What is a Registered Behavior Technician? – Your Complete Guide to Understanding What an RBT Is

Registered behavior technicians (RBTs) are the front-line workers who get most of the actual work done in the business of applied behavior analysis (ABA). Working under the direction of board-certified ABAs, RBTs use basic training in behavioral analysis to provide treatment to clients of all ages and with all different types of mental health issues.

Behavioral techs are the dedicated professionals who get the job done in hospitals and retirement homes, in schools and prisons, putting behavioral modification plans into practice. They are the techs who work most closely with patients and their families, serving as the people who provide the responses and reinforcement that make applied behavior analysis actually work.

RBTs don’t require as much training or have to get as much practical experience as applied behavior analysts or their assistants before getting started in the business. Some RBTs aren’t even planning to get jobs in the field. Instead, many get their certification to help out with family members, or as a helpful addition to their main role as teachers or therapists.

But they are the backbone of most behavioral therapies, and RBT training and experience makes a difference to thousands of patients across the country every year.

Just in case we haven’t already settled the question, what does RBT mean? Here’s a breakdown: RBT stands for registered behavior technician. It’s both the description of a professional role in applied behavioral therapy as well as an official credential that is offered by the BACB to verify the qualifications of a person for that role.

Even knowing what RBT stands for, that still doesn’t necessarily answer the question. What is RBT? Although RBT stands for Registered Behavior Technician and it refers to people who occupy that role, some people use RBT to describe the kind of therapy work that RBTs perform. Their job involves working directly with patients and implementing the therapies that are designed by ABAs to address a variety of mental health and behavioral problems, and most often those related to autism spectrum disorder.

How Does an RBT Fit in the World of Behavioral Therapy?

Like other mental healthcare professions, behavioral analysis has different levels of training and expertise that can be useful in treatment settings. To understand how RBT jobs fit into this world of care, you have to understand a little bit about the other levels of certification in the profession:

What is an Applied Behavior Analyst?

Applied Behavior Analysts are at the highest level of education and expertise in this world. They have a master’s degree in education, behavior analysis, or psychology, together with specific, verified training in behavioral analysis that meets the national standards of the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB). They are credentialed by BACB as Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBA) and are licensed by each state to diagnose and offer therapy for mental health issues.

What is an Assistant Applied Behavior Analyst?

Assistant Behavior Analysts are the next step below BCBAs. They are required to have at least a bachelor’s degree with specific training in behavioral analysis. They also have their own credential, the BCaBA, or Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst. States offer a separate license for this level of work. BCaBAs also offer some therapeutic services but they are required to be supervised by fully-licensed BCBAs. They can’t operate independently.

What is an RBT Therapist?

Working under board-certified ABAs (BCBAs) and their certified assistants (BCaBAs), Registered Behavior Technicians are the strong base that holds up the pyramid of behavioral therapy services. They qualify for RBT certification and a spot in the Behavior Analysis Certification Board (BACB) registry based on the training they receive in specific types of behavior analysis techniques. Their qualifications do not rely on a specific degree, but they are licensed in some states. They can only provide behavioral treatment services under the close supervision of a BCBA or BCaBA.

What It Is Like to Work as an RBT Therapist

Most RBTs would tell you that the job is enormously rewarding. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a tough job. When you show up every day, you’re dealing with patients who will definitely require you to bring a lot of patience and resourcefulness to the therapy session. By definition, you’re handling clients who have behavioral problems that ordinary, untrained staff can’t cope with.

As an RBT, you can expect to draw on your training in a wide variety of behavioral therapy skills every single day.

Whether it’s using naturalistic teaching procedures to draw lessons into the activities of everyday life, or running rigid discrete-trial training sequences, you have to be on top of your game. RBTs frequently end up training parents and other caregivers how to implement behavioral treatments, too, so you can expect to work with families nearly as much as individuals with behavioral disorders.

There are also high expectations around patient privacy and professional ethics that you have to keep in mind every day. There are no filters for many behavioral therapy clients. And you often interact with families at their most vulnerable, and in their most stressful moments. Working as an RBT means keeping your cool and holding it all together.

You’ll also work closely with BCBAs, and that means being able to take direction and follow written behavioral reduction plans. You also need to have the memory and note-taking skills to be able to report back so they can manage the cases you are working on. No detail is too small, so RBTs who keep their focus and observe every little change are highly valued.

Understanding the RBT Task List is What Makes a Registered Behavior Technician

The Registered Behavior Technician credential is awarded through the Behavior Analyst Certification Board, just like the BCBA and BCaBA. It’s a much faster process to become certified as an RBT, however.

The eligibility requirements to become a registered behavior technician established by the BACB are straightforward:

  • Be at least 18 years of age
  • Hold a high school diploma
  • Pass a background check
  • Complete 40 hours of behavior therapy training
  • Complete an initial competency assessment with a BCBA
  • Take and pass the RBT examination

It’s possible to get all that done in only a couple of months if you are motivated and line up the pieces the right way.

That makes the RBT an easy way to get into applied behavior analysis on the ground floor. You can start building your practical experience in the field fast. Because it requires only a high school diploma, you don’t have to commit to a college education before you give it a shot. And if you do decide to pursue ABA as a career, you can go back to school with all the advantages of your practical knowledge.

The forty hours of training you have to get is probably the largest part of your commitment to becoming an RBT. The training should be based on the RBT Task List from the BACB, which is also what the exam covers. That’s split into six different categories covering more than thirty specific job functions, everything from documentation to implementing behavior extinction procedures.

Just becoming a BACB-certified registered behavior technician isn’t the last part of the process before you can get to work. Some states also license or certify behavioral technicians.

The good news is that in most cases, they accept the RBT credential itself as a qualification for an RBT license. Some states may have their own training program requirements, which you can take instead of the BACB pathway. These might also include experiential training and specific evaluation and assessment outlined in state regulations.

Licensure is these states is usually required for anyone providing behavioral therapy services under supervision of a BCBA unless they are a direct family member of the patient, employed by the federal government, or if they hold a different license, such as a counseling or therapist license, that allows performance of behavioral therapy itself. You’ll have to check with your state for the details on who is and is not required to get an RBT license.