For those with the selfless drive to make a positive impact on the lives of others, a career in behavioral health may be the perfect calling. One way to get started down that path is to become a registered behavior technician (RBT).
Behavioral health technicians are paraprofessionals who implement applied behavior analysis (ABA) treatment plans.
So, what is the difference between an ABA technician and other types of behavioral health professionals? Learn more about a career as an RBT, including RBT requirements to get started in the field, to help you decide whether it’s the right fit for you.
What Is a Registered Behavior Technician?
A registered behavior technician (often referred to as an ABA technician) is a paraprofessional or assistant in the field of behavioral health.
Unlike board-certified behavior analysts (BCBAs), behavioral health technicians are not the patient’s primary counselor or diagnostic professional, and they do not provide their own behavioral assessments or create their own treatment plans. Rather, they are responsible for executing the interventions developed by their applied behavior analyst and may only practice under that analyst’s close supervision.
An ABA technician plays an integral supporting role in a patient’s care. RBTs can work in clinical settings or provide therapy in home, community, and school environments. Under the supervision of their lead behavior analyst, they’ll use ABA interventions to teach communication, social, and daily living skills and reduce problematic behaviors.
Several other disciplines benefit from learning how to become a registered behavior technician, and you’ll often find other professionals acquiring an RBT credential. These include:
• Hospital administrators and staff
• Nursing supervisors or specials needs staff
• Home health aides
• Case managers
• Emergency response teams
• Hospice staff and supervisors
• Substitute teachers
• Daycare supervisors and staff
What Does a Registered Behavior Technician Do?
In general, an ABA technician works with individuals that have a diagnosed need for behavioral therapy. Examples include patients with mental health and social disorders, substance abuse patients, autism spectrum disorder (ASD) patients, and others.
A registered behavior technician supports and implements a patient care plan created by a board-certified behavior analyst. They provide ABA interventions that encourage socially acceptable replacement behaviors so clients can build and improve upon their communication, social interaction, and problem-solving skills. What this looks like in practice varies greatly, since behavioral therapy is so specific to an individual patient’s needs.
Daily RBT requirements may include:
• Providing direct client care in one-on-one and group settings
• Following the behavior reduction and behavioral skill acquisition protocols
• Collecting and recording data based on client behavior
• Communicating with clients, parents, and caregivers regarding client progress
• Assisting behavior analysts and assistant behavior analysts with behavior reduction assessments and skills acquisition
• Assisting behavior analysts and assistant behavior analysts in the preparation of client materials
It is ultimately up to your supervisor to determine the tasks you’ll perform day to day, as they are responsible for your actions. But because an ABA technician’s range of support can extend so widely within a patient’s care plan, they must have excellent written, verbal, and time management skills, as well as the ability to develop and maintain relationships with clients, supervisors, peers, and community members. And because they aren’t licensed to diagnose and create their own behavioral interventions, ABA technicians must also use sound judgment and seek appropriate consultation from their supervisor to ensure treatment is provided without disruption to the client, others, and the environment.
Becoming a Registered Behavior Technician
So how long does it take to be an RBT and what do you need to do to get started? To begin your RBT requirements, you must first:
• Be at least 18 years old
• Hold a high school diploma or the equivalent
• Pass a criminal background check
Once you’ve met the above eligibility criteria, you’ll need to dedicate at least 40 hours of training to learn how to become a registered behavior technician, as well as pass an assessment and a final exam. Let’s dive into the details.
1. Complete Your RBT Training Course
Since an ABA technician is a paraprofessional, rather than a board-certified analyst, you may be wondering: do you need a degree to be an RBT?
The answer: no. Instead, the standard credential for behavior health technicians is the Registered Behavior Technician (RBT®) credential, a professional designation offered through the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB).
To meet your RBT requirements, you must complete a 40-hour course of training that mirrors the curriculum requirements of the RBT® Task List. Training must include at least three hours in ethics and professional conduct, which can be conducted in-person or online, and can be didactic (lecture-based) or experiential. The training may be conducted by a BCBA or BCaBA.
Though the BACB doesn’t offer or approve specific programs, you must ensure the course you choose is based on the most recent RBT® Task List. One of the best ways to be certain you’re getting meeting the RBT requirements to set you up for career success is by looking into behavioral analysis master’s programs. These programs include a curriculum specifically designed for a long-term career in behavioral health, and can help you earn your initial RBT credential while you continue to work toward a more advanced role as an ABA or BCBA-certified behavior analyst.
After you complete the 40-hour training, you’ll then need to submit your application for your RBT certification and undergo an RBT® Competency Assessment within 90 days of applying. This assessment involves direct observation of competencies based on the tasks described on the RBT® Task List. You’ll need to find a BCBA to evaluate you, as well as a client to perform your skills with, so that the certified behavior analyst can witness how proficiently you demonstrate your tasks. Alternatively, your BCBA assessor can role play as the client for you.
2. Pass the RBT® Exam
After meeting all other requirements and applying with the BACB for the RBT® credential, the last step in learning how to become a registered behavior technician is passing the RBT® exam.
So, what does the RBT exam consist of? You’ll encounter 75 multiple-choice questions administered by the Pearson VUE computer-based testing platform. Your exam will cover the following topics:
• Behavior Reduction
• Documentation and Reporting
• Professional Conduct and Scope of Practice
• Skill Acquisition
Once you’ve passed your test, you’ll be fully qualified to practice as an ABA technician under the supervision of a board-certified behavior analyst.
Do I Have to Obtain a State License to Practice as an RBT?
Behavioral health technicians are not regulated or licensed in most states. However, a handful of states, such as Washington, Nevada, Oregon, and Louisiana, register/certify these professionals, with state practice privileges based on the RBT® certification requirements.
Even in states that do not regulate behavioral technicians, the RBT® certification is recognized as a respected professional credential and is a requirement among many employers when determining how to become a registered behavior technician.
It is important to always check with the appropriate state licensing board (usually the Board of Behavior Analysts or Board of Psychological Examiners) to learn more about the requirements (if any) necessary for practicing as an RBT.
3. Maintain Your Supervision Requirements
Once you’ve earned your RBT credential, you’ll need to consistently submit to the supervision of a board-certified behavior analyst. Every RBT must work under at least one responsible certificant who is listed on the RBT® Registry. RBTs not performing ABA services do not need to meet supervision requirements to maintain the credential.
But how much supervision does an RBT need? RBT requirements state you must be supervised at least 5% of the time they are providing ABA services each month. This must include at least two, face-to-face contacts each month, during which the supervisor observes the RBT® performing ABA services. Supervision may also be provided via web cameras and videoconferencing if face-to-face supervision isn’t possible. At least one of the supervision sessions must be individual, but the other may be in a small group setting.
This supervision offers the benefit of considerable on-the-job training that you simply can’t learn from your 40-hour coursework. You’ll enhance your skills in areas like:
• Data collection procedures
• Implementation of skill acquisition and behavior reduction interventions
• Principles and procedures of behavior analysis
Turn Your Passion into a Career
Is RBT a good career? If you’re looking for a rewarding role that helps others overcome deep struggles and achieve great strides in their mental, emotional, and behavioral skills, then yes—a career as an ABA technician would be the perfect fit. Yet many paths within the field of applied behavior analysis may call to you even more—perhaps even earning your full-fledged BCBA certification.
By exploring the many behavioral analysis careers open to you, you can turn your spark of passion into a meaningful, lifelong endeavor.
Explore Behavioral Analysis Careers