How To Become A BCBA

Two creative women looking at smartphone screen to become a BCBA

One of our greatest strengths and one of our greatest weaknesses is that we are human. We develop our own mental systems for learning quantum physics, to fixing our ghetto-rigged garbage disposal via YouTube, to independently operating a TikTok enterprise through repeated practice, trial, and error. Our repeated exposure to fury-inducing emails teach us, over time, to monitor our rage and appropriately channel a response into what is professionally passive-aggressive. Learning effective, efficient strategies to navigate our world, while simultaneously reaping as many benefits as we can, is at the core of everything we do. Everything we do falls under the umbrella of “behavior”: at any given moment, whether we’re bitching or whether we’re bawling, it is a sure-fire guarantee that we are behaving in some way. It’s common for people to find themselves in vicious patterns of behavior that are detrimental to them at some (or multiple) points throughout their existence, which may warrant assistance from people that are either professionally-proclaimed or self-proclaimed experts of human behavior. For the sake of digging into the realm of behavior analysis, we’ll discuss the professionally-claimed behavior expert, otherwise known as a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA).

BCBAs are people that study the beauty and fury of human behavior, otherwise known as behavior science or behavior analysis. While the field is most commonly associated with professionals working with children on the autism spectrum, it’s imperative we recognize that behavior analysis is not synonymous with autism. As mentioned earlier, all humans behave— not only humans with an autism diagnosis— which assumes that any living being can benefit from the science of behavior. BCBAs are known for their ability to analyze an environment and all of its counterparts to determine the root of behavioral challenges across various ages, developmental levels, and emotional seasons of life. Our specific practice is called Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), which is a marriage between the research around human behavior science tied in with clinical applications (think: going to see a therapist, going to rehab, or implementing strategies directed by a professional). While conducting behavior assessments for learners with autism is certainly one piece of what BCBAs do, the field of ABA is expansive! We may be employed to work with an entire organization on increasing productivity amongst employees. Have you ever ordered a package from Amazon and got it delivered on the exact same day? That is a sexy, well-oiled corporate machine in terms of its production systems. Behavior analysts may help corporations that are struggling by determining the root cause of the issue, detecting ineffective patterns of behavior, and replacing these patterns with a feasible and appropriate skill set that can carry the entire team for a lifetime. 


BCBA Gig Recap

What BCBAs Do What We (Typically) Do Not Do
Study the science of human behavior Study counseling or similar psychological fields
Observe and analyze behavior to develop interventions Engage in talk therapy in an office setting and discuss concerns
Train caregivers, school staff, and other support professionals in ABA and implementation of our written programs Run a group therapy session or directly run majority of sessions with clients
SUPERVISE staff and continuously analyze data/modify programs Run sessions while we’re being supervised by another person, or take data for another supervisor 
Develop treatment plans to help people better adapt to their life and gain independence  Fix people’s issues for them


Skills We Address

Skill Helps With . . . 
Replacement Behavior  Helping individuals engage in appropriate substitutions for challenging behavior
Communication  From the basics of communication (labeling items, answering simple questions) to conversational skills, BCBAs address it all
Parent Coaching Guiding parents through interventions and creating their own set of goals to achieve 
Functional/Adaptive Skills Teaching any skill needed to carry out tasks necessary for everyday life  
Executive Functioning The “learning to learn” behaviors, including organization, time management, time sense, perseverance, and toleration of difficulty


Because human behavior is about as relevant as the Kardashians (i.e., it’s never going away), BCBAs are employed across a variety of settings. We may be leveraged in school systems for children that are struggling to learn, for teachers that are burnt out because of the barrier of behavioral challenges, or to remedy the entire school-wide program from a systemic level. This same framework is also applied to home settings with caregivers, foster care systems with support staff, and medical staff in hospitals; we observe, we collect data, we analyze patterns within the data, and we develop strategies to achieve specific objectives. For those working specifically with children, our traditional role is to reduce challenging behavior while building functional communication and more appropriate means of accessing needs. However, BCBAs apply the science of human behavior to far more than reducing what is inappropriate; we can also address the behavior of LEARNING in and of itself! Learning styles are a hot topic in education, specifically special education. We are traditionally taught to analyze a child’s strengths (or “learning style”, such as visual/spatial/auditory) and develop a treatment plan around these strengths, ensuring the child is contacting as minimal frustration as possible. Behavior analysts learn to play to the weaknesses, rather than only rely on the strengths, with the ultimate goal of bridging the gap between the two. We recognize deficits and we implement treatment interventions to exercise the weaknesses as if they’re muscles. Using data as our guide, our interventions and treatment plans are constantly adapted and modified to accommodate variations in learning. We can work with a variety of age ranges on the behavior of learning, including:

  • Behavioral pediatrics
  • Behavior analysis in schools (public schools or private)
  • Organizational Behavior Analysis (i.e., teaching staff in corporations) 
  • Behavioral treatment of Autism and related developmental disabilities 


