North Carolina is one of a small number of states that specifically includes the practice of applied behavior analysis within the scope of practice of psychology, requiring ABA practitioners to (North Carolina General Statutes Chapter 90, Section 270.2):
- Obtain a psychologist license through the North Carolina Psychology Board – Learn how to earn a North Carolina psychologist license below.
- Practice under the direct supervision of a licensed psychologist or psychological associate – Learn more about practicing applied behavior analysis under supervision below.
Up until around 2000, the field of behavior analysis was still small and exploratory enough that applied behavior analysts practicing in North Carolina were able to do so under one of several exemptions that applied to those working in schools, for example, or under the supervision of licensed psychologists.
As the diagnoses of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) exploded, so did the demand for behavior analysis treatment for ASD and related disorders. North Carolina legislators introduced several bills in 2011/2012 that would have created a special licensing board for ABAs in the state, but none of them were passed into law.
In 2013, the legislature took up House Bill 498, intended to deal with insurance coverage provisions related to ASD. It also included language stating that ABAs who had been certified by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) could provide treatment and bill insurers without holding a psychologist license so long as they did not hold themselves out as being licensed, certified, or registered to practice psychology in the state.
HB 498 also failed to pass, however, and today ABAs are restricted to practicing either as licensed psychologists or under the direct supervision of a licensed psychologist or psychological associate.
Nonetheless, many employers in the state still look for ABAs who possess a BCBA® or BCBA®-D (doctoral) certification when filling behavior analyst positions. You can learn more about the process of obtaining a BCBA® at the link below.
The North Carolina Association for Behavior Analysis (NC-ABA), a chapter of the Association for Behavior Analysis International (ABAI), continues to advocate for independent ABA licensure in the state. Their website remains a good source of information to track any changes in state law regarding ABA licensing.
Practicing as an Applied Behavior Analyst Under the Supervision of a Licensed Psychologist or Psychological Associate
In North Carolina it’s actually possible to practice some ABA functions under the supervision and guidance of a licensed psychologist (provisional and permanent), psychological associate, or even a temporary licensee without holding a license yourself.
Without being licensed, however, you cannot practice independently or without supervision.
Under the NC Psychology Board Ancillary Services rules, psychologists and psychological associates licensed in North Carolina can employ or otherwise supervise unlicensed individuals to provide certain ancillary services, including applied behavior analysis, provided the license holder:
- Maintains direct supervision
- Has had face-to-face sessions with the patient themselves
- Provides the unlicensed behavior analyst with training
- Assumes full professional and ethical responsibility for the quality and effects of the services rendered
- Ensures the level of responsibility and quality of services provided are identical to what they themselves would provide
The ancillary services you provide under this arrangement would be assistive to a psychological treatment plan, so it must directly support the psychological services the psychologist is providing the patient rather than being clerical or administrative in nature.
Even under this arrangement, there are some limitations on what unlicensed ABAs can do. They are restricted to implementing the specific behavioral interventions detailed in the treatment plan the license holder puts together for the client, but they cannot provide assessments or develop treatment plans themselves.
The Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) offers the nationally recognized Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA®) credential, but this certification by no means supersedes the rules detailed in the North Carolina Psychology Practice Act or any other General Statues laid out by the state of North Carolina. Becoming certified has more to do with demonstrating to prospective employers that you have the education and experience it takes to practice ABA ethically and effectively.
Without a state-issued psychologist or psychological associate license, you simply cannot practice ABA in the state independently or without supervision.
Certification is still a very worthy pursuit since it shows you’ve met high standards in terms of eduction and experience, and most employers look favorably on BCBA®-holders or at candidates who are going through the process of obtaining certification.
A graduate degree in behavior analysis, education, or psychology is a necessary precursor to obtaining a BCBA®. You may also receive a master’s or doctorate in another field but still qualify for a BCBA® if your program included a minor or focus in behavior analysis and included the BACB’s Verified Course Sequence (VCS). All programs accredited by the Association of Behavior Analysis International meet these requirements.
