Have you ever lived with someone with a habit that drove you up the wall? Maybe they bit their fingernails or would come sit on the couch with you while you were watching TV – while they were on the phone, talking loudly over your program. Did they leave wet towels on the floor? Or maybe they couldn’t be bothered to unload the dishwasher, and you ended up doing it, every single time.
What did you do about it? Try to change their behavior? Did you confront them, open and honestly, were you subtle with little post-it notes or were you much sneakier, trying to trick them into changing their annoying ways?
Believe it or not, you were engaging in a type of non-professional behavior analysis when you attempted to modify your roommate or significant other’s habit. As a professional field, behavior analysis is often traced back to the work of B.F. Skinner, the American psychologist of whom everyone that has taken general psychology has heard. Today, the field is as compelling and pertinent as ever, though the path toward becoming a board certified behavior analyst involves a great deal of hard work, rigorous schooling and dedication.
What is Behavior Analysis?
Behavior analysis is a sub-field of psychology which studies behaviors and the effect of environment on those behaviors. This is done in three ways: investigation, via experiments of behavior; taking what is known about behavior and applying it in different contexts such as individual, social or cultural (this is, aptly, known as applied behavior analysis, or ABA); and finally, through methodological, historical, theoretical and philosophical issues that are contained within behavior analysis.
Behavior analysis gained the scientific foothold it needed through the work of Ivan Pavlov, John B. Watson and the aforementioned B.F. Skinner, all during the 20th century. Because of their research and experiments, we have modern-day behaviorism, which has surged in popularity in the last five years through research and applications related to Relational Frame Theory and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.
How Do You Become a Behavior Analyst?
To become a behavior analyst, you must first pursue a four-year degree at an accredited college or university; the recommended majors are sociology or psychology. A master’s degree is necessary for the Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) track, but a bachelor’s is enough for those seeking Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst certification. Both tracks require a certain amount of related coursework. There is in fact, a master’s in behavior analysis (or similar) degree, which can feature a concentration like autism or other behavioral issue.
However, like the graduate of an education program who attended college to be a teacher, simply completing a college program of study doesn’t immediately qualify you to be a behavior analyst. A Pitt grad who wishes to teach in Pennsylvania must gain PA teaching certification; a psychology grad or MA in ABA degree-holder must follow up their studies and that requires, in both cases, about 1,500 hours of experience under board-certified behavior analysts in good standing.
Those on both tracks must then apply for their respective exam of interest by sending in an application from the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) website. Once you are approved as eligible for the exam, you must study the necessary materials and topics. Upon satisfactory completion of the exam, you will receive certification as a behavior analyst and can begin seeking a career in the field.
What are My Job Options?
The job outlook for behavior analysts is, over all, quite good. Employment in psychology in general should see growth, and behavior analysis should grow with it. The more advanced your degree and the more certifications you have, the better your opportunities in terms of number of jobs and quality of pay. The average per annum income for behavior analysts runs the gamut from a low point of about $38,000 to about $60,000, though some might make less and some might certainly make more.
Behavior analysts are often employed by the government, community centers, hospitals and residential treatment facilities. Their goal is to understand clients’ and patients’ behaviors, predict them and hopefully change them for the better. Areas of work and study include: the aforementioned autism, substance abuse, addictions and geriatrics.
Cedric Jones is a contributing writer in his second year of study with a doctoral sociology program. He is currently conducting research on the relationship between food packaging messages and obesity.