Behavior Therapist Careers: Job Description & Salary Info

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What are the pros and cons of a behavior therapist career? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary info to see if becoming a behavior therapist is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Career in Behavior Analysis

Behavior therapists, better known as behavior analysts, can find employment in schools, work places and clinics where they can help people with autism, head trauma or emotional issues that can cause behavioral problems. Continue reading to learn more about the pros and cons of becoming a behavior analyst so you can make the best career decision.

Pros of a Behavior Analyst Career
Excellent employment opportunities (four openings per applicant)*
High salary range (about $40,000-$77,000 as of August 2015)**
Opportunity to work in many settings (schools, work places, homes, clinics)*
Several specialization options (autism, special education, mental health, developmental disabilities)*

Cons of a Behavior Analyst Career
Master's degree is required for certification**** and is preferred by many employers***
May have to drive to clients' homes or schools***
Recertification requires continuing education****
Years of experience in the field may be required for employment***

Sources: *Florida Association of Behavior Analysis, **, ***May 2012 Job Postings, ****Behavior Analyst Certification Board.

Essential Career Info

Job Description

According to the Florida Association for Behavior Analysis (FABA), behavior analysts work as part of a team to address behavioral problems in individuals and understand why they occur. This could include working with special needs, autistic or disable patients in areas of deviant behavior or language.

The Association for Behavioral Analysis International (ABAI) states that most behavior analysts conduct research to explore how to handle behavior problems in schools, clinics, work places and other locations. After you identify your clients' behavioral problems, you'll create unique treatment plans that incorporate a range of therapies to help them improve. You'll establish goals for your clients and create a plan of action to meet those goals. You may work with many different clients and drive to their homes, schools or work places.

Career Outlook and Salary Info

The FABA states that there are many opportunities available for behavior analysts, with four openings per applicant. You could work in schools, rehabilitation clinics, residential facilities, homes or clinics. According to, the salary range for most Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBA) was around $39,000-$73,000 as of August 2015. In that same time period, reported that most applied behavior analysts earned between about $31,000 and $70,000, and most certified applied behavior analysis therapists made between about $24,000 and $50,000.

Career Paths and Specializations

Behavior analysts can select a specialization. You can complete additional training that will prepare you to work with people who have autism, mental health problems, developmental disabilities or who are suffering from head trauma, according to the FABA. You could also specialize in special education, counseling or work place behaviors.

Educational, Certification and Licensure Requirements

To become a behavior analyst, you should start by earning a bachelor's degree in applied behavior analysis. Behavioral analysis is an interdisciplinary field that incorporates studies in psychology, counseling, behavior analysis and human behavior. You'll study topics such as abnormal psychology, personality theories and organizational behaviors and discover how to assess the ties between how people act and their environment. To become certified with the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB), you'll need to earn a master's degree in an area like developmental psychology, clinical psychology, counseling psychology or behavior analysis. Most employers prefer applicants to hold a master's degree.

In addition to education and certification, some states have individual licensure requirements for behavior analysts. This could include meeting the requirements of state regulatory boards or insurance regulations. You'll need to meet the additional requirements in your own state to practice.

Useful Skills

Other than education, certification and state licensure, a behavior analyst should possess a certain set of skills in order to perform the job well. As a behavior analyst, you'll need to have good communication skills, as well as a detail-oriented mind and a compassionate personality. Because you'll commonly be working with mentally-disabled people, you should also be patient.

Job Postings from Real Employers

Employers are looking for behavior analysts and therapists who have a master's degree in a field such as behavior health, counseling, psychology or health services. You should be comfortable working with people who have emotional or behavioral issues and be able to create a unique therapy program for each of your patients. The following job posts are from May 2012 and include snippets of information about job responsibilities and academic requirements:

  • A health care facility in Indianapolis advertised for a board certified behavior analyst who could create, implement and oversee behavioral therapies while working with other analysts to meet goals established by clients. Applicants must have board certification in behavior analysis and a bachelor's or a master's degree in applied behavior analysis or a related field. Certification as either a BCBA or a Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst (BCaBA) was required.
  • A behavioral health facility in Pennsylvania was looking for a behavior specialist consultant to develop treatment plans, establish goals and supervise staff. The employer requires applicants to have a master's degree in a mental health field and experience working with children and adolescents. They must also pass a Pennsylvania Child Abuse Clearance. The specialist must be able to drive to homes and schools to work with clients.
  • A Massachusetts company that provides specialized education advertised for a behavior health therapist who could create, implement and run home or school-based behavioral health programs. The ideal candidate would hold at least a bachelor's degree in human services or a related field, though a master's degree was preferred. The job entails working with families and other behavior health therapists to implement behavior therapies and track progress.
  • A health care facility in Virginia searched for a behavior therapist who could help children and adults who have behavioral and emotional problems. Responsibilities included conducting evaluations, assessing patients' strengths, creating therapies and setting goals. A master's degree in counseling, social work or psychology was required.

How Can I Stand Out?

Earning a master's degree can help you stand out and make you eligible for more career opportunities, as indicated by the job postings above. Relevant master's degree programs are available in counseling, psychology and applied behavior analysis. Through the master's degree program in applied behavior analysis, you'll explore theories of behavior, ethics in behavior analysis, conduct research in behavior analysis and complete practicums and field assessments.

Become a Certified Behavior Analyst

One of the best ways to stand out is by pursuing voluntary board certification through the BACB. With a bachelor's degree, you can take the exam to become a BCaBA, while a master's degree will prepare you to become a BCBA. If you start by becoming a BCaBA, you can become a BCBA later by completing graduate-level courses and obtaining additional experience. The exam covers ethics, behavioral assessments, methods for changing procedures and interpreting behaviors.

Alternative Career Options

Clinical Psychologist

If becoming a behavior analyst doesn't sound like a good fit for you, but you're looking for a similar career, there are several alternatives. For instance, psychologists try to understand how people relate to one another by exploring human behaviors and mental processes. You must earn at least a doctorate to become a clinical psychologist. The BLS projected that employment would increase by 22% for most psychologists from 2010-2020. Clinical psychologists earned a median annual salary of approximately $68,000 in 2011, according to the BLS.

Substance Abuse Counselor

Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors help people overcome their addictions and modify their behaviors. Educational requirements for these counselors can vary greatly based on state regulations and area of specialization. You might work in this field with only a high school diploma, but a master's degree might be required for some positions. From 2010-2020, these professionals were expected to see a 27% growth in employment, according to the BLS. In 2011, the BLS reported that substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors made a median annual salary of around $39,000.

Special Education Teacher

Another alternative is teaching special education, which involves working with children and adults who have learning, emotional or physical disabilities. Only a bachelor's degree and a special education teacher's license is necessary for teaching special education. From 2010-2020, these educators were expected to see a 17% growth in employment. As of May 2011, the median annual salary for special education teachers at the elementary level was around $53,000, while secondary special education teachers earned a median annual salary of about $56,000.

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