment plans based on data analysis.
  • Problem-solving: ABA Therapists often face challenging behaviors and learning obstacles. They need to think critically and creatively to develop effective solutions.
  • Empathy: The ability to empathize with clients and their families is essential. Therapists should be understanding and compassionate, helping clients to feel safe and supported.
  • Collaboration: Therapists often work as part of a team that may include parents, teachers, and other healthcare professionals. The ability to collaborate effectively is key to developing and implementing successful treatment plans.
  • Flexibility: Every individual is different, and strategies that work for one may not work for another. Therapists need to be adaptable, willing to modify their approach based on the unique needs of each client.
  • Time Management: ABA Therapists often have a large caseload and must balance direct therapy, data analysis, team meetings, and report writing. Effective time management skills are crucial.
  • Professional Ethics: Therapists must adhere to the professional and ethical guidelines set out by relevant governing bodies, including maintaining confidentiality, obtaining informed consent, and conducting themselves with integrity.
  • Continued Learning: The field of behavior analysis is constantly evolving. Therapists need to commit to lifelong learning, staying up-to-date with the latest research and best practices in the field.


ABA Therapist Career Path Progression

The Foundation: Entry-Level ABA Therapist

The journey for an ABA Therapist begins at an entry-level position.

At this stage, your primary role is to implement behavior intervention plans under the supervision of a BCBA (Board Certified Behavior Analyst).

You’ll also collect data on behavior and social responses.

Here are some tips for success in this role:

  1. Educate Yourself: Stay updated with the latest research and interventions in Applied Behavior Analysis.
  2. Collaborate: Work closely with BCBAs, parents, and teachers to implement effective interventions.
  3. Compassionate Care: Show empathy and understanding towards patients and their unique needs.


The Ascent: Senior ABA Therapist

As you gain experience and skills, you’ll transition into the role of a Senior ABA Therapist.

You may start to take a lead role in designing and implementing behavior intervention plans, while also offering mentorship to entry-level therapists.

Here’s how to thrive in this stage:

  1. Leadership: Step up to mentor new therapists and lead intervention sessions.
  2. Communicate Effectively: Keep all stakeholders informed about the patient’s progress and any changes in behavior.
  3. Continuous Learning: Pursue further education or certifications in your field to enhance your expertise.


Reaching New Heights: BCBA or Lead ABA Therapist

The next step on the career ladder is the BCBA or Lead ABA Therapist position.

At this level, you’re responsible for designing comprehensive treatment plans, supervising therapists, and training others.

To excel as a BCBA or Lead ABA Therapist:

  1. Research: Continuously research and implement evidence-based interventions.
  2. Supervision: Provide effective supervision and constructive feedback to your team members.
  3. Collaboration: Collaborate with other professionals, families, and schools to ensure comprehensive care.


Beyond the Horizon: ABA Clinical Director

With enough experience and a passion for leadership, you could become an ABA Clinical Director.

In this role, you’ll oversee the ABA therapy programs at a clinic, supervise a team of BCBAs and ABA therapists, and ensure the quality of care.

Here’s what to focus on:

  1. Strategic Planning: Develop and implement strategic plans for your clinic or department.
  2. Management Skills: Develop strong leadership and communication skills to guide your team effectively.
  3. Advocacy: Advocate for the needs of patients and their families, and ensure they have access to appropriate services.


Pinnacle of Success: ABA Practice Owner or ABA Consultant

At the pinnacle of the ABA career ladder, you might own your own ABA practice or work as a consultant, advising schools, organizations, or government bodies on ABA practices and policy.

You’ll be shaping the future of ABA therapy and impacting many lives.

  1. Entrepreneurship: Running your own practice requires business acumen and entrepreneurship.
  2. Policy Understanding: Stay updated with changes in laws and regulations affecting ABA therapy.
  3. Networking: Build strong relationships with other professionals in your field, potential clients, and local communities.


ABA Therapist Salary

Entry-Level ABA Therapist

  • Median Salary: $30,000 – $40,000 per year
  • Entry-level ABA therapists typically have 0-2 years of experience and usually hold a bachelor’s degree in psychology or a related field. They often work under the supervision of a Board Certified Behavior Analyst.