The BACB will also consider coursework from schools not previously approved as long as the program meets their course content requirements. The board will evaluate that content when you apply to take the BCBA® examination, a step that will take some extra time.
With a limited number of local options, and given the convenience of time-shifting coursework to avoid conflicts with work or other obligations, many in North Carolina opt for accredited online master’s programs. With the ability to select the right fit for your personal goals while avoiding the inconvenience of relocation, online degrees are increasingly becoming mainstream.
Becoming an Applied Behavior Analyst in North Carolina Through Psychology Licensing
North Carolina has two different psychologist licenses available that grant the authority to practice applied behavior analysis, or to supervise ABAs in the state. Both involve submitting an Application for Licensure to the North Carolina Psychology Board (NCPB).
- Licensed Psychologist (LP) – Requires:
- A doctoral degree from an approved psychology program
- Two years of supervised experience in the field
- Passage of state and local examinations on psychology
- Licensed Psychology Associate (LPA) – Requires:
- A master’s or specialist degree in psychology
- Passage of state and local exams
- An LPA may also be awarded to candidates who have not received a master’s degree, but who have passed the required LPA tests, or to candidates for the LP who have met the educational and supervision requirements but have not yet passed the LP test, at the board’s discretion.
For either license, you will also have to provide at least three professional references from practitioners familiar with your current work in the field. You will also have to pass a standard criminal background check before the license will be issued.
The application fee schedule in North Carolina is particularly complex, depending on which exams you take and how you take them (the local exam has the option of being taken via oral board) and which license level you are seeking (psychologist or associate). In any scenario, you can expect to pay between $300 and $500 for your initial license.
Because of the requirement that ABAs be supervised by licensed psychologists, many LPs can find employment as supervisors with companies that provide behavior analysis services, including:
- Butterfly Effects, Raleigh
- Priorities ABA, Greenville
In many cases, these employers will require that you either have a BCBA® or are eligible to sit the BCBA® exam within a year of starting your employment, even though there is no statutory requirement for specific behavior analysis training.
Because the process of becoming an LP includes a doctoral degree, you may be eligible for a BCBA®-Doctoral. The BCBA®-D has all the same requirements as the BCBA®, and actually requires earning the BCBA® first. Beyond that, ONE of the following additional requirements must be met for the BCBA®-D:
- Received your doctorate from an ABAI-accredited program
- Received your doctorate from a qualifying institution and have conducted additional study or performed writing on behavior analysis
- Received your doctorate from a qualifying institution and have accumulated 1,800 hours of post-doctoral experience in behavior analysis under supervision of a BCBA®-holder
Incidentally, LPAs themselves must be supervised by LPs, even if they are themselves supervising ABAs. The degree of supervision required will vary according to your length of service and individual experience in the field.
Reciprocal Licensing for Psychologists in North Carolina
North Carolina offers reciprocity for psychologists who are already licensed in other states. The application process and fees are identical to obtaining a license by examination, but the examination and experience requirements are waived. The Board reserves the right to determine that the qualifications set by the original licensing state are substantially similar to those of North Carolina.
You will still need to provide details about your schooling. Because some jurisdictions license psychologists with only a master’s degree, North Carolina offers a slightly modified reciprocity option if you have not earned a doctorate, allowing you to take the state examination and still receive a full LP license if you pass.
Your out-of-state license must be in good standing to be eligible for a reciprocal license.
License Renewal for Psychologists in North Carolina
Licenses for psychologists in North Carolina expire every two years and must be reinstated in October of all even numbered years.
The fee for renewal is $250 and you must submit a renewal form and documentation that you have fulfilled the requisite continuing education hours.
The state requires only 18 hours of continuing education per two-year license period. The hours are broken up into two 9 hour blocks, called Category A and Category B:
- Category A hours are more formal and require sponsorship by an approved organization, and must include at least three hours of legal and ethical instruction
- Category B hours are less formal, potentially including self-initiated research or journal article writing, but you must still keep detailed documentation for the Board.