The Biggest Challenges of ABA Therapy Certification Programs

Becoming an applied behavior analyst is a dream job. You get to help people in need. You have shiny job prospects in a field that is growing by leaps and bounds. And you get a pretty respectable salary on top of it. Salaries for applied behavior analysts average $61,070 per year with bonuses of almost $1,500 annually. The top ten percent of therapists average $77,000.

Demand is strong, too. In the decade ending in 2020, there was a nearly 2,000 percent increase in jobs for credentialed BCBAs in the United States. Careers in applied behavior analysis are booming. On top of that, they are both lucrative and personally rewarding.

So with all that good news ahead of you, you didn’t think it was going to be easy, did you?

ABA therapy certification programs offer great rewards, but they also come with monster-sized challenges. Those challenges only got harder as a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic went rampaging across the globe.

But as with any challenge in life, there are ways to overcome the biggest challenges of ABA therapy certification programs. You might even find that crushing some of these trials ends up making you stronger, smarter, and a better behavioral therapist in the end.

It Can Be Expensive To Become a Board-Certified Behavior Analyst

Let’s start with the part that hits you right in the checkbook. ABA therapy certification programs are expensive, no doubt about it. Whether you are looking at ABA therapy certification programs in Tennessee or ABA therapy certification programs in Florida, or anywhere in the country, you’re looking at forking over a big chunk of change to get that coveted BCBA.

You need a master’s degree to become a BCBA, but first you have to earn your undergraduate diploma. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the average annual cost in tuition, fees, and room and board for a 4-year college degree totaled out to almost $110,000.

Next comes that master’s program. Again according to NCES, two years of graduate schooling will tack on nearly $40,000 more to the bill. It’s no surprise that almost 60 percent of master’s program graduates have student loan balances outstanding, owing $66,000 on average. That’s a full year of signing your paychecks over to The Man as a freshly-minted ABA.

But it doesn’t stop there. You also need practical experience, which you might or might not get as part of your ABA therapy certification program. Independent fieldwork can require up to 1,500 hours of patient contact overseen by an experienced and qualified BCBA supervisor. If you’re lucky, you can find a job that will offer this supervision free of charge. But it’s not unusual for apprentice behavior analysts to have to pay fees for supervision.

You will pay the BACB (Behavior Analyst Certification Board) another hundred bucks to have them review and approve your application paperwork and verify your coursework as meeting their standards.

Then there is the actual BCBA examination. Compared to your other costs, it may seem like peanuts, but a $245 application fee plus an additional $125 cost for the exam itself add up. And if you don’t pass it the first time, that’s another $265 for another exam and re-take fee.

Oh, and if you are planning on practicing in one of the states that require ABA licensing, you can expect to shell out a few hundred dollars more for the privilege of practicing.

How to Keep Your Costs Down in ABA Therapy Certification Programs

So what can you do to keep all those expenses under control?

For starters, ABA therapy certification online offers a lot of cost advantages for students. A lot of those expenses that NCES stacks up don’t have anything to do with tuition. They come from the costs of relocating and paying for food and housing in pricey college towns.

What if you could complete your ABA therapy certification program while still at home? What if you had the flexibility to keep your current job while you were attending school? ABA therapy certification programs online give you a lot of ways to mitigate your training expenses.

Also, it may go without saying but you should also make sure you can pass the test on the first try!

The Training Can Be Difficult in ABA Therapy Certification Programs

Getting the knowledge you need to ace that BCBA exam on round one isn’t easy, though. You have to go through a lot of hard training in ABA therapy certification programs.

Six years of school is a long time to study any subject. That’s even more true with ABA therapy for autism certification programs and other specialized training. The BACB requires a master’s in challenging fields, too:

  • Behavior Analysis
  • Education
  • Psychology

So you know you’re not just going to breeze through them.

Those degrees also have to include the BACB Verified Course Sequence, or VCS, which includes rigorous training professional ethics, behavior analysis concepts and principles, assessment processes, and behavioral interventions. It’s more than 300 hours of demanding coursework in an already challenging master’s program.

Shifting The Load of ABA Therapy Certification

ABA therapy certification programs online can help you spread the load out. Most online programs offer flexible scheduling, with asynchronous classes. That lets you focus on your studies when you have the bandwidth the make the most of them.

You can also count on other online resources for helping you dig into the concepts and requirements of your ABA therapy certification program. In fact, you can find a lot of them right here, like The 7 Best Study Tools for ABA Therapy Certification.

Don’t be afraid to lean on helpful instructors or fellow students, either. That’s exactly what your professors are there for. Many schools have very supportive and active student groups, too. That’s particularly true if you are pursuing certain specialty areas in ABA training. You’ll find a lot of shoulders to lean on in ABA therapy for autism certification programs, for example.

Work-Life Balance is Hard For ABA Students

Any time you put together expensive college programs with tough classes and on-the-job training, you get another problem: work-life balance becomes all work and no life.

It’s pretty much a full-time job just keeping up with the coursework in ABA therapy certification programs. But keeping those tuition bills paid also means you are probably holding down an actual full-time job, too. The kind where dropping the ball means getting a pink slip instead of just a bad grade.

So you are probably going to have to put in some superhuman effort to keep both your instructors and your employers happy for the six or more years you are going through training. And that will come at a cost to your home and family life. Late nights, missed birthdays, and cold dinners are all on the menu.

Your best bet to overcome this challenge is to go to extremes. You can improve your work-life balance either by doubling-down and going through the program very fast, or back off and take it very slow.

Some of your best options for either approach come through ABA therapy certification programs online. The flexible format that comes with online studies often comes with the ability to accelerate your coursework and get through it as fast as you can, or slow down to part-time and fit your classes in when you can most easily manage them. That lets you scale the challenge to your own comfort zone, and keep your work-life balance on the level.

COVID-19 Presents New Challenges in ABA Therapy Certification Programs

As if everything else weren’t hard enough already, when 2020 opened the page on COVID-19, every kind of educational program suddenly faced new barriers. For ABA therapy certification programs and other kinds of psychology or healthcare programs, the challenge was even harder. These types of treatment require learning how to build a rapport with clients.

Some of those patients themselves have challenges in interacting remotely. Zoom was hard for everyone to learn, but try talking an 8-year-old deep on the spectrum through something like pivotal response training over a glitchy remote connection!

Fortunately, ABA therapy certification online has been happening for years now. There are many ABA therapy certification programs online that have solved most of the hard problems of remote learning.

Like many big, world-changing events, the new challenges that came with COVID-19 have also delivered some new capabilities. The entire applied behavior analysis community has taken a hard look at what telehealth can bring to the table. New tools are emerging, both for working with patients and for making solid legal, ethical, and professional standards through remote services. And insurers and regulators have opened up their standards for telehealth billing for ABA services.

That means the challenges you are going through as a student going through your ABA therapy certification online could turn into big-time advantages once you get out there and start to practice in the real-world. All the ninja-level Zoom skills you picked up and the calluses you developed holding your iPad at just the right angle in class are going to directly transfer to your professional practice. You’ll be a telehealth ABA pro before you graduate, with skills way ahead of therapists who have been delivering traditional therapy for years in-person.

So that dream job in applied behavior analysis is just around the corner. There are some big challenges along the way, but you will find that you can overcome them. You might even find that fighting through them ends up making you a better and more effective therapist in the end. Don’t be afraid to get started and embrace the challenge of an ABA therapy certification program!