How to Become an Applied Behavior Analyst in California

A 2016 Burning Glass Technologies report solidified what many already know: demand for behavior analysts is increasing. In fact, it has more than doubled nationwide between 2012 and 2014. Despite national growth, however, nearly half of all job postings for behavior analysts in 2014 were in three states: California, Massachusetts, and New Jersey.

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An APBA Employment Survey also revealed that there were more behavior analysts in California than any other state in 2014. Nearly 15 percent of all behavior analysts in the nation were located in California during this time – that’s more than double the number of the second highest state, Massachusetts, at 7 percent.

2016 brought about hope that through the regulation and licensure of behavior analysts in California, only qualified professionals would provide care to the state’s most vulnerable populations, including children with autism, behavioral disorders, and brain injuries. However, opposing groups feared this legislation was inadequate and would negatively affect the services that children with special needs receive.

The legislation was ultimately withdrawn, but it’s certainly not the end of the discussion – and here’s why:

The Fight to Regulate the Applied Behavior Analysis Profession in California

Contributing to the demand for behavior analysts in California is Senate Bill 946 (effective July 1, 2012), which requires healthcare service plan contracts and health insurance policies to provide coverage for behavioral health treatment for individuals with autism and other developmental disorders.

This insurance mandate requires health insurers to maintain an adequate network of providers, including qualified autism service providers. The bill encompasses the provision of several evidence-based therapies, including applied behavioral analysis (ABA).

As a result of the adoption of SB 946, the demand for ABA services in California has increased dramatically, greatly precipitating the need to adopt standards and procedures for protecting consumers.

With this in mind, Assembly Majority Floor Leader Chris Holden (D- Pasadena) introduced Assembly Bill 1715 in January 2016, which was designed to protect children with autism and other individuals receiving behavior analysis services by ensuring that only qualified professionals can provide them with care. The California Association for Behavior Analysis (CalABA) has been a vocal proponent of AB 1715.

According to Holden, because of the increase in behavior analysis services to children in California, the states must protect “autistic children, as well as other who can benefit from behavior analytic services, from those who falsely claim they are qualified to practice behavior analysis.”

Currently, no laws exist in California that require professionals to document and demonstrate training and competence in applied behavior analysis in order to offer ABA services, and no entity that has the legal authority to regulate the practice.

AB 1715 is designed to create a regulatory structure to license behavior analysis professionals and provide consumers with the same level of protection as similar professions that are licensed and regulated in California. Sounds like a slam-dunk, right?

Opposition to the Bill

Not everyone in California was in favor of AB 1715, including FACT (Family, Adult, and Child Therapies), California’s Association of Regional Center Agencies, and the Behavioral Intervention Association, all of whom provide behavior analysis services to children and their families in California.

According to these groups, AB 1715 will make all behavioral services more difficult to receive in California because the behavioral services are defined broadly as those which “produce socially significant improvements;” therefore, they feel that any practitioner of behavioral health needs to meet these state requirements, thereby severely limiting the already low number of providers offering these services. In short, they believe that the bill’s language will limit the ability of other professionals that provide behavioral services to provide care.

Where AB 1715 Stands Today

In June 2016, the California Association for Behavioral Analysts (CalABA) and the bill’s author, Assembly Majority Floor Leader Chris Holden, made the difficult decision not to move forward with AB 1715 due to opposition, even though it won approval from the Business and Professions Committee (14-0), the Assembly Appropriations Committee (15-1), and the full Assembly (74-1).

As a result, the California legislature withdrew the bill from further consideration.

However, CalABA plans to meet with opponents to the bill and educate them further on the purpose and scope of the legislation in hopes that they will withdraw their opposition. It is the goal of CalABA to make key players fully aware that the bill will only include the licensure of professional practitioners of applied behavioral analysis and not providers of other types of behavioral health services. According to CalABA, they are “confident” they will ultimately win support for a licensure bill.

It is therefore important to explain the details of Assembly Bill 1715, as it is likely that the Association will reintroduce the bill in 2017.

