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What Is Applied Behavior Analysis and Is It the Career Path for You?

Learn about applied behavior analysis from a Walden School of Psychology academic coordinator to determine if it’s the right path for you.

To figure out whether applied behavior analysis (ABA) is the right fit for you, you must first understand exactly what the field entails. According to the Association of Professional Behavior Analysts, behavior analysis is a scientific discipline focused on how individual behavior interacts with environmental events. The applied branch of the discipline—ABA—uses scientific principles and procedures to improve socially significant behavior to a meaningful degree.1 This evidence-based approach is effective for adults and children alike. The principles and procedures used in ABA are based on basic and applied research and have demonstrated efficacy when used singly and in various combinations.

So, what are some things you should know about applied behavior analysis as you look to focus and advance your career in psychology? We teamed up with Walden University’s Dr. Steven Little, academic coordinator for the Applied Behavior Analysis specialization in the School of Psychology, to find out. Read on to see what he had to say.

What Is Applied Behavior Analysis and Is It the Career Path for You?

ABA is commonly used as a therapeutic intervention for individuals with autism. According to Dr. Little, “The largest application of ABA is with children on the autism spectrum.” This is because ABA is focused on treating behaviors typically associated with autism spectrum disorder, particularly social skills and communication issues. The Center for Autism and Related Disorders states that ABA can help clients improve social interactions, develop new skills, and reinforce positive behaviors.2 And because behavioral analysis has been shown to consistently improve specific behaviors for individuals in a variety of settings—from schools, homes, clinics, and workplaces—the need for special services has decreased.

The Lovaas model is one of the most researched and effective ABA approaches. Named after Dr. Ole Ivar Lovaas, clinical psychologist and UCLA professor, the Lovaas model has undergone 40 years of extensive research and is backed by published studies. Based on the principles of applied behavior analysis, the Lovaas approach is an intervention-style treatment that varies in intensity based on a client’s needs. “Dr. Lovaas was the first to demonstrate the effectiveness of ABA techniques with children who have autism,” said Dr. Little. This methodology relies heavily on discrete trial training—a structured instructional procedure that breaks tasks down into simple sub-units to develop new skills—and is most effective when delivered in a one-on-one setting 35–40 hours a week.3

There are three levels of ABA certification.

  • Registered Behavior Technician (RBT): This role is for paraprofessionals and requires little specialized training. An RBT is supervised by a board certified behavior analyst (BCBA) or a board certified assistant behavior analyst (BCaBA). They are responsible for delivering direct instruction, implementing behavior plans developed by a BCBA or BCaBA, collecting data, and maintaining a professional relationship with parents and the community.4
  • Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst (BCaBA): This behavior analysis certification is achieved at the bachelor’s level. In this role, professionals are not permitted to practice independently and must be supervised by a BCBA. However, they may supervise the work of RBTs or others who implement behavior-analytic therapy.5
  • Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA & BCBA-D): This level of certification requires a master’s and/or doctoral degree. According to Dr. Little, “These individuals don’t do as much one-on-one with the clientele; they design the program, they monitor the program, they train the staff, and they supervise the treatment process.”

Make a Difference in Your Career by Earning Your Degree at Walden

If you have the desire to augment your current credentials and take your career in psychology to new places, Walden University is the right choice for you. In Walden’s MS in Psychology program with a specialization in Applied Behavior Analysis, you can learn how to transform problem behaviors and build positive social skills to improve the lives of others. The program is offered on a flexible online platform that enables you to earn your degree from the convenience of your home or from wherever you have internet access.

At Walden, an accredited university, you can earn your degree online while you continue to work full time. That means you don’t have to put your career on hold while you advance your knowledge and skills. With online learning, there’s no need to completely rearrange your schedule or commute to campus—you can take classes at whatever time of day works best for you as you work to earn your master’s and position yourself to impact the field of psychology and improve lives.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering an online MS in Psychology with a specialization in Applied Behavior Analysis, as well as a suite of psychology and counseling programs. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.

The MS in Psychology program’s Applied Behavior Analysis specialization has been designed to offer acceptable graduate coursework in behavior analysis (Verified Course Sequence as approved by the Association for Behavior Analysis International and accepted by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board) and prepare students to sit for the Board Certified Behavior Analyst® (BCBA®) exam, which is administered by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board® (BACB®). Walden University does not offer the fieldwork experience required for eligibility to sit for the BCBA exam. Walden Enrollment Specialists can provide information relating to national certification exams; however, it remains the individual student’s responsibility to understand, evaluate, and comply with all requirements relating to national certification exams for the state in which he or she intends to practice. Walden makes no representations or guarantee that completion of Walden coursework or programs will permit an individual to obtain national certification. For more information on applying for certification from BACB®, visit


Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,