Behavior analysis, because of its broad net, also cultivates growth in the mental health, addiction, or compulsive behavior realms. The same strategies that are applied in educational or corporate settings are applied in rehabilitative settings for those struggling with mental illness or addiction, private practices serving individuals with anxiety, or adults that simply want to engage in healthier choices. Again, we all behave; behavior analysis is both relevant and effective with nearly any population in nearly any setting. More “unconventional” settings that BCBAs can work include: 

  • Health and fitness centers/organizations 
  • Behavioral Sport Psychology 
  • Treatment of substance use disorders 
  • Brain Injury Rehabilitation
  • 1:1 with adults who are trying to improve/achieve personal goals


How to Become a BCBA 

Any individual interested in people-watching as a career choice must first graduate with a Bachelor’s degree in fields related to behavior analysis (psychology, early childhood education, social work, special education). From here, there are a few different roads to take. Some choose to go directly into a Master’s of Science in Applied Behavior Analysis, whereas others continue on with a Masters in a related field (Master of Arts in Clinical Psychology, Master of Arts in Social Work, Master of Arts in Special Education). Bear in mind that, if going for a Masters in a related field, you will likely have to take additional coursework to further narrow your focus into behavior analysis. The additional coursework required is outlined by the Behavior Analyst Certification board. 

Along with completing educational requirements, aspiring BCBAs must complete supervised fieldwork experience. Becoming a well-rounded behavior analyst relies heavily on experience and repeated practice in implementing/applying the science under the wing of another experienced analyst.  The crux of the matter is that being a BCBA does not necessarily assume that one will make a sufficient supervisor; knowing the concepts or even being an expert in analyzing others’ behavior is an entirely different skillset than building clinical skills in another professional. Supervision is the linchpin to understanding how to operate as a behavior analyst, and the 2,000 hours that will be spent in supervision should occur with a trusted and experienced professional. While the supervision hours are grueling, they are the most essential piece to truly understanding and applying the underpinnings of our science. 

You’ve trudged through supervision, your supervisor has likely exposed you to varying levels of discomfort (the good kind), and your fingers are carpal-tunneled because of the countless papers you’ve written. This is your moment to shine, baby— it’s time to submit all of your paperwork to the BACB and wait impatiently to schedule your board exam. The board exam is completely different from other exams in similar disciplines in that it is a very challenging test; passing it will be very difficult if an intentional studying plan is not in place. It’s a common assumption that obtaining a Master’s and putting in the clinical legwork with a great mentor are enough to cruise through the board; they are not. The conceptual and narrative questions in the exam involve skills that are galaxies apart from working in a clinical setting or even reading the bible of behavior analysis. While the concepts in the Cooper text are woven into the entire exam, they’re not questions that are as simple as deductive reasoning with definitions or figuring out what certain acronyms stand for. The test prides itself on every answer being a reasonable, rational choice, forcing the test-taker to not only have memorized the material, but to have applied it across various scenarios. While difficult, it is attainable; this is evident by the thousands of BCBAs worldwide having passed the exam in the last 5 years! This statistic is both surprising and promising in that this field has not even seen its biggest growth spurt yet, and behavior analysis is edging closer to the prominence of other disciplines. 


Becoming a BCBA: Must-Haves

Education Master’s in ABA or other related field (psychology, social work, special education)
Secure a Supervisor A supervisor that has proof of taken the 8-hour supervision training as well as experience/vast understanding of the field
Sign a Supervision Contract This MUST happen before any supervision starts, as any hours that occur before both the supervisor and supervisee passing the test will not be ‘counted’
Begin Supervision Track your hours and hit the ground running, baby
Study for the Test (Anywhere from 3-4 months out)  Lucky for you, we have your entire test prep nailed down to a literal science. 


About the Author:

Kayla Perry, MA BCBA 🤘🏼

After a grueling year of treatment for anorexia and panic disorder, I found myself itching to dig sandcastles in the minds of other people as an attempt to help and heal. I graduated with my first Masters in Clinical Psychology, believing that I could bring an unconventional and less stuffy/sanitized approach to therapy by coming to people instead of forcing them into a generic, Pinterest-looking office. I stumbled into a therapeutic day school treating adolescents with severe mental illness, only to find that my eccentric approach was frowned upon by administrators and “the field” of psychology. How could this possibly be?! In a fog of resentment, I huffed and puffed into an autism classroom to cover for yet another social worker that had called it quits—only to find myself captivated by the principles of ABA! It seemed that behavior analysis really could be applied to all facets of life, not only children; how else could I callus my own emotional skin using this science? I immediately enrolled in The Chicago School’s ABA program, got my BCBA, and began working primarily with caregivers in off-the-wall places. Follow her on the gram at @theangrybxanalyst/


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