Details of California AB 1715

AB 1715, if passed, would enact the Behavior Analyst Act, which would give the existing Board of Psychology the power to regulate and license professionals providing ABA services: board certified licensed behavior analysts, assistant behavior analysts, behavior analysis technicians, and behavior analyst interns

The bill would require California’s governor to appoint two additional members to the board, one of which must be a licensed psychologist qualified to practice behavior analysis. It would also require the board to post and maintain information on licensed behavior analysts, assistant behavior analysts, behavior analysis technicians, and behavior analyst interns.

The Board of Psychology worked closely with CalABA to create the bill language and strategies for implementation.

AB 1715 ensures that California consumers of ABA services will receive a “double layer of protection,” as both the California Board of Psychology and the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) will oversee licensees in the state.

The BACB offers the Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA®) designation, a graduate-level certification in behavior analysis. Behavior analysists in California will be require to earn BCBA® certification as part of the licensure process. Therefore, licensure requirements for behavior analysts in California will correspond with BACB certification.

If AB 1715 is adopted, BCBA®s in good standing will be eligible for licensure once they complete a criminal background check and pass the California law and ethics examination.

Proposed Requirements to Become Licensed as a California Behavior Analyst

Should AB 1715 pass, you will be required to:

  1. Complete a qualifying master’s degree in behavior analysis, psychology, or education
  2. Complete a supervised practicum as part of your graduate program or complete a period of post-graduate supervised clinical experience
  3. Take and pass the Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA®) examination through the Behavior Analyst Certification Board
  4. Pass the California Law and Ethics Examination

Click here for step-by-step instructions on the BCBA® credentialing process.

Note: You may qualify for ABA licensure in California without meeting the education requirements until January 1, 2020, at which time the education requirements for licensure will go into effect.

The following licensing requirements are as detailed in AB 1715:

Education Requirements

You must first complete a master’s degree in behavior analysis, psychology, or education.

The master’s degree can be granted through an online or campus-based program, but must be from an institution accredited by an agency recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).

If the master’s degree is in an area other than behavior analysis, psychology, or education, you must have completed a behavior analysis course sequence that includes the following:

  • At least 275 hours of graduate-level classroom instruction in the following content areas:
    • Ethical and professional conduct coursework: 45 hours
    • Concepts and principles of behavior analysis: 45 hours
    • Research methods in behavior analysis: 25 hours of measurement, including data analysis and 20 hours of experimental design
    • Applied behavior analysis: 45 hours of fundamental elements of behavior change and specific behavior change procedures, 30 hours of identification of the problem and assessment, 10 hours of intervention and behavior change considerations, 10 hours of behavior change systems, and 10 hours of implementation, management, and supervision
    • Elective coursework in behavior analysis: 30 hours

Supervised Practicum Requirements

As part of your graduate education in behavior analysis, you must complete a period of supervised experiential training. To earn licensure, this must include at least one of the following:

  • 1,500 hours of independent field work in behavior analysis supervised in accordance with the certifying agency
  • 1,000 hours of supervised practice in behavior analysis within a university practicum in accordance with the certifying agency (must be taken for graduate academic credit and must be completed with a passing grade)
  • 750 hours of supervised “intensive” practice in behavior analysis within a university practicum and in accordance with the certifying agency (must be taken for graduate academic credit and must be completed with a passing grade)
  • A combination of the above, in any combination

Board Certified Behavior Analyst Examination

You must then take and pass the Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA®) examination through the Behavior Analyst Certification Board.

Note: Before you can take the BACB exam, you must satisfy the educational and supervised experiential training as detailed above.

The examination consists of 150 multiple-choice questions and includes two categories of questions:

  • Basic Behavioral Analytic Skills
    • Fundamental elements of behavior change
    • Measurement
    • Specific behavior change procedures
    • Experimental design
    • Behavior change systems
    • Behavior change considerations
  • Client-Centered Responsibilities
    • Intervention
    • Problem identification
    • Management, implementation, and supervision
    • Assessment
    • Measurement

You can learn more about applying for and taking the BACB exam here.

California Law and Ethics Examination

Once you have successfully completed a master’s degree from an accredited college or university and earned national certification, you will be required to receive a passing score on the California Law and Ethics Examination administered by the Board.

The California Law and Ethics Examination is designed to assess your knowledge and ability to apply legal and ethical standards relating to clinical practice of ABA. The examination consists of 75 multiple-choice questions that must be completed in 90 minutes.

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