Board Certified Behavior Analyst: Definition and Responsibilities

Industry Advice Healthcare

Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is an evidence-based approach to understanding and addressing behavior patterns that are socially significant. This dynamic field offers several career opportunities, but perhaps the most common career path is becoming a Board-Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA).

Since the recent increase in ABA educational program offerings, which grew 113 percent in the United States from 2016–2020, there has been a noticeable spike in interest in this field. In fact, according to a government report, there’s been nearly a 250 percent growth in ABA degree completions. If you’re interested in learning more about this rewarding career, here’s an overview of the roles and responsibilities of BCBAs.

What Is a Board-Certified Behavior Analyst?

BCBAs often work directly with people from vulnerable populations that need behavioral support. Some of these groups include children with disabilities, the elderly, and even people with exceptionally dangerous jobs.

BCBAs have certification from the Behavior Analyst Certification Board. Obtaining such a credential requires a range of professional activities that hone a behavior analysts skill set. As a result of their training and experience, they often hold supervisory roles that oversee others in their field, such as Registered Behavior Technicians (RBTs) and Board-Certified Assistant Behavior Analysts (BCaBAs). BCBAs also tend to specialize in a particular facet of applied behavior analysis, such as the assessment and treatment of severe problem behavior.

If you’re interested in becoming a BCBA, here’s everything you need to know about the job responsibilities, where they work, how much they make, and how you can start a career in this exciting field.

What Do Board-Certified Behavior Analysts Do?

BCBAs are healthcare professionals who study behavior patterns and create individualized plans to help clients thrive. This is accomplished through a variety of ABA strategies and tactics.

Some BCBA responsibilities include:

  • Meeting with clients to observe and assess behavior challenges
  • Creating a safe and inclusive environment for clients
  • Setting realistic goals and objectives for clients according to their observations
  • Developing individualized plans for clients to improve behavior
  • Maintain thorough notes of client progress
  • Learning about new techniques, methods, and findings within the ABA field
  • Supervising and instructing others in the field with lower levels of certification

While these are the common job responsibilities of BCBAs, it’s important to keep in mind that they’re heavily dependent on what industry or company a BCBA works in.

Where Do Board-Certified Behavior Analysts Work?

Due to the interdisciplinary nature of ABA, BCBAs work in various industries and sectors of business that can benefit from a better understanding of behavior and its influences. While many BCBAs work with children with developmental disabilities, such as those who identify as autistic, there are a number of businesses that are using these services in other ways.

Top Industries Hiring Board-Certified Behavior Analysts

As mentioned earlier, BCBAs are prominent figures in the mental health and developmental disabilities communities. According to government data, between 2020 and 2022, the majority of BCBA job postings were found in industries such as:

  • Mental health
  • Physical, occupational, and speech therapy
  • Mental health and substance abuse centers
  • Services for the elderly and disabled

This clearly aligns to BCBAs’ role in assisting individuals who are struggling with behaviors negatively impacting their quality of life.

Other businesses that have recently been hiring a large number of BCBAs operate in the education sector. Industries like elementary and secondary schools, and educational support services collectively hired over five thousand BCBAs in the last two years. This relatively high number can be partially attributed to schools’ objectives to provide more resources for students struggling with disabilities, socialization issues, or mental health challenges.

However, there are several other industries that have put a new emphasis on acquiring well-trained behavior analysts. For example, industries like employment placement agencies, retailers, and family services also hired thousands of BCBAs. While these industries might not initially seem like a perfect fit for the specialized knowledge of a behavior analyst, there are several ways it can be leveraged in these fields.

Top 11 industries hiring BCBAs & the number of job postings between 2020 & 2022, which range from 2,821 to 8,437.

“I know a behavior analyst who works for a software company,” says Andrew Bonner, director of the Master of Science in Applied Behavior Analysis program at Northeastern University’s Charlotte campus. “They aren’t working as a behavior analyst, per se, but they’re still leveraging their experience in the field.” This is an important factor to keep in mind when considering becoming a BCBA. While the education and training is incredibly specialized, it doesn’t lead to just one industry, or even one type of company.

Top Companies Hiring Board-Certified Behavior Analysts

Despite the various industries that BCBAs support, the majority work with individuals with developmental disorders such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD). As a result, the top companies hiring board-certified behavior analysts largely focus on behavior analytic service provision and working with those who identify as autistic.

According to government data, the top 10 companies who hired BCBAs between 2020 and 2022 were:

  • Hopebridge
  • Comprehensive Educational Services
  • Elemy
  • Bluesprig
  • Behavioral Innovations
  • Soliant Health
  • Positive Behavior Supports Corp.
  • Sunbelt Staffing
  • Key Autism Services
  • Center For Autism & Related Disorders

Top 10 companies hiring BCBAs & the number of job postings between 2020 & 2022, which range from 1,748 to 4,114

How Much Does a Board-Certified Behavior Analysts Make?

No matter what industry or company a BCBA works in, prospective behavior analysts need assurance that a career in this field promotes financial stability. According to government data, the median annual salary of a BCBA is $82,816, which is well above the national average. BCBAs are well rewarded for the time spent obtaining their advanced credentials.

With growing uncertainty around higher-earning positions retaining their pay scale, BCBAs can rest assured that their prospective salaries won’t decline. Looking closely at recent wage trends for BCBAs, there have been minimal fluctuations—constantly hovering around $82,000 per year.

Chart showing the wage trend for BCBAs, which has been hovering at around $82,000 from June 2021 to June 2022

Start Your Career as a Board-Certified Behavior Analyst

Earning a degree in applied behavior analysis is the first, and most important step to becoming a BCBA. A graduate-level program, like Bouvé College of Health Sciences’s Master of Science in Applied Behavior Analysis, offers students the opportunity to learn about this exciting and dynamic field in an incredibly accessible environment.

“According to the Behavior Analyst Certification Board website, as of October 2, 2022, the number of RBT certificants this year was just over 123,000,” says Bonner. “This is because it’s pretty easy to get this credential. But BCBA certificants, which is a harder certification to obtain, was just over 58,000 this year.”

This discrepancy in RBTs to BCBAs certificants per year speaks to the rigor of activities required to obtain the BCBA credential. Graduate training programs like the one offered at Northeastern provide a road map for its students, making the process easier and more accessible.

Want to learn more about how ABA is changing the world of behavior analysis? Check out Northeastern’s Master of Science in Applied Behavior Analysis program page.