Mid-Level ABA Therapist

  • Median Salary: $40,000 – $60,000 per year
  • Mid-level ABA therapists usually have 2-5 years of experience and are often responsible for designing and implementing behavior intervention plans, with some oversight.


Senior ABA Therapist

  • Median Salary: $60,000 – $80,000 per year
  • Senior ABA therapists have 5+ years of experience and are responsible for leading sessions, supervising junior therapists, and conducting assessments and analysis of patient behavior.


Lead ABA Therapist / ABA Clinical Supervisor

  • Median Salary: $70,000 – $90,000+ per year
  • These roles require substantial experience and involve leadership responsibilities, supervising a team of therapists, and making key decisions regarding patient treatment plans.


Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) / ABA Therapy Director

  • Median Salary: $80,000 – $120,000+ per year
  • These high-level positions require extensive experience, a master’s degree, and board certification. They involve overseeing the entire ABA program, making strategic decisions, and supervising the work of all therapists.


ABA Therapist Work Environment

ABA Therapists, also known as Applied Behavior Analysis Therapists, generally work in a variety of settings based on the needs of their clients.

They may work in schools, homes, clinics, hospitals, or private practice offices.

The work environment can be both physically and emotionally demanding as therapists often need to manage challenging behaviors and emotionally charged situations.

However, it can also be rewarding, particularly when progress is made.

ABA Therapists often work with individuals diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or other behavioral disorders.

Thus, their work environment may need to be tailored or adjusted according to their clients’ specific needs and comfort.

The work schedule of an ABA Therapist can be flexible, with therapists often scheduling sessions at times that are convenient for the families they serve.

Some ABA Therapists may work full time, while others work part-time or on a contractual basis.

Moreover, experienced ABA Therapists may choose to open their own private practice or consultancy, providing services to a broader range of clients or serving as a consultant to other therapists in the field.


FAQs About Becoming an ABA Therapist

What is needed to become an ABA Therapist?

To become an Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) Therapist, you typically need a bachelor’s degree in psychology, education, or a related field.

Some positions may require a master’s degree or certification in ABA.

Essential skills include understanding of behavioral principles and strategies, strong communication and interpersonal skills, patience, and a passion for helping individuals with developmental disabilities.

Additionally, many states require licensing or certification to practice as an ABA Therapist.


How long does it take to be an ABA Therapist?

The time it takes to become an ABA Therapist can vary depending on your educational path and experience level.

A bachelor’s degree typically takes four years to complete.

If you decide to pursue a master’s degree, it can take an additional two years.

Additionally, obtaining certification as a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA), which requires supervised practical experience, can take another year or two.


Can I be an ABA Therapist without a degree?

While it’s possible to become an entry-level ABA Therapist with a high school diploma and on-the-job training, most positions require at least a bachelor’s degree in psychology or a related field.

Furthermore, advanced positions often require a master’s degree and certification.

Therefore, while not impossible, it may be more challenging to progress in this field without a degree.


Is being an ABA Therapist a stressful job?

Being an ABA Therapist can be stressful at times, given the emotional and behavioral challenges that clients may face.

However, it can also be incredibly rewarding to see the progress and positive changes in the individuals you help.

Stress levels can often be managed through self-care strategies, seeking support from colleagues and supervisors, and maintaining a balanced work-life schedule.


What are the prospects for ABA Therapists in the next decade?

The prospects for ABA Therapists are promising in the next decade.

With increasing awareness and diagnosis of autism and other developmental disorders, the demand for ABA Therapists is expected to grow.

Furthermore, the proven effectiveness of ABA therapy in helping individuals manage their behaviors and improve their quality of life contributes to the ongoing demand in this field.



There you have it.

Deciding to become an ABA therapist is a notable endeavor, but it’s undeniably fulfilling.

Equipped with the appropriate skills, education, and tenacity, you’re on a promising path to making a substantial difference in the lives of individuals with autism.

Remember, the journey may be demanding, but the possibilities are boundless. Your interventions could pave the way for breakthroughs that transform how people with autism live, learn, and engage.

So, take that initial leap. Immerse yourself in further education. Connect with fellow professionals. And most importantly, never stop advocating.

Because the world is eager to see the change you can bring.

And if you’re seeking personalized guidance on initiating or advancing your career as an ABA therapist, explore our AI Career Path Advisor.

This complimentary tool is designed to provide customized advice and resources to assist you in effectively navigating your career path.

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