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College of Human Development, Culture, and Media

What Is ABA?

Broadly speaking, applied behavior analysis (ABA) is the study of how the environment shapes the behavior of living organisms. Through learning principles such as reinforcement, individual behavior is modified in a systematic way to improve quality of life. Although ABA has commonalities with fields such as psychology and education, it is a unique discipline with its own history, methodology and mission. 

What does a Behavior Analyst do?  

Behavior analysts improve the lives of individuals with whom they work through the study of behavior and how it is effected by events happening in the environment. Behavior analysts frequently work with individuals with developmental disabilities, autism spectrum disorder, learning issues, behavior problems and psychiatric conditions, however they also work to improve production in businesses, increase the effects of community safety programs, facilitate educational systems as well as consult on a wide variety of issues affecting the quality of life of individuals and society at large. Behavior analysts also conduct academic and applied research as well as provide consultation to other professionals and supervision to behavior analysts in training. 

Where do Behavior Analysts work? 

Behavior analysts work in a wide variety of locations including public schools, private schools, special education programs, programs for individuals with autism spectrum disorder and other developmental disabilities, residential treatment facilities, hospitals, evaluation centers, behavior disorder clinics, large and small business corporations, correctional facilities and universities. In most locations behavior analysts can also be self employed as a treatment provider or professional consultant. 

How are Behavior Analysts credentialed? 

Although each state may have its own unique licensing and practice laws, best practice in the field aligns with the credentialing standards as outlined by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board ® (BACB®). The BACB® credentials professionals at several levels. The credential of Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) signifies fully certified behavior analysts at the Masters level and is the requirement for practice in many positions and locations. The BACB® outlines coursework, experience and examination standards necessary for certification. More information can be found at You are also urged to look into any licensing or practice requirements within the jurisdiction you plan to work.  

What should I expect in my training towards becoming a behavior analyst? 

Credentialing as a behavior analyst (BCBA®) requires that you hold or obtain a Masters degree in applied behavior analysis, psychology or education. Coursework in the theories and practice of applied behavior analysis must be completed either within the Masters degree program or as a sequence of courses external to the degree program. Course sequences typically consist of between 6-8 content courses. Students must also complete between 750-1500 experience hours under a Board Certified Behavior Analyst ®. The number of required hours is determined by the method in which experience is obtained. Once coursework and experience hours are completed, the candidate sits for an examination which upon passing, certification is granted. More details can be found at Once again, interested individuals are urged to research practice and licensing laws in the jurisdictions in which they plan